Zadie Smith interviews Jay-Z - The House That Hova Built

Photograph by Cass Bird. Fashion editor: Sara Moonves
For the New York Times Magazine British writer Zadie Smith sits down with rapper Jay-Z and describes and interviews him. 
It’s difficult to know what to ask a rapper. It’s not unlike the difficulty (I imagine) of being a rapper.

He’s not late. He’s dressed like a kid, in cap and jeans, if he said he was 30 you wouldn’t doubt him. (He’s 42.) He’s overwhelmingly familiar, which is of course a function of his fame ­ — rap superstar, husband of Beyoncé, minority owner of the Nets, whose new home, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, will open this month — but also of the fact he’s been speaking into our ears for so long.

He likes to order for people. Apparently I look like the fish-sandwich type. The fish sandwich arrives. Conversation turns to the schoolboy who was shot to death, Trayvon Martin — “It’s really heartbreaking, that that still can happen in this day and age”

n “Decoded,” Jay-Z writes that “rap is built to handle contradictions,” and Hova, as he is nicknamed, is as contradictory as they come.

But asking why rappers always talk about their stuff is like asking why Milton is forever listing the attributes of heavenly armies. Because boasting is a formal condition of the epic form.

In the years since his masterpiece “Reasonable Doubt,” the rapper has often been accused of running on empty, too distant now from what once made him real. In “Decoded,” he answers existentially: “How distant is the story of your own life ever going to be?”

Meanwhile, back in the rank and file, you still hear the old cry go up: Hip-hop is dead! Which really means that our version of it (the one we knew in our youth) has passed.

Read the full interview at the New York Times

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