The Story Behind Interviewing Jay Z: As Told By Sway

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Via MTV

I’m in a rush to get to a place called the Giraffe Hotel for an interview with none other than Jay-Z. I was already running behind schedule and was slightly perturbed at the New York City traffic, which in retrospect was somewhat of a gift and a curse (no pun intended).

In the two years that I have worked for MTV I never really had a chance to sit and talk with Jay except for a brief moment at the Rocawear party during Fashionably Loud week in 2001. So finally I get a chance to interview one of the most elusive artists of this generation, but I’m stuck in traffic, jeopardizing the opportunity … that was the curse. As I sat there, though, I had a chance to reflect on the first time that I met the Roc-A-Fella leader and his trials and tribulations throughout his career. I think that this time allowed me to mentally prepare for the most insightful interview that MTV has done with Jay-Z to date … that was the gift.

I remember back in 1993 when the group Original Flavor came to San Francisco to promote their record “Can I Get Open,” which featured an underground rapper by the name of Jay-Z. My partner King Tech and I were broadcasting our radio show (wakeupshow.com ) at the time when the group stopped by to talk about the album and to do some raw, uncut, freestyle rhymes. Truth be told, Jay-Z really outshined the other rappers — it was the difference between the triple-A division as compared to the major leagues in baseball. He actually spit the verse from the song ” 22 Two’s,” which was featured on the Reasonable Doubt album released in 1996. The style was reminiscent of the one he kicked on Jaz-O’s album, on the single “The Originators.”

He definitely left a permanent stain on Northern California that year as one of the premier MCs in the business that was on the rise. None of us would have ever dreamed that this tall, skinny, underground rapper with no record deal who was wearing cotton sweat pants with one leg rolled up above his knee, a T-shirt and headband would become the multimillionaire record mogul that Shawn Carter, a.k.a. Jay-Z, is today.

Now it’s 2002 and “The Wake Up Show” hasn’t seen Jay since 1999. Since then, he’s literally gone through enough trials (not guilty) and tribulations that would send most artists to the psycho ward. It was now my job to get the otherwise calculating interviewee Jigga to open up and share all about Beyoncé rumors, Roc-A-Fella breaking up, Nas beef, Irv Gotti, Tupac and Biggie, his family, marriage, children, the state of hip-hop, politics and the new album … not an easy task.

So when I arrived at the location, after the crew set up, a rather relaxed Jay-Z came out of his holding area and greeted everyone in the room, and I took that as a good omen. We then proceeded to reminisce on our past meetings at the radio station and the time that he performed for us at a concert hall in L.A. called the Palladium for one of the anniversary parties for our radio show. I could tell that after we began building on who are the hottest up-and-coming MCs in rap that there wasn’t really much that changed about Jay-Z, except he’s gained maturity that comes with age, and now has a couple hundred million dollars.

Being fortunate enough to watch and be a part of his career from the beginning to now, I feel that one of the keys to Jay-Z’s success over the years is the ability to reinvent himself. He’s already surpassed the life expectancy of most rappers, but I think that he realizes this and is prepared to do what it takes to get himself through the remaining years of his rap career and to retire on top of his game. Jay-Z is not yet done.

—Sway Calloway

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