A fairy tale with a happy end

The story of 36-year-old hip-hop artist Jay-Z is like a fairy tale about a poor Afro-American from Brooklyn who makes it big despite the odds. Born Shawn Carter, the successful musician and producer had a thorny adolescence, especially after the flight of his father, when the young man was forced to take the helm of the family. He took to life on the streets early on, dabbled in petty crime and worked odd jobs, but his love for music and his inherent talent gradually allowed him to shine, to earn respect, recognition and wealth, as well as to win over the talented Beyonce Knowles, according to the latest rumors. The grapevine even says that Beyonce may be accompanying Jay-Z on his one and only gig in Athens, tonight at the Athinon Arena venue. The artist spoke to Kathimerini just few days prior to his arrival in the Greek capital. Your world tour is taking place under the aegis of the United Nations and aims at drawing attention to the lack of clean drinking water in Third World countries. Do you feel that artists have an obligation to play a social role? Absolutely. It is our duty to use the influence we have for a good cause. I would also like to add that we are preparing a film, with the UN and MTV, on the issue and it will premiere on November 24. You are a very good role model for many people. What brought you to this place in your life? Work, work, work… Being a role model is not just flattering, it is also a huge responsibility. I care very much that what I represent is only positive. But, to be honest, hip-hop is connected to real life and real life is not always politically correct. We can’t close our eyes to what isn’t good and coddle the audience… Many say that hip-hop has evolved away from its roots. Do you agree? Hip-hop has always been about being true to oneself and to one’s times. After that, each artist can follow his own roots or choose whether to stay true to the old school or not. Is the mixture of various different styles of music a matter of survival in the industry? Generally, a lot has changed in music in the past few years, since new techniques are constantly being introduced. Personally I believe it is good to mix things up a bit, generations and styles – not for survival, but in order to give rise to new things. This is the philosophy of my music, and this is why I have worked with artists as varied as Paul McCartney and Linkin Park. My music is not a sealed box. When does another artist attract your interest? When he or she has that rare talent you can spot a mile away. Listen to Kanye West, for example, and you’ll see what I mean. Is your role as producer an effort to pump new blood into hip-hop? Hip-hop, like everything else in life, comes and goes in cycles. It helps when the right people are in the right positions but it is not enough. Young pioneering artists will always emerge and there are already quite a few who are very promising. I would mention 24-year-old Lupe Fiasco from Chicago, a great musician with great ideas, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Fabolous. What is the philosophy behind Def Jam and Roc-a-Fella records? The people in the company are creative and artistic. This is our philosophy in a nutshell. From that point on, we face the new digital challenges, but our main concern is to keep the spark of creativity alive… Why do sex and violence play such as prominent role in hip-hop videos? They are a part of this music that no one has a right to reject. Speaking in marketing terms, the image sells to a broad audience. But hip-hop has a lot of different facets that an artist can explore and this is why we should not stick to just one thing. What does the future of hip-hop hold? Hip-hop is the new rock. It is everywhere and it is constantly growing. What we can expect is new ideas. Television tribute, five Grammys and a top industry spot Jay-Z is the first hip-hop artist to be the subject of an entire show on the highly popular TV news program «60 Minutes» and the first Afro-American director general of a big, multinational recording company, Def Jam. His resume includes seven No 1 hits on the charts, five Grammy Awards from 18 nominations and collaborations with some of the biggest names in music. His most popular album is «The Black Album,» which is a play on the title of the Beetles’ «White Album.» DJ Danger Mouse was inspired by this album to create «The Grey Album,» which combines lyrics from Jay-Z’s work to the music of the Beetles. «The Grey Album» has sold hundreds of thousands of copies even though it is available only on the Internet. Jay-Z is also considered one of the best talent scouts in the business, discovering young artists whom he promotes through his own recording company, Roc-a-Fella. Tickets for the concert are available at Metropolis music stores, Ticket House (42 Panepistimiou) and online at The Athinon Arena is located at 166 Pireos (tel 210.347.111). Doors open at 7 p.m.