Because of Jay-Z…The world gets to see that it's possible to transcend stereotypes, our environment, a criminal past—all of it. And they get to see that ascension can look fly as hell. Jay-Z is someone nobody expected this from. He was Jaz's man, then he was B.I.G.'s man. And people expected him to always be that. But then Jay became the man, and other people became Jay's man.
What’s most admirable about him is his work ethic and dedication to the craft. Jay-Z has a quotable for every era of rap that most millennials have lived through. Your dad has a favorite Jay-Z bar, your big cousin has a favorite Jay-Z bar, you have a favorite Jay-Z bar, and more than likely our kids will have a favorite Jay-Z bar. I literally have four tattoos of Jay's lyrics. "Dead Presidents I” was the first song I ever learned word for word. So many records of his hold a special place with me because I grew up in the barbershop, and these were literally the coolest guys in the neighborhood. I’d learn the words and would be rapping them while sweeping up and have the OGs like, "Yo what this little nigga know about Jigga?"
Then The Blueprint dropped when I was 13. Me and my dad would be listening and going crazy over the bars and beef with Nas. Then we'd start having our debates. I felt that's when I had proven myself and my dad respected my opinion. So, Jay's music really holds a different place with me, because it’s so deeply rooted in my maturation and my view on masculinity, and the relationships I have with the influential men in my life.
Because of Jay-Z… I didn’t listen to Nas for like four years. I chose sides. Me, Jeff Rosenthal, a person who had never spoken to Nas or Jay, or really spent time in Queens or Brooklyn.
I remember where I was when I first heard Jay-Z. A video with Foxy Brown [had dropped], and I was in my middle school courtyard with a bunch of kids who normally didn’t talk about rap, and here we were talking about Jay-Z. Our high school marching band played “Big Pimpin’”—he was everywhere. And he was popular, but he was [also] cool. I don’t remember anyone ever talking down on him. You know how people make fun of artists when they’re too big? There never was that.
If I have to convince my children to go back and research Jay, then I’ve done my job wrong. They should know Jay from jump. There is a Jay-Z song for every mood, and a bar for every season. My children will be growing up on Jay’s music.
Because of Jay-Z… Hip-hop is everything. It was truly exciting to witness Jay-Z’s rise to stardom in real-time. It was like your favorite sports team winning championships every single year. Building Roc-A-Fella Records with the most talented roster, never sacrificing taste for climbing the charts and growing popularity, picking battles and winning every one of them, and always surpassing enormous expectations.
Jay-Z made me feel, made me think, made me study, made me create, made me build, and made me strive. Thank you, Jay-Z, for leading us through a lifetime, and showing us there’s always more.
Because of Jay-Z… I’m not afraid to dream big. We come from neighborhoods where we don’t have too many options. So, it’s always good to see someone at that level who came from the same place we came from. It definitely made me shoot higher.
His swagger and his confidence on [Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint] changed me as a person. They made me a little more cocky when I was a kid. They shaped how I would look at a black man and how he can operate and move. His success story starts off in the streets, but then he starts to show you a different side as he goes on in his career. I just like the growth of him as a man, and how he portrayed it so wisely in his albums.
Because of Jay-Z… I was given one of my first opportunities to direct a music video. And because of Jay-Z, my music video career led me to my television career, which led me to direct my first feature film [Queen & Slim]. So I am grateful to that man for my entire career.
Because of Jay-Z… People who would not have taken serious aim at business careers and making corporate representations of themselves have [done just that]. So, thank you, Jay-Z, for making that cool. And thank you for The Black Album. I felt like that was some of the best production in rap music history, and one of the most cohesive rap albums ever. Everybody brought their A-game for that album—specifically [on] “Encore.”
Because of Jay-Z… We stopped wearing jerseys and started wearing very large Express button-up shirts in the early aughts [laughs]. And if I could ask Jay anything, I’d ask how he became a billionaire and sustained for so long—also, where are the 92 bricks? - Mero
Yeah, I still have one of those [button-ups] in my closet. I was going to wear it tonight but my PR person was like, “No you’re not.” And my question for him would be whether he said, “I can sell water to a well” or “water to a whale?” Remember that line? “Triple entendre don’t even ask me how!” - Desus
Because of Jay-Z… There are many more black entrepreneurs in the industry. I feel like Jay-Z opened that door for people to come into the music industry but think business-minded as well, and set something for the next generation.
At the Roc Nation brunch, when I met him for the first time, he was very kind and very gentle. That’s very important. As someone who’s a legend, he knows how to receive his artists. I feel like he’s responsible for how a lot of the urban landscape has been created. I want to give him credit for that. It’s way beyond just one moment. If it weren’t for him, I would not be here.
Because of Jay-Z… I’ll never know what Cristal tastes like [laughs].
Starting around 2001, I would joke, “Oh, Jay-Z is y’all’s dad.” He says wear this, and y’all wear that. He says stop drinking this, and y’all stop drinking that. As someone who just started going to the club [at that time], it was really interesting to watch. There was a point where he was [an influencer] before we started using the phrase influencer.
He’s significantly older now, and we are too. And there’s a new generation of fan that has come to either experience him in real-time, or do the work to go back and study his catalogue and put 4:44 into a continuum.
4:44, I would have to say, is [my favorite Jay-Z era]. Reasonable Doubt is definitely one of my favorite albums by him, but it doesn’t necessarily represent what I personally admire about him in the way that 4:44 does. It symbolized the growth that I had [awaited] for a very long time. For a man in rap, once you’re at the top and you’re not in the streets anymore, some of the things you used to talk about are no longer essential to your day-to-day life; you’ve been out of the drug game longer than you’ve been in it, and you’ve been a successful rapper longer than you’ve been a struggling rapper. So, what are the universal things that you grapple with? Things that you can talk about that your audience has in common with you.
You can’t really regale me with tales from 1993 for the rest of your life. Not that those stories lose value or interest, but there’s more to you. What does it mean to be a man who is in love with a woman? Who gets tired of that woman sometimes, who misses that woman sometimes. What does it mean to be a man whose partner has miscarried? What does it mean to be a man who has been a womanizer and is now raising daughters and sons? As a woman—someone who is allowed to be vulnerable, and suffers from the inability of men to be vulnerable—that’s something I always wanted.