Recently Forbes staged an event a long time coming, bringing Jay-Z and the billionaire Warren Buffett to the same table as part of something they’re calling the Forbes 400 Summit. People have been speculating about this meeting for years now–some quite prophetically–and as interlocutor, the magazine brought in none other than Steve Forbes himself, sitting the three men around a table at Omaha’s Hollywood Diner, where they ate underneath a plastic bust of Elvis, before moving to more comfortable surroundings for a formal interview (see the video below). You were not there, and neither were we. But they’ve now published the transcript, and what do you know–Steve Forbes really knows how to interview rappers! Below, the seven most surprising, touching, and generally cool revelations from a conversation that pretty much blows away most of the journalism done on Jay in the past five or so years.
Jay-Z Was Inspired To Become Successful By One of Those Refrigerator Appliances That Dispenses Both Water and Ice
Asked by Forbes where his love of words originally came from, Jay waxes sentimental about a sixth-grade teacher named Miss Lowden, who gave a young Shawn Carter special attention. She also took the class on a field to her house, far from Marcy Projects. Says Jay: “I saw a whole different world that day, and my imagination grew from there. I wanted that. I aspired to have that. The small things. She had an ice thing on her refrigerator. You know, you push it and the ice and the water comes down. I was really amazed by that. I was like, I want one of those.”
Jay-Z Lost the Master of Blueprint 3 the Day Before He Bought It Back From Def Jam
Famously, Jay-Z bought out his contract and the one album remaining on it from Universal Music Group’s Doug Morris for a reported five million dollars. But, as Jay tells Buffett and Forbes, “What people don’t know is the day before I flew from Hawaii, where I was doing some recording and put it on an iPod. I had on jogging pants, and my iPod, with all the music I recorded, was missing. It was on the plane somewhere. I had to walk into Doug’s office the next day and buy an album back that might leak the next day. Every day I would wake up and check all the Internet places and everywhere. I was like that for three months.”
Jay-Z Flies in Jogging Pants
Jay-Z Just Coined One of the All Time Great Ways to Describe Hip-Hop’s Art/Commerce Dichotomy
A frequent critique of rap’s materialism, here elegantly refuted: “Hip-hop from the beginning has always been aspirational. It always broke that notion that an artist can’t think about money as well. Just so long as you separate the two and you’re not making music with business in mind. At some point it has to be real when they touch it, when they listen to it. Something has to resonate with them that’s real. When you’re in the studio you’re an artist, you make music, and then after you finish, you market it to the world. I don’t think anything is wrong with that.”
Shawn Carter Almost Never Became Jay-Z
This story is a more familiar one, but still chilling: “I have a great friend who just came home, one of the most beautiful people you’d ever meet; he just came home from doing 13 years. And we were together every single day. Back then there was a guy by the name of Jazz who I started out with. He had a deal with EMI. He had the opportunity to go to London to record his album. I went along with him for two months. In those two months there was a sting operation and they took my friend I’m talking about, for 13 years. The only reason I wasn’t there was because I was away doing this music stuff. Had it not been for music, and music taking me out at the right time, my life could very easily have been his, very easily.”
Jay-Z Does That Awful Stuff He Does With Bono and Phish For the Fans
If you wondered why all this had to happen, wonder no more: “Before Eminem, before Bono, it was R. Kelly or 50 Cent or DMX. I just believe in giving people a better package so when they leave the concert hall, they want to come back again.”
Jay-Z Genuinely Seems to Love and Respect Warren Buffett
These two are basically Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story. For instance:
“SF: Warren, you said you wouldn’t want to compete with Jay. What advice would you give?
JZ: He’s super-duper joking.”
“SF: Jay, you have any advice you want to give to Warren on building moats?
JZ: What am I going to say to this guy, man?”
There’s also an entertaining exchange where Buffett offers Jay a ride from the diner to Buffett’s offices. “I’ll give you a lift,” Buffett says. “Sit up in the front with me. My rates are very competitive.” Doubt their chemistry?