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Out Front with Jay-Z

Jay-Z in Fade to Black



by Brad Balfour

Thanks to his current conflicts with fellow tour-ist R. Kelly, Brooklyn born hip-hop chart topper Jay-Z (aka Shawn Carter) doesn’t come down from the headlines. But there’s another reason — the release of his live concert/semi-autobiographical feature, Fade to Black (producer Rick Rubin). Chronicling his Madison Square Garden performance in November 2003, Jay-Z assembled a remarkable group of guest stars (Beyonce, Missy Elliott) and some interesting interview subjects to create a rare feature length document of the rapper’s world.

How long did you prepare for this concert?

Not long. I like the feeling that you can mess up any second. When I did MTV Unplugged, we rehearsed on Saturday, then recorded on Sunday. Getting the people to the show took longer than rehearsing it. I did two rehearsals with Mary [J. Blige], and I didn’t rehearse with Beyonce and R. Kelly.

When you started recording the album, did you know you were going to make a movie out of it?

Not at all. It happened almost on its own. The recording of the CD was supposed to come out as a DVD. Then we shot the Garden show because we wanted it on a DVD. But when we started, we knew it was more than a DVD. It was a journey of a Brooklyn kid who gets to play on the biggest stage in the world. It was inspirational because my way to the top wasn’t easy; I couldn’t get a deal in the beginning.

What was it like being a guy on stage at MSG?

I couldn’t feel it at the time. I had to see the movie to really get a sense of it. Since we had such little rehearsal time, I was focused on what was supposed to happen next, like “Where the hell is Foxy?” or “When is Mary coming on? I hope she don’t mess up.” I was focused on the technical aspect of it – the emotional aspect kicked in later. When I saw it, I realized how crazy it was. The first fifteen minutes blew me away.

Do you still get nervous on stage?

I get butterflies but after the first note, I’m finished. By then I’m so far into it that I’m not nervous anymore.

How did you pick the songs that you played at MSG?

It was a two-hour show, so I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. I just pick the songs that are hugely popular or the ones that stick with people.

Why did you decide to narrate the movie yourself?

Who else could tell that story? It had to be in my voice because it’s one of the most personal things I have ever put out. I had never allowed people in the studio when I am recording. I figured it had to be in my voice.

Was there any pressure with the cameras in the studio?

You forget about them. You hear people on reality shows say that. But it is what happens. You forget. You have that extra cool on at the start, but after fifteen minutes you just relax and forget.

Are you going to do more movies?

I prefer to take it one step at a time. It’s been a long day, and I still have a show tonight.

What was your favorite backstage moment from this concert?

My favorite moment was when Slick Rick passed the chain to Ghostface. It was a huge chain, and a huge hip-hop moment. I didn’t see that until I watched the footage because I was too busy. When I wasn’t onstage, I was changing clothes.

Now that you are “retiring”, where will you direct energy?

Hopefully into new artists. I could teach them how to be artists instead of how to make one hot club record. They could have lengthy careers instead.

Why do you want to retire?

I want to channel my energies someplace else. I have the opportunity to open doors for the next new artists on the executive level. Nowadays it’s the business of music instead of the music business. In other words, the cart goes before the horse. You have to concentrate on the music. Everything else is a by-product of that.

After playing in MSG, would you do Giants Stadium?

Giants Stadium is not a great place to play because it is outdoors, and the acoustics are echoey. You don’t feel it in your heart as much as you do in MSG.

Obviously this is one of your best concert experiences, what was your worst?

It was at my first concert when I forgot the lyrics.

What’s going to happen when you become head of Def Jam Records?

It’s not a done deal yet, so we’ll see what happens. I’m an artist across the board. I believe in good music and bad music.

What superpower would you like to have?

I would like to have the superpower to zap all rich people and move them to the ghetto and zap the poor people to where the rich people were. So that all people could understand how the others live. Then we can figure out the rest.

Copyright ©2004 All rights reserved. Posted: December 8, 2004.

Photo Credits:
#1 © 2004 Courtesy of Paramount Classics. All rights reserved.

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