Jay-Z and U2 to take on Sydney

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The Daily Telegraph

There are not many musicians bold enough to ask Jay-Z to open for them on stage.

Jay-Z is considered the best rapper of all time, has won 10 Grammys and his 11 No. 1 albums beat Elvis Presley for the most chart toppers by a solo artist in U.S. history.

He's married to Beyonce and has President Obama's private telephone number.

The rapper may have 99 problems, but warming up the crowd for U2 in Australia is not one of them.

When it comes to concert billing, he has zero ego.

"They deserve it," Jay-Z says. "They are the biggest band in the world. It's out of respect to them, the legacy they've created. It doesn't matter to me. I'm concerned with having great shows and putting on a great show for the people.

"The people don't care who goes on first, that's something the industry created. They're happy to get a great package, they're like 'I get to see Muhammad Ali and the Beatles?' "


The rapper pauses for a moment, laughs and clarifies, "I'm not saying we are Muhammad Ali and the Beatles, I'm just saying it's a great package."

Born Shawn Carter in 1969, Jay-Z is refreshingly modest for a man who has literally changed the face of modern music.

A late-starter, his first album, 1996's Reasonable Doubt, saw him swap drug-dealing for rap.

He's since sold over 50 million albums. His career as an entrepreneur has also created a fortune estimated at $150 million last year; with a clothing line (Rocawear), investments in nightclubs, sporting teams and Broadway musicals, and running management and publishing company Roc Nation with touring behemoth Live Nation.

After a brief retirement (where he was CEO of his old record label Def Jam) last year's Blueprint 3 saw Jay-Z score his first U.S. No. 1 hit on his own terms "Empire State of Mind" with Alicia Keys having previously been on top via guest raps on Rihanna's "Umbrella," Mariah Carey's Heartbreaker" and Beyonce's "Crazy in Love."

He's had the most U.S. Top 10 hits of any rapper and is forging new ground in the relatively young hip hop genre; still at the top of his game despite turning 41 in December.

In the past he's called himself the U2 of hip hop.

"I just mean as far as impact and longevity," Jay-Z explains.

"I mean, in rap 10 years is like 40 years.

"I've been able to record at a high level for a long time and still be not a heritage act but somebody that's still competing for the No.1 position (on the chart). It feels really good."

He's also established himself as a live act with a fully live band, previously a rarity in hip hop where budget tours would see a rapper, an MC and a DJ.

"Hip hop is 31, 32 years, I'm losing count, but it's finally getting up there," Jay-Z says.

"It took us a while to grow as performers. A lot of time hip hop artists would have a hit record and they'd throw us on stage in front of 50,000 people and we never had a show.

"It took us a minute to work on our live show and really know the importance of it. For a while you have the big record, you put it on, everyone goes crazy. You didn't have to work on your live show. It wasn't a huge part of rap. Now it's part of artistry."

He's also become a festival act; headlining Glastonbury and Coachella.

"It's a new feeling for me. I love having to woo so many different people. It was challenging, I almost felt like a new artist which was cool. It's almost like a discovery. I know there'll be U2 fans (in Australia) who'll go I know the name, I don't know the music and they'll go I know this song and they realise it's just music, let's have some fun."

The music will get more serious attention next month when he releases Decoded; a 336-page memoir that looks at his journey from drug dealer at 13, surrounded by gang violence, to hip hop icon. As well as explaining 36 of his song's lyrics, there are interviews with friends and family.

"It was like sitting down with a therapist," Jay-Z laughs. "It's centered around lyrics, but it's really about life and it deals with race, politics, society and economics, all these different things.

"Rappers are the poets of our times. I'm not sure everyone really understands what created this generation. One thing the book doesn't have is any discussion of his personal life."

He married Beyonce in New York in 2008 they didn't sell wedding photos and managed to keep a cone of silence around the event.

He deflects any questions about his marriage with polite but mono-syllabic responses and laughs off the latest pregnancy rumours.

Marrying into celebrity has introduced him to a world he'd previously not been troubled by paparazzi.

"I try to deal with it like anybody else . . . in that world," Jay-Z says.

"You have to take the good with the bad. It is what it is. As long as there's a line and a level of respect, that's the only thing I can ask for. Cross the line and put a camera on my forehead, well . . . He laughs."

His live show features news footage of President Obama doing the brushing-off motion from "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" as a video introduction to the track.

"I never thought I'd see the day where a standing U.S. President would even acknowledge that he knows a rap song, or not be derogatory when it comes to rap music," Jay-Z says.

As for having The President's direct private number? True?

"Um, well, yep. Once again, I never thought I'd see the day."

While his old record label are about to release a new Jay-Z compilation, the rapper is still working out what shape his next album will take.

An EP with Kanye West may become a full album.

"We're recording some more songs soon so we'll see how it goes," Jay-Z says.

West went from being a Jay-Z fan to his protege, now he's a regular collaborator, a friend and a contemporary.

When West invaded the stage at the MTV Awards last year to insist that Beyonce's Single Ladies should have won video of the year Jay-Z admits he was torn.

"I think everyone agreed with him," Jay-Z says. "Taylor Swift, it wasn't her doing, she was just getting up to have her moment. She's probably dreamt of that moment in her house since she was in little pink booty socks.

She gets her moment and some guy gets on stage, and although I agreed with what he said the timing was just bad."

The Blueprint 3 saw Jay-Z record with Empire of the Sun; he lists the likes of indie heroes Grizzly Bear, Radiohead and Muse as his high-rotation albums.

"I've always had wide tastes.

"With 'Big Pimpin' in 1999 I had people from the South on there before it was cool. I've worked with Linkin Park, Coldplay, U2, I've never had those prejudices ever. I grew up around all sorts of music, my parents had a huge record collection. All I know is good music and bad music."

This year Jay-Z recorded with the White Stripes' Jack White, a project both men remain tight-lipped about.

"It's pretty good even if I say so myself. I love him, he's such an innovator. It's something that's never been done before."

His Roc Nation company is about to release new albums by Rihanna (he's just taken over her management), the Ting Tings and his newest signing, Will Smith's daughter Willow, whose single "Whip Your Hair" has created Justin Bieber-style YouTube mayhem.

Melbourne's Daniel Merriweather is also on his books.

"He's got a fantastic voice," Jay-Z says of Merriweather.

"He had a pretty successful album internationally, maybe not as much in the U.S., next time I'll try to expand his base. He's also unconcerned about the state of the music industry.

"Music is music. As far as the commerce of music, yes, there's some challenges there. As far as people making music there's great music there you just have to look for it. There aren't 50 good albums anymore, there's maybe 15, but you just gotta look around for them."Last November Jay-Z joined U2 on stage at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to add a rap to "Sunday Bloody Sunday"; they also performed together at this year's Hope for Haiti telethon.

With no side shows on his agenda in Australia, is there a chance they could perform together on stage Down Under?

"We haven't had the conversations yet as to what happens when we get there, but I'm sure we'll have that conversation.

"Anything's possible."

Hear The Hit Collection Vol. 1 (Universal) out tomorrow.

See Jay-Z, with U2, ANZ Stadium, December 13-14, $39.90 to $299.90,

Copyright 2010 News Limited.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 4, 2010 5:34 AM.

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