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10-24-2010, 02:00 AM
The State of Jay-Z's Empire

He's worth an estimated $450 million and hobnobs with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. How the Brooklyn-born performer has become the leading music impresario of his generation.

Rolling through New York City in the back seat of his black Maybach, Jay-Z touches a button to let more light through the translucent roof, then tugs back a window curtain to peek out at the rainy streets of his hometown. The rapper went from a Brooklyn housing project to a top corner office near Times Square, a path traced in "Empire State of Mind," his anthem to the city that has taken a place next to Sinatra's.


At age 40 and still rapping, Jay-Z inhabits the rare zone where cultural cachet and corporate power meet. He's had partnerships with Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Reebok and Microsoft. Forbes magazine put him on the cover of its current 400 "Richest People in America" issue, even though at $450 million he was only "on his way" to cracking the list ($1 billion was required this year). He's posted more No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 list than anybody but the Beatles, has won 10 Grammy awards and sold 45 million albums.

He's using his clout to rewrite some industry rules. His music company hedges the unpredictable business of music sales against steadier revenues from music publishing, artist management and touring. The company, Roc Nation, was created out of a $150 million, 10-year, profit-sharing deal with concert giant Live Nation, which has made bets on acts such as U2 and Madonna that are similar, though narrower in scope.

Jay-Z's ventures include an ownership stake in the New Jersey Nets; a sports-bar chain called the 40/40 Club and a Greenwich Village bistro, the Spotted Pig; creative and operational control of the Rocawear clothing line that he sold in 2007 for $204 million; and the Carol's Daughter beauty line he co-owns.

In the early days of his entrepreneurship, there were awkward exchanges with white-collar guys trying to relate. "In the beginning it was ' 'Sup, man!' " he says in his soft speaking voice. "But at this point, it's pretty much accepted that I walk both worlds naturally."

And yet, he chafes at the lack of respect for a genre that some people still dismiss wholesale because of ugly words and violent imagery. W hen he shares strawberry malts with Warren Buffett, confers with the president, or even vacations in St. Tropez, he does so on behalf of "the culture," he says, by which he means hip-hop.

Now, to state his case more clearly, the rapper born Shawn Carter has turned to prose. His first book, "Decoded," to be published Nov. 16, is a hybrid of music history, social commentary and memoir, with an emphasis on his transition from the crack trade to the music business. The 336-page book is structured around the lyrics to 36 Jay-Z songs, each footnoted to unpack his allusions, slang and double entendres. This couplet, "No lie, just know I chose my own fate/I drove by the fork in the road and went straight," is explained in footnote 16 to the song "Renegade": "I went straightstopped selling drugsbut I also didn't accept the false choice between poverty and breaking the law." Microsoft put up about $1 million for the marketing of the book.

He had rejected proposals to write a conventional business-strategy book. "Our ambition was never to just fit into the corporate mold, it was to take it over and remake that world in our image," he writes in a footnote to "Operation Corporate Takeover," a song that rhymes "reverse merger" with "no need to converse further."

The book deal follows his classic playbook. He maintains tight creative control of the project, but often connects with deep-pocketed corporate partners. Companies hope to borrow some of the rapper's glow, of course, but he has also used such deals to shape his own public image.

In 2005, Jay-Z completed an autobiography with writer Dream Hampton. But he felt that the memoir, tentatively titled "The Black Book," revealed too many personal details. "It was great, but I couldn't do it," he says. He shelved it, reimbursing publisher MTV Books for the advance paid to Ms. Hampton (who later helped with "Decoded").

Last year Jay-Z signed with Random House. Editor Christopher Jackson had some initial doubts about the proposed concept, an annotated book of lyrics, but in their first meeting, he says, the rapper fleshed out a broader context of rap as poetry and "a story of choices made." (That format allowed Jay-Z to dip into memoir while guarding intimate details, such as his marriage to singer Beyonc Knowles, who is barely mentioned in "Decoded.") In meetings, Jay-Z also specified what the project would not involve, including a celebrity book-signing at a Barnes & Noble. "It's a very efficient way to sell a lot of books and it would have been a huge event, but he was completely uninterested in that," Mr. Jackson says.


Read Full Interview:

The State of Jay-Z's Empire - WSJ.com (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304741404575564092478617 462.html?mod=WSJ_newsreel_lifeStyle)

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