In the recent issue of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, hip-hop artist and mogul Jay-Z sat down with the newspaper’s executive editor Dean Baquet for a wide-ranging conversation about black identity and success, the state of leadership in America, and emotional healing and vulnerability. The artist’s latest album, 4:44, released last summer, gave listeners a raw and moody look into many of those themes, and bristled with discomfort and regret. It earned eight Grammy award nominations, the most of any artist this year.
BAQUET: This album [“4:44.”] sounds to me like a therapy session.
JAY-Z: Yeah, yeah.
BAQUET: Have you been in therapy?
JAY-Z: Yeah, yeah.
BAQUET: First off, how does Jay-Z find a therapist? Not in the phone book, right?
JAY-Z: No, through great friends of mine. You know. Friends of mine who’ve been through a lot and, you know, come out on the other side as, like, whole individuals.
BAQUET: What was that like, being in therapy? What did you talk about that you had never acknowledged to yourself or talked about?
JAY-Z: I grew so much from the experience. But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage. You know, you realize that if someone’s racist toward you, it ain’t about you. It’s about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully. It just happen. Oh, you got bullied as a kid so you trying to bully me. I understand.
And once I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, “Aw, man, is you O.K.?” I was just saying there was a lot of fights in our neighborhood that started with “What you looking at? Why you looking at me? You looking at me?” And then you realize: “Oh, you think I see you. You’re in this space where you’re hurting, and you think I see you, so you don’t want me to look at you. And you don’t want me to see you.”
BAQUET: You think I see your pain.
JAY-Z: You don’t want me to see your pain. You don’t … So you put on this shell of this tough person that’s really willing to fight me and possibly kill me ’cause I looked at you. You know what I’m saying, like, so … Knowing that and understanding that changes life completely.