Jay-Z's GREAT escape
Big stars invariably want to plug whatever it is they're in the room to promote and then get out without saying very much else. Jay-Z wasn't like that when I spoke to him in 2009.
He wanted to talk about how the plight of black men in American jails was the new slavery. He believed the high black incarceration rate in American prisons – almost 5 per cent of all black males in the United States were incarcerated compared to 0.7 of the white males – meant there was a highly lucrative new slave trade.
"It is another version of slavery in America," he said. "It is a big social problem in America. The money doesn't trickle down to the poor communities, the poor black communities especially, and you can see the results, the anger."
It was not lost on Jay-Z for a minute that he could easily have been one of those black statistics behind bars.
Born Shawn Corey Carter on December 4, 1969, he grew up in the tough Marcy projects of Brooklyn.
His father left when he was 10 and his youth was, by any definition of the word, hard.
He became a drug-dealer – crack cocaine his specialty – at the age of 13. In 1999, he stabbed a record producer and was sentenced to probation for the assault. Jay was even shot at three times while growing up.
In an 2009 interview with his VBF Oprah Winfrey in 2009, he said drug dealers in Brooklyn were his "role models" as a young teen.
Asked does he ever wonder how things could have been so different for him considering his troubled past, he replied: "I think about that every day. I thank God every day for this blessing. Not a day goes by when I don't think how lucky I've been. It is unbelievable. I know I have angels. Kanye West sings about angels and I know I got them watching over me. I have friends who didn't make it ... who it didn't happen for like me. My message is positivity. I believe in Martin Luther King.'
He also believed in Barack Obama. It was no big surprise that when Obama wanted to target disenfranchised black youths before the November 2008 US presidential election, who did he turn to but one of America's most famous, former disenfranchised black men himself. Jay-Z – a former crack-dealer who became the world's most successful rapper – made an automated phone message encouraging voters to support Obama: "Bring your friends and families. Make sure your voices are heard for change," Jay-Z said.
Hilariously, there was the moment in January 2009, when the new prez walked into his victory party in Des Moines, Iowa, with Michelle to the sound of Jay-Z's 99 Problems.
In it, Jay Z quips: "I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain't one," in a reference to Hillary Clinton, who was allegedly furious at the joke.
"I heard that story too," Jay-Z told me with a laugh.
He said in a recent interview with NME that Obama texts him regularly. Indeed he and his superstar wife Beyonce hosted a $40,000 per plate fundraiser in New York City for the president's re-election last year. Maybe that is now part of the problem with Jay-Z.
Cop a few listens to Jay-Z's new album Magna Carta Holy Grail and you might be forgiven for thinking he has forgotten the mean streets of his youth. On Picasso Baby, he's rapping about his art collection, and how his gaff is so much to write home about: "House like the Louvre or the Tate Modern/Because I be going ape at the auction." And then on his homage to fashion designer Tom Ford, Jay-Z enthuses thus: "Numbers don't lie, check the scoreboard/Tom Ford, Tom Ford, Tom Ford."
Jay-Z brings his Magna Carter world tour to the 02 Arena on October 6