Jay-Z’s new interview with the U.K.’s Guardian includes some juicy quotes about the day when, at age 12, he shot his drug-addicted older brother in the shoulder for stealing a piece of jewelry. “I thought my life was over,” the rapper says of the incident, which took place 28 years ago in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects. “I thought I’d go to jail for ever.” His brother recovered from the shooting and declined to press charges, but for obvious reasons young Shawn Carter remained shaken. “It was terrible,” he tells the Guardian. “I was a boy, a child. I was terrified.”
It’s a gripping story – but is it a new one? While the Guardian states that Jay-Z “has never publicly talked about [the shooting] before,” and other publications have repeated this claim, a quick Google search reveals 2003 pieces by CBS News, Time, and the New York Observer that all mention the event. Last year, he went over it with Oprah Winfrey. And of course, as the Guardian acknowledges, he rapped quite movingly about shooting his brother way back on 1997’s “You Must Love Me.” The point here isn’t to play “gotcha” with the Guardian’s interview. It’s a good read, and it’s true that none of those older articles include such vivid quotes from Jay-Z about the shooting. But serious fans had been aware of this chapter in his past for many years.
The only reason it’s back in the news today is because of Jay-Z’s promotional tour for his excellent new memoir, Decoded. For the last month or more, he’s focused on introducing himself more fully to audiences that weren’t listening to him in 1997, or maybe even in 2007. Jay-Z is cementing and celebrating his hard-won status as a truly mainstream cultural figure, the type of universally respected elder statesman who does sit-downs with Charlie Rose. He’s been bigger than hip-hop for some time. Now it’s official.
Jay told me last week that he sees Decoded as “a conversation between worlds” – a project whose stated goal is to explain his own work and rap music as a whole to outsiders. When ancient tales like his brother’s shooting get dusted off and touted as exclusive new headlines, this is a natural byproduct of the conversation. It’s a fascinating process for longtime fans to observe. I just hope that everyone who’s getting to know Jay-Z for the first time through this book tour will consider buying his old albums. If you like his recent interviews, I bet you’ll love Reasonable Doubt.
(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)