I liked this Zadie Smith profile of Jay-Z, and not just for The Wire reference. Smith’s got a nice way with words and handles Jay-Z’s way with words nicely.
In “Decoded,” Jay-Z writes that “rap is built to handle contradictions,” and Hova, as he is nicknamed, is as contradictory as they come. Partly because he’s a generalist. Biggie had better boasts, Tupac dropped more knowledge, Eminem is — as “Renegade” demonstrated — more formally dexterous. But Hova’s the all-rounder. His albums are showrooms of hip-hop, displaying the various possibilities of the form. The persona is cool, calm, almost frustratingly self-controlled: “Yeah, 50 Cent told me that one time. He said: ‘You got me looking like Barksdale’ ” — the hot-blooded drug kingpin from HBO’s “The Wire” — “and you get to be Stringer Bell!” — Barksdale’s levelheaded partner. The rapper Memphis Bleek, who has known Jay-Z since Bleek himself was 14, confirms this impression: “He had a sense of calm way before music. This was Jay’s plan from day one: to take over. I guess that’s why he smiles and is so calm, ‘cause he did exactly what he planned in the ’90s.” And now, by virtue of being 42 and not dead, he can claim his own unique selling proposition: he’s an artist as old as his art form. The two have grown up together.
Additionally, you’ll enjoy this profile of a guy who has sent a couple hundred letter-length emails to Jay-Z since 2010, and is pretty sure the emails are being read.