Considering Zadie Smith‘s younger brother is London-born former rapper Doc Brown, you would expect her to have a passable knowledge of all things Hip-Hop. However, reading her recent piece for the New York Times, it isn’t hard to imagine Smith reciting the words, “I’m a pimp by blood not relation” as often as possible, eagerly emphasising that she is very much her own woman.
The award-winning author of White Teeth does just that in a wonderfully articulate write-up about a revealing interview with Jay-Z, forcing you to sit up and take notice by effortlessly quoting lines straight from that Jiggaman and Big L freestyle session and referencing the Marcy don’s rapid-fire flow on the classic cut “I Can’t Get With That” — it makes you recognise that Smith is a Hip-Hop head in her own right, Doc Brown or no Doc Brown.
Breaking bread in a “homey” Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street in Manhattan, the two celebrated wordsmiths broach a range of subjects, touching on everything from fish sandwiches to politics.
With a nod to the presidential race, Jay says of President Obama:
“I’ve said the election of Obama has made the hustler less relevant. People took it in a way that I was almost dismissing what I am. And I was like: ‘no, it’s a good thing!’ No one came to our neighborhoods with stand-up jobs and showed us there’s a different way. Maybe had I seen different role models, maybe I’d’ve turned on to that.”
Discussing the influence and significance of street cred, the Roc Nation boss opines:
“Before, if you didn’t have that authenticity, your career could be over. Vanilla Ice said he got stabbed or something, they found out he was lying, he was finished. I think hip-hop has moved away from that place of everything has to be authentic. Kids are growing up very differently now.”
The former Def Jam head honcho also praises groups like Odd Future, lauding the parts they play in reviving the Punk-Rock aspect of Hip-Hop by reviving the “aversion to corporate America.” He says:
“People have a real aversion to what people in power did to the country. So they’re just lashing out, like: ‘This is the son that you made. Look at your son. Look at what you’ve done.’”
The Jiggaman also offers his two cents on the Occupy Movement, offering:
“What’s the thing on the wall, what are you fighting for? I’m not going to a park and picnic, I have no idea what to do, I don’t know what the fight is about. What do we want, do you know?
“I think all those things need to really declare themselves a bit more clearly. Because when you just say that ‘the 1 percent is that,’ that’s not true. Yeah, the 1 percent that’s robbing people, and deceiving people, these fixed mortgages and all these things, and then taking their home away from them, that’s criminal, that’s bad. Not being an entrepreneur. This is free enterprise. This is what America is built on.”
A sense of hurt and heartbreak cracking through his typically cool, calm demeanour, Mr. Carter, who famously became a father earlier this year, said of the tragic Trayvon Martin shooting:
“It’s really heartbreaking, that that still can happen in this day and age.”
Considerate and thoughtful, Smith’s sitdown with Jay-Z is refreshingly sharp, intelligent and detailed; an interview in which questions aren’t asked to throw the interviewee under the bus or to sit him on a pedestal, but to throw an investigative light on who the subject really is and what he or she truly thinks and feels. Something all too rare when rappers are concerned.
Read the full interview here.