Ironically, that's the one song Jay admits he had a hard time revisiting.
"Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing. Not 'Big Pimpin.' That's the exception," he told the Wall Street Journal in a candid new interview. "It was like, I can't believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh."
The lyrics to "Big Pimpin' " describe Jay-Z's troubled relationship with women (in short: He wants them to look good, stay away from his money, and be available when he needs them), a subject he has abandoned since marrying Beyonce in 2008. In fact, Jay says all hip-hop needs now is love.
"We have to find our way back to true emotion. This is going to sound so sappy, but love is the only thing that stands the test of time," he told the WSJ, name-checking two of the most iconic hip-hop records of the past 15 years. "'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' was all about love. Andre 3000, 'The Love Below.' Even N.W.A, at its core -- that was about love for a neighborhood."
Jay-Z said he'd like to hear more about the real challenges facing people today -- like the housing crisis and unemployment -- in other rappers' lyrics. This idea hearkens back to Public Enemy MC Chuck D's oft-paraphrased observation that rap is CNN for black people. Jay-Z cites hip-hop's efforts to help Barack Obama get elected as proof the community can help foster social change.
"Whether he does a great job or not is almost secondary to what it did for the dreams and the hopes of an entire race," he said. "Just based on that alone, it's a success -- the biggest we've had. ... It's Martin Luther King's dream realized. Tangible. In the flesh. You can shake his hand."
Hip-hop "saved a generation," argues Jay-Z, which is why it's important to preserve its legacy and continue pushing it ahead. Every time he steps into the booth, he has to believe he's going to make "the best album of all time."
"You always fail," he added, "But every time I go up to bat, I'm thinking how can I make an album better than "Thriller."
Decoded, which was co-authored by writer-filmmaker Dream Hampton, will be released on November 16.
[Photo credit: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images]
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