Def Jam CEO Jay-Z tells EW.com how proud he is of his ''little brother'' -- and all-star on his label's roster -- Kanye West, who's poised to see his new CD ''Graduation'' bury rival 50 Cent's ''Curtis'' in first-week album sales
With some projections suggesting that Kanye West’s Graduation could notch as many as 900,000 CDs sold in its first week when Nielsen SoundScan numbers are released tonight — leaving 50 Cent’s Curtis in the dust with a still-respectable figure of more than 600,000 — no one is happier than West’s boss, Def Jam CEO Shawn ”Jay-Z” Carter. Jay called EW.com today to do a little pre-emptive gloating, talk about his favorite Graduation cuts, and reveal the real story behind his own unlikely collaboration with onetime rival 50 Cent.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Kanye’s having a pretty amazing week in sales.
JAY-Z: The Best Damn Week. What’s the name of that show?
Best Week Ever?
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah! I mixed the two up, [Fox Sports Net’s] The Best Damn Sports Show [Period] and [VH1’s] Best Week Ever.
How does it make you feel to see Kanye performing so well with this album?
It makes me proud as someone who’s watched his growth from the beginning, when he came in as a hungry producer, to now he’s a rock star. I’m happy for him on that level. And I’m excited for creativity as well, because I think that’s a win for that as well. You know, people mimic success. And in order to mimic that success, you have to put in a lot of work. You have to really care about the music. I was just listening to the first song [on Graduation], called ”Good Morning.” [West sampled] an a capella of my song in the end, ”The Ruler’s Back” off of The Blueprint album. And I was with him last night, he was bragging about having the a capella. He’s like, [decent Kanye impression] ”Yo, that’s how I spun it, ’cause I had the a capella.” I’m like, wow. The things he cares about! That’s not a big thing, but in his mind, ”I had the a capella, so I was able to put that sample in there without any drums.”
Looking at the size of these numbers, would you say they’ve exceeded your expectations? Are you surprised at all?
Every time. Every single album. I mean, I never thought he would do 440 [thousand copies of 2004’s The College Dropout] his first week. I never thought he would do 860 [thousand copies of 2005’s Late Registration in its first week]. Every single time.
People talk a lot about rap sales declining, but this is obviously a huge week for the genre. Do you think this a good sign for hip-hop overall?
Yeah. This is certainly a one-off. This is not going to happen every day. But with the right music, the right amount of attention, you can really do some serious damage out there.
Even though Kanye beat him, 50 Cent is selling pretty well himself this week. How do you feel about that over at Def Jam? Is it a more-the-merrier situation?
Yeah, we’re fantastic about that. We think 50 is a great competitor. We think he’s needed in the marketplace. So we’re happy for him.
Do you think the rivalry between Kanye and 50, having both their albums dropping on the same day, helped Kanye’s sales?
Yeah! But I think it worked both ways. I think it brought attention to both projects. I think you [would] lower both numbers if they’re not on the same day.
NEXT PAGE: Jay-Z on Kanye’s perfectionism, his favorite Graduation songs, and contributing a verse to a 50 Cent remix
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What factors do you think contributed to Kanye coming out on top this week? What made his music resonate with the fans so much?
JAY-Z: It’s pretty much how much he cares about it. It’s not done for any other reason but to be the best music out at that specific time. You know, at times you could hear [other] people’s music, and you hear, ”Okay, that’s your girl single, that’s the thug single, that’s the…” No, it’s none of that. Every single song he makes, he makes because he thinks it’s the best record at that specific time. He may not think it next week, but that week, he thought that was the best record that he could make.
You think that’s something he doesn’t share with other artists?
No. [Laughs] We have 75 mixes of ”Stronger.” Who does that? When I was sitting in mastering to make sure the album got done, he was somewhere in Sweden sending through mixes of ”Good Life.” Sixteen different mixes of the song! Who does that?
What’s your favorite song on the album?
Aw, man. Okay, today? I’m pretty much consistent with ”I Wonder,” ”Champion,” and ”Flashing Lights.” Those are my three records. I think ”Drunk and Hot Girls” would be a great stadium song for him to perform — it sounds like a great time to me. I can just see one of those festivals, it’s overseas somewhere and it’s like 75,000 people just having a great time. And I think ”Big Brother” is the best song he’s written since ”Jesus Walks,” as far as structure, emotion, everything.
I was going to ask you about that song — obviously it’s about you. Do you think that was a fair portrayal of you?
I think it’s a fair portrayal from a little brother’s perspective. You know, you’ve got your big brother and you want to go out with him, he’s like, ”Nah, get back in the house!” Things like that, until you come of age. At Roc-A-Fella, we’ve always lived by tough love. Everyone knows that. It’s nothing given. Everyone has to work for theirs, and that’s how you make strong individuals, by not carrying them. That’s how you make a Kanye West. You make him fight for his position.
Kanye’s last two albums both had great, full verses from you, and this one you don’t spit a verse. Why’s that?
Well, I was going to do ”Barry Bonds,” but it was late in the day, so I didn’t get to do it.
I just heard your verse on 50’s ”I Get Money” remix last night. How did that come together?
I just wanted to show that we’re not enemies. It’s a great story for this, you’re the first person to ask, so you got great timing! [50 Cent] called me to ask for the remix, and I told him he couldn’t put the remix out until the first week came. I didn’t want it to affect any type of numbers. [Laughs] So as you see, it came out the 17th, when the SoundScan cycle is finished. So just to show, I’m still competing! We’re not enemies, we’re just competing.
At the end of that verse, I love how you say, ”New York is still mine.” Even though you’ve transitioned into a CEO role, you still want to put that out there?
Yeah. I was in artist mode at that time. When I’m in artist mode, why wouldn’t New York be mine, right? It certainly is.