“A few years ago, I had gotten myself into some trouble, and the situation was my responsibility and my fault, and I did something that I had no business doing,” the former late-night TV host said, referring to his infidelity. This opened up the 4:44 rapper to discuss his own relationship with wife Beyoncé Knowles and the cheating scandal he feared might “blow up” his family.
“I want to cry, I want to be open, I want to have the emotional tools that it takes to keep my family together,” Jay-Z told Letterman on the episode. “And, much like you, I have a beautiful wife who is understanding and knew that I’m not the worst of what I’ve done. We did the hard work of going to therapy, and… we love each other. So, we really put in the work.”
“This music that I’m making now is a result of things that have happened already,” he added, “and, like you, I like to believe that we’re in a better place today but still working and communicating and growing.”
Jay-Z’s infidelity was first alluded to on Beyoncé’s “Sorry” off her Lemonade album with the lyric “Becky with the good hair.” Since then, the hip-hop star, born Shawn Carter, addressed the cheating multiple times.
“I’m proud of the father and the husband that I am today because of all the work that was done,” he told Letterman.
With the latest episode of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction now available to stream on Netflix, here are eight other takeaways from the conversation — besides why the rapper thinks Trump is “actually a great thing” and his mother’s coming-out story.
1. Jay-Z considers Kanye West his “little brother”
Letterman wasn’t sure whether Carter was in a feud with Kanye West or not these days, but his guest will always consider Yeezy a brother from another mother.
“That’s my brother. We’re beyond friends,” he said. “Really! Like my little brother is Kanye and [with] your little brother, things happen sometimes.”
Reiterating that he has “no problem” with the rapper, Carter explained, “We don’t come from the same mom and dad, but I watched Kanye without an album. The thing I respect about him is that he is the same person. He interrupted our studio session and stood up on the table and started rapping, and we were like, ‘Could you please get down.’ He was like, ‘No, I am the savior of Chicago!'”
2. The “most beautiful” thing Blue Ivy ever said to her father
It was one of those mornings when Carter told his 6-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, to get in the car. “She was asking a thousand questions and we had to leave for school,” he explained. He then recalled as they were driving, “I just hear a little voice: ‘Dad?’ I turn around and she’s like, ‘I didn’t like when you told me to get in the car the way you told me.’ She’s 6. ‘It hurt my feelings.’ I was like, ‘That’s the most beautiful thing you ever said to me.’”
3. The teacher that inspired Jay-Z
When Carter was in the sixth grade, he studied under the tutelage of one Ms. Lowden, who sparked his interest in language.
“I just loved the class so much, reading the dictionary, and my love of words, I just connected with her,” he recalled. “She took us to her house on a field trip and she had an ice [machine] in the refrigerator way back when no one had it and I thought, ‘Oh man, I might be an English teacher.'”
Considering the current state of teaching jobs in America, however, he admitted, “We need to pay our teachers more.”
4. How a trip to London spared Jay-Z from prison
If Carter hadn’t traveled to London when he did as a kid, there is “no way” he’d be where he is today.
Jay-Z remembered traveling to the U.K. to visit EMI Records, who “wanted the association” of “the producers who made [Will Smith’s] ‘Parents [Just] Don’t Understand'” to make his record. It didn’t work out because, for these guys, Carter realized it “wasn’t about the music.”
But “during that time,” he said, “there was a secret indictment and they swept up and grabbed 30 of my friends. Everyone got locked up and went to jail. One of my closest friends, he went to jail for 11 years — the guy I was with every day.”
5. The East Coast-West Coast feud was blown out of proportion
Carter explained to Letterman the history of the infamous East Coast-West Coast feud between rappers in California and New York in the 1990s. “It really started as a competitive sport like basketball,” he said. “We’d play each other. In order for me to get on the mic and rap in front of the crowd, I had to be great, I had to be the best.”
“It wasn’t a hostile thing,” he reiterated. “It was just, ‘Let’s make each other better.'”
He further noted rappers were performing for the DJs. “That’s why all the DJs names came first” in the songs, Carter pointed out. “That battle spawned from that time and it got into a place where it got really ugly,” he added. It wasn’t until the deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. that they realized everything became out of hand.
6. Jay-Z sees rap as reclaiming the N-word
“We have to talk about the N-word and we have to talk about why white men are so privileged in this country,” Carter said in discussing Trump. So he put in the work on the episode.
“What hip-hop did was take that word [the N-word] and flip it, use it as a word of empowerment,” he asserted. “Now there are gonna be people that disagree and agree with this, which is cool. It’s fine, it’s nice to have people to have great discourse with one another about this word ‘cause some people are highly offended from another generation because they believe it’s the last word that people heard before they died. So they have a really strong emotional connection to people using the word, but it’s not the word, it’s actually the intent behind the word.”
Carter argued that if it wasn’t the N-word, “people who are inherently racist” would “just replace it with a different word or a different way to express racism.”
7. Jay-Z’s Kalief Browder docu-series was “the most heartbreaking project” he ever worked on
Last year saw the premiere of “the most heartbreaking project” Carter ever worked on, TIME: The Kalief Browder Story. Premiering on the now-former Spike TV, the docu-series chronicled the story of Browder, who at age 16 was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. While he was never convicted, he spent three years on Riker’s Island, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. He died by suicide following his release.
“They call solitary confinement The Bing because after 40 days, they say your mind just bings, it flips over,” Carter said. The rapper, who executive produced the series, met with Browder and thought he would “make it.” Two weeks later, he received a call about his death.
“He’s not this outlier,” Carter remarked, stating “one in three black, Latino males [are] in jail.”
8. Jay-Z explains the differences between “good rappers”
A rapper is as varied and unique as any other musician, and Carter got into the details of what makes a “good rapper.”
“I think Snoop Dogg has a great voice,” he started in on the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” star. “He can say, ‘One, two, three and to the four,’ and it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’ It just sounds good. It sounds really good. Or you can be someone like Eminem and just have [an] amazing cadence. Almost like the syncopation… and there’s percussion inside the music. So, there’s multiple ways to be really good, and some people just have it all.”
Jay-Z’s episode of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction now available to stream on Netflix.