XXL’s October issue on newsstands September 15.
You’ve been getting a lot of heat about your second single “Run This Town,” featuring Kanye and Rihanna. Critics and the blog world have said ’Ye out rapped you.
I think that thing has gone a little too far. I think it’s more about that than the song now. What I’m saying is that’s just life. If [whose verse was better] was the thing, and we based [song quality] on that, after I’ve done 400 songs, I’m sure once the average of who was better on the song weighs out, I’m pretty high. Some nights [L.A. Lakers player] Pau Gasol can score more points than Kobe Bryant—not saying that Kanye is Pau Gasol, ’cause you have to be really clear with that—[but] as long as I’ve been in the game, that’s going to happen, once or twice or even three times.
Because you had so much time to live with this new album, do you think it’s your most thoughtful body of work?
No, it’s just the approach. I don’t think it changed the music any. You can look at it both ways. The Blueprint was all natural. You could tell the rawness of the spontaneous thoughts. Or you can have someone who plans and plots and makes sure everything is the same. Lyor [Cohen, CEO of Warner Music Group] asked me, after he listened to the [new] album, “Did you mess up by putting an album out every year? Should you have taken your time and done it like this one?” And I was like, “No, it’s just process.” I don’t think The Blueprint was bad. But this album has to come out. It’s just really cohesive. It feels really good.
What would you say is The Blueprint 3’s grand statement?
I keep using this phrase “new classic,” because it has classic sounds and instrumentation, like how music was recorded before. That’s why the whole album cover [features] white instruments just left in the corner, no color. It’s all about the instruments. It feels classic in that approach, but it’s new subject matter, new flows. It’s not like an Amy Winehouse thing: a take on what was already done. I mean, if you listen to “D.O.A.” just the sax alone, those type of sounds. The subject matter is right now. It’s a hot-button issue right now.
It’s funny that you stress the subject matter being current. One criticism of “D.O.A.” has been that the topic is a year old.
A year past or a year early?
A year too old. Music was being saturated by Auto-Tune the most last year. So were you thinking business first, like, Kanye’s coming out with this 808s & Heartbreak album, so I’m going to hold off on the criticism ’til he’s in the clear?
No, that’s not how it happened. It really just happened in the studio. We were just having a discussion about the game and music and where everything is going. So No ID plays this track, and Kanye jumps up. Actually, Kanye gave me the idea. He jumps up and is like, “Man, this is hard. This is against everything.” I don’t know if he knew where I was going to take it, but he sparked the idea. I came back the next day and did the record.
What’s puzzling is that your own buddies, like Kanye and Pharrell, wear the brightest shirts and tightest jeans, but you’re clearly not going at them. You’re going after the cats that are trying to be like them, and not themselves. Correct?
Yeah, once it becomes… A trend is a trend. I follow trends. I set trends. Now, when a trend becomes a gimmick, it’s time to get rid of it. As far as hip-hop. Like, when they were saying “bling bling” on CNN, it’s time to never say that word again. It was just about the aggression of everything. I saw everyone, ’cause it was successful, following one path. You turn on the radio, and that’s all you hear. I’m not saying I hate T-Pain. What I’m talking about is a trend that’s becoming a gimmick. And if we continue down this path, we’re going to open the door for another genre of music. Same way when rock was doing hair metal it opened the door even wider for hip-hop to come through and put rock music in trouble for 10 years and more. Right now, there are a lot of indie bands coming out, which is making rock more exciting: the MGMTs and the Kings of Leons. You keep messing around, making generic music, people are going to start turning off one at a time. And if these guys [keep] making great music, guess what? [Fans are] gonna go to them. If you look back in the history of music, that’s what happens all the time. I’m just saying, Stay up. Be aware. Be innovative. Let’s keep making this shit interesting. I love Drake. I’m not hating on young people. Like, when people say that, I’m like, What are you talking about? It’s just stupid. I’m not hating on young people. I love Drake. I worked with him on the album. Every time they ask me what I’m listening to, it’s So Far Gone and Kings of Leon. Them two [acts] owe me money. I’m not Bill Russell, [saying] Michael Jordan ain’t shit. I’m saying Lil Wayne and Kanye are like LeBron and Kobe. My job as someone at the forefront of the game is to leave it in a better position than when I came in. Same way that Russell [Simmons] left it to me. ’Cause this thing saved my life. Literally. So I have a responsibility to it karmically. And after that it’s on you. I did my part. I made “D.O.A.” I said it. I made the statement. I made the push. Here, y’all take it from here.