By Paul Cantor
Jay-Z and Warren Buffett currently appear together on the cover of the annual Forbes 400 issue, which profiles the richest men in America. How do you get the on the list? Oh, no sweat, you just have to be a billionaire, which means Shawn Carter isn’t actually included. But that didn’t stop the magazine’s Editor-In-Chief Steve Forbes from flying Jay-Z to meet the billionaire investor in Omaha, Nebraska for a little lunch and a chat at Buffett’s office.
The conversation between the two titans of their respective industries—Buffett of investing, Jay of music—was conducted by Steve Forbes himself and is not without its highlights. According to the article, Jay was at first pensive, merely content to listen to Buffett talk, and paying close attention to what he had to say. Then Jay weighed in on a bunch of topics.
“It got to the point where as a business we were releasing hundreds of albums a year, and the percentages were really low, like out of 56 artists only four worked,” Jay remarked, when asked about what he saw wrong with the music business during his tenure as President of Def Jam, a post he held from 2004 to 2007. “At Def Jam I wanted to bring the entire culture into it. I wanted a fund so I could do other things aside from signing artists, like buying a television station or a club where we can develop these artists, or putting out some headphones, all these different things. It’s not something they were willing to do.”
Upon leaving Def Jam, Jay owed the label one more LP under the terms of his contract. He wound up buying the rights to the album back, and subsequently released Blueprint 3, which many hailed as a tour de force.
“I was heading in a different direction and needed that freedom,” Jay says. “It was a great decision for the company. They got some money. And a great decision for me. I got a very successful album, Blueprint 3, which had ‘Empire State of Mind’ on it. That sold about 4 million singles itself. And my first solo number-one single came off that. I believe in everything lining up.”
Jay also responded to a bit of criticism he’s received for being an older artist in an otherwise young man’s hip-hop climate. “[P]eople that listen to hip-hop when they’re 18 listen to it when they’re 28,” he says. “It’s just that the voices of hip-hop are not speaking directly to them anymore. Or weren’t. They’re speaking to an 18 year old. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m just going to make the music I love to make and I’m going to mature with my music.”
In the interview, Warren Buffett notes that, despite being a billionaire, he can’t compete with Jay-Z because he’s just too talented.
“That’s why he’s succeeding even though he’s moved beyond the age that you normally associate his field with,” says Buffett. “The best moat you can have is your own talent. They can’t take it away from you; inflation and taxes can’t take it from you… He can do things I can’t do, believe me! I can’t do anything he does.”
Hov says that looking back in fifty years, he hopes that he’s inspired people. He wants people to know how far they can make it if they apply themselves and stay true to who they are.
“Jay is teaching in a lot bigger classroom than I’ll ever teach in,” says Buffett. “They’re going to learn from somebody. For a young person growing up he’s the guy to learn from.”