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Jay-Z & Timbaland »

What do you get when you take the greatest living rapper and the greatest hip hip producer. You get one hot album. Sign the petition and lets make it happen.

by kenn on 11/13/2005 05:41:00 PM

No Sleep till Brooklyn

Source: NY Daily


In his posh VIP room at his 40/40 sports bar, Jay-Z is surrounded by a pool table, framed autographed jerseys, two arcade video games and two 42-inch flat screen televisions that are locked on ESPN.
This playboy's dream room is where the rap superstar likes to kick up his S. Carter Reeboks, put aside his CEO duties and rap persona and become a cheeseburger-eating sports fan.

"I think Allen Iverson broke dress code already," the rap mogul and part Nets owner says, jokingly, as he watches a clip of Iverson wearing a leather jacket on opening night.

David Stern doesn't have to sweat Jay-Z's outfit for the next Nets game. The retired rapper, who also goes by "Hova" and "Jigga," is more CEO than thug, more button-down shirt than throwback jersey and do-rag.

The man born as Shawn Carter is president of Def Jam Recordings, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella records and the Rocawear clothing line. He's the first non-athlete to have his own shoe line, which turned out to be the hottest selling Reebok ever, and his personal bling-bling wealth is estimated to be $320 million, according to Fortune magazine.

Everything Jay-Z raps turns to platinum. And now the self-proclaimed "best rapper alive" hopes to have the same effect on the Nets, an organization that has been about as hip as Vanilla Ice.

In his second full season of ownership, Jay-Z has recruited free agents, booked halftime talent and helped design a VIP room at the Meadowlands. In the spirit of his hit "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," the NBA's trendsetting owner is planning his most ambitious takeover yet: helping the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets brush the Knicks aside.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily News, Carter rapped on everything from growing up in the projects, the dress code, and the relationship between hip-hop and the NBA to what it means to put Brooklyn back on the professional sports map.

"People grew up on the Knicks," the Brooklyn-born Carter says. "The Nets have always been the cousins. I hope to change that. On all fronts, whether it be my relationship with players or the (VIP) rooms... everything besides messing with Rod Thorn. I am like the guy in 'Ray' who turns down the lights. It needs to be done."


On the "December 4th" track on his last solo record, "The Black Album," Carter's mother discusses how avid a sports fan Carter was. Growing up in Brooklyn's notorious Marcy projects, Carter says he played everything he could but was never into organized sports.

Like most rappers, Carter was too busy getting into trouble.

"I was a bad kid," the 35-year-old Carter says. "Practice and all that meant more school and I didn't want to do none of that. Stay after school to play basketball? Naw."

Carter spent a portion of his late teens and early 20's dealing drugs. After nearly being shot, he stopped selling and focused his attention on his music.

With Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, Carter started the Roc-A-Fella label and did what struggling artists have to do to jump-start their careers.

"I was the CEO, executive producer of my first album," Carter says of "Reasonable Doubt," which went platinum in 1996. "I was the promotion guy, the artist, everything, the driver. We were vikings. We would go anywhere for a show. I drove two hours for a five-minute show one time somewhere in upstate New York. It was maybe 12 people and I might have performed in a classroom for maybe $1,500 dollars."

Ten platinum albums and over 33 million records later, Jay-Z is a multi-million dollar business. He launched a clothing line which reportedly generates $400 million a year.

Carter nearly risked it all when he was arrested for stabbing a rival producer, Lance Rivera, in a nightclub in 1999. He pleaded guilty and received three years' probation.

Carter said the incident shook him and made him more careful about his lifestyle and image. He became more of a businessman, venturing into the sports world. He opened his trendy sports club on W. 25th Street and named it for baseball's exclusive club of those who hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season.

Carter also joined forces with Reebok to design the S. Carter shoe line. The first limited-edition kicks sold out the day they debuted in April 2003, reportedly grossing $100 million in sales.

"How is that for a first-time designer?" says Carter, chuckling in his distinctive staccato laugh.

A piece of an NBA team, however, especially one that will move to Brooklyn, was never something Carter dreamed of adding to his empire.

At his much-anticipated Powerhouse concert last month at the Meadowlands Arena, Jay-Z welcomed a standing-room-only crowd that included several Nets.

"This is my house," Jay-Z screamed as thousands cheered. "I mean, this is my house. I own the Nets!"

The rapper said he wasn't bragging but sharing his joy.

"It is like score one for us, for all the disenfranchised, for all the kids that came up hard, all the kids from the projects," Carter says. "It gives them faith that this can happen to us too."

It also gives athletes something to shoot for after they retire. Toronto's Jalen Rose says Carter is proof that African-Americans, even those with a rough past, can become owners. Carter is aware of this.

"They know I am a real person," Carter says of why he relates to athletes like no other owner. "Not like these politicians who have never stolen anything out of their Mom's purse or inhaled or anything like that. I am a real person who has made mistakes and I have tried to correct them. But for the most part, I am just a good guy."


Jay-Z's involvement with the Nets began with an assist from - who else? - Jason Kidd.

Two years ago, Kidd threw a birthday party at 4-0/40 when the Nets' point guard approached Carter with the idea of buying into the Nets. A joke turned into several meetings and before Carter knew it, he was signing up with principal owner Bruce Ratner to bring professional sports back to Brooklyn.

"We were laughing about it," Carter says of Kidd and himself. "I knew Drew Katz who started with the old ownership, who knew this person and it all came together in some weird way. I still didn't believe it happened even as I was signing the contract to be a part of the ownership. I was like, 'What is this? Is this real?' It was just so surreal. I still can't believe when I say it."

Ratner didn't know much about Jay-Z or the rap world before he met Carter.

The bespectacled Ratner and Jay-Z, whose songs contain what some consider to be misogynistic lyrics, are an unlikely marriage. When the two recently greeted each other after a game, they shared an awkward hug, hardly the handshake and quick embrace rappers and players usually exchange.

"I really didn't know very much about rap," Ratner says. "Someone in my office gave me the lyrics to one of his rap songs off the Internet and I said, 'Oh my God.'"

But the charming and approachable Carter, who seemingly never turns down autograph and picture requests at games, eased Ratner's worries in a meeting in Brooklyn. Jay-Z doesn't run with huge entourages or a posse of bodyguards.

"Any preconceived notion I had about rap artists - the lyrics made me wonder - changed," Ratner says. "You could see right away, you spend 10 minutes with Jay-Z, he is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, intelligent guy who really knows what is going on. Then I (later) learned there was something called the radio version."

If anything, Ratner had to convince Carter to buy a piece of the Nets. Both sides declined to reveal how much of a stake Carter has and while league sources say it is less than 5%, Carter makes it clear he is not just lending his fame to Ratner's group for street credibility.

"Nobody gave me anything," says Carter, who Ratner says is one of his five most active investors in the team. "I spent my money like everyone else and I came in and added value."


Like Ratner, Stern may have had his initial reservations about adding a rapper to his stable of owners. But Carter impressed the commissioner with his business savvy.

"(There are concerns) only about character issues that we have with all owners," Stern says. "We met with him and we were very impressed with him. He seems to be a solid businessman who has a hard background who has righted himself and is now an icon of types."

Carter also had the chance to join the Bobcats' ownership group. Charlotte owner Robert Johnson asked Carter to join his club but the rapper opted for the Nets because of the proximity and the future in Brooklyn.

"Besides being one hell of an artist, he is one hell of a marketing expert," says Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and the first African-American majority owner in pro sports. "To have his input in owning an NBA team could be invaluable. He thinks of himself as a brand. He has a keen intellectual understanding of market forces and how to create market dynamics. He has a personality and style of behavior that makes him attractive to sponsors and a good business head. It is the same ingredients that any entrepreneur would have. He just happens to be an entrepreneur and rapper."

Soon after, Nelly followed Jay-Z into the NBA ownership world, teaming with Johnson's Bobcats. Last season, Usher invested in the Cleveland Cavaliers' new ownership group as well.

"If I had come in here with just (expletive) and treated it like a joke, then there is no Nelly, no Usher," Carter says. "Are you kidding me? They've seen the experiment works."

Stern says he has learned to live with some of his new owners and some of the unsavory lyrics in their songs which are often played in edited versions during games around the league. Just about every arena plays at least one beat from a Jay-Z or 50 Cent track during play or timeouts.

"It wouldn't be my choice but in terms of the artistic merit I understand that there is a contrary view," Stern says. "I just decided not to start making ownership decisions based on what someone has written."

Stern understands that his league is becoming as intertwined with the hip-hop culture as Iverson's zig-zag cornrows. Many players dress like rappers, drive the same kind of cars and use the same slang. Shaquille O'Neal, Ron Artest and Iverson have tried to cameo as rappers while Master P., has repeatedly tried to make an NBA roster.

"Either you play basketball or you rap," Richard Jefferson says. "That is where you get your street cred."

Vince Carter estimates that "95% or more of the NBA is hip-hop. ... Just everything, style of play, dress, communication, everything is hip-hop."

Besides rappers entering ownership, many are coming out with their own sneakers. After Jay-Z's success, Reebok has created shoes for Nelly, 50 Cent and Pharrell and has plans to add more musical talent to its roster.

Jamal Crawford and Kenyon Martin are part of the "S. Carter Academy" as is the Cowboys' Roy Williams.

"(Jay-Z) is so credible, so stylish, so cool and when he said something was hot (or) something was wack, kids took it as gospel," says Que Gaskins, Reebok's V.P. of entertainment marketing. "He opened our eyes to the reality that entertainers and lifestyle icons sell products. What makes them so marketable and authentic (is) they have a voice on the radio that kids can hear and an image on BET and MTV that kids can see. They have as much if not more visibility than some athletes."

That image isn't exactly for everyone. Stern imposed a dress code last month that was met with some criticism. Indiana's Stephen Jackson, among others, hinted that it smacked of racism.

Stern countered by saying that his hip-hop owners do not dress "sloppy."

"If you look at the way Jay-Z dresses and Usher when they work, when they are at games and the like, they are usually pretty elegantly attired," Stern says.

Carter does not think the dress code is racist or a form of censorship on hip-hop culture.

"(If) they want to have a more professional look, that's well and good," says Carter, who attends games wearing casual collared shirts and jeans. "But to spring it on someone as a mandatory thing in the last two weeks, that rubs me wrong a little way. It is not a classy thing to do. But if that is implemented starting next year, we have to start wearing suits and dress up, hey, the rules are the rules."

"As far as what I have seen, people relate to guys like Allen Iverson because they feel like he is one of them," Carter continues. "Know what I am saying? Not too many people are walking around from where he comes from with Armani suits on."

In a way, though, Carter has been preaching about dressing up for some time now. Prior to the dress code mandate, the rap impresario was already working on his own high-end Shawn Carter brand of clothing that caters to the 30-something generation that still listens to hip-hop but is too old for the oversized throwback jerseys of the younger set.

"I guess they want the NBA to look like Jay because he is the only rapper that wears suits," says Memphis Bleek, a popular rapper who is one of Carter's best friends.

Kidd says players were leaving their throwbacks in their closets before the dress code, thanks to Jay-Z.

"The effect (Jay-Z) had on throwback jerseys in one of his songs when he said to button up, he almost shut down that whole industry," Kidd says. "The power that he has and the people he can touch is just incredible."

Carter's worldly influence humbles him.

"I never thought the places rap would reach," Carter says. "People everywhere are growing up and rap is their first music. In Brazil, it is not merengue, they are growing up with rap as their first music. All over the world. I never imagined an artist with his own sneaker. Definitely never imagined an artist having ownership in a pro sports team."


Since signing with Ratner and the Nets, Carter has slowly become more involved and visible with the team. Last season, he produced a remix of his hit "The Takeover" for Nets playoff games. He is now a regular sitting in the "Hollywood" Rocawear seats that are right next to the Nets' bench. And last Saturday against the Bulls, fans buzzed when Carter arrived in the first quarter with girlfriend Beyonce right behind him.

Carter regularly exchanges E-mails with Nets Sports & Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark on marketing issues, attends ownership board meetings and signs off on in-game entertainment such as the Nets' new video intro. He also recruits.

Lawrence Frank, who has a Jay-Z ring tone on his cell phone, enlisted Carter's help this summer , asking him to place a call to Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The player picked the Nets before the team rescinded its sign-and-trade because of concerns over his knee.

"We didn't get the team just to sit on it," Carter says. "It's not just a real-estate play somewhere."

Of course, it is the impending move across the rivers that helped convince Carter to become a Net owner. He will consult Ratner on designs for the proposed arena and "may shed a tear" when the Nets tip off in Brooklyn.

"I don't have any kids yet," Carter says. "But I can imagine that being like having your first kid because I am from Brooklyn. Brooklyn pride is something else. We are a part of New York City and we love everybody from New York. But Brooklyn is like its own planet."

Ratner hopes to open doors for the 2008-2009 season. By then, Carter may own another team across the ocean. Reports say Carter is looking into purchasing Arsenal , a soccer club in London. Soccer hooligans and hip-hop?

"There is a ghetto everywhere," Carter says, laughing again. "It started as a rumor and it really turned into something. Like all these things, they just really happen funny in my life, man. I have good karma. I am really lucky."

This is a guy who couldn't get a record deal, who started his own label, went platinum on his first album, signed a major deal with Def Jam Records and then turned around and became the CEO of the company.

"Go figure. Right? If you put that in a movie, man, people would be like, 'That movie was wack.' How are you going to go from being a rapper with no deal to being the president of Def Jam?" he asks.

The only thing more Hollywood would be if Carter unretired like his favorite basketball player - Michael Jordan.

"I don't know," Carter says when asked if he'll ever release a new album. "If M.J. got one of those old 45 jerseys hanging around, I might have to grab it one day."

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