This story appears in the April 2003 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

This article originally appeared in the April 2003 issue playboy magazine.

Here’s a story about Jay-Z: One recent night he was gambling with Kevin Liles, president of Def Jam, the label that distributes Jay-Z’s records. When the bets were finished, Liles was down $10,000. The next day he gave $10,000 cash to a messenger and sent it to the studio where Jay-Z was working. The rapper refused the money and sent the messenger back with these words:“Tell Kevin he’s got to deliver it himself.”

Jay-Z plays for big stakes and insists on honor. When he prevails, he doesn’t hesitate to gloat or talk trash. His favorite basketball player is Michael Jordan and, like Jordan, he savors competition as much as victory.

This story affirms the self-portrait that he draws in hits like “Big Pimpin’”, “H to the Izzo” and “Girls, Girls, Girls”: He’s the Don Corleone of rap (“Young Vito” is one of his many nicknames), a street-hardened former drug dealer who drinks Cristal, smokes cigars and trusts almost no one. Especially women. In a music genre where arrogance is expected, he’s set a new standard, calling himself Jay-Hova, god of the microphone. Bill O'Reilly has accused him of damaging children with cursing and “corrosive lyrics.” Appearing on a Missy Elliott record last year, Jay-Z offered a terse reply: “Fuck Bill O'Reilly.”

He was born Shawn Corey Carter, the youngest of four children, and grew up in the notoriously bleak Brooklyn public housing complex known as Marcy Projects. His father left the family when Shawn was 11; the kids were raised by their mom, Gloria, and by the streets, not always in that order.

Reasonable Doubt, released in 1996 and widely recognized as a classic, made Jay-Z an underground legend, bragging that he’d “sold it all, from crack to opium” (apparently true) and had made “underworld ties” (apparently not). In “You Must Love Me,” he examines the memory of shooting his brother when he was 12 (his brother survived).

Then came his breakthrough, “Hard Knock Life”, a 1998 single that sampled a chorus from the Broadway musical Annie. Jay-Z was no longer known only to rap devotees. As he said, he “brought the suburbs to the hood.” And he continued to dispute the perception that he was one more remorseless street thug draped in gold. “Motherfuckers say that I’m foolish, I only talk about jewels,” he intoned. “Do you fools listen to music, or do you just skim through it?”

Though it now seems like a smart business decision to form his own record label, Roc-A-Fella, Jay-Z started the company with two friends only because no label would sign him. From necessity came fortune: The company has diversified into Rocawear, a thriving clothing company, and Roc-A-Fella Films. His label has signed a new generation of rappers, including Cam'ron, Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel, all of whom Jay-Z promotes on his own records.

Recording at the unusual pace of one or sometimes two records each year, Jay-Z, 32, has made nine albums since 1996. And he’s endured shifting trends in a way no other rapper has. Released in November 2002, The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse is a double CD that stretches to include R&B, dancehall, rock and a duet with Beyoncé Knowles. It was his fifth album to debut at number one on the pop charts, an accomplishment unmatched by any other rapper. With more than 16 million records sold, he trails only Eminem as rap’s top seller. Shortly after Blueprint 2 was released, we sent writer Rob Tannenbaum to interview Jay-Z in New York City.

Rap careers are usually over fast: one or two hits, then styles change and a new guy comes along. Why have you endured while other rappers haven’t?
I would say that it’s from still being able to relate to people. It’s natural to lose yourself when you have success, to start surrounding yourself with fake people. In The 48 Laws of Power, it says the worst thing you can do is build a fortress around yourself. I still got the people who grew up with me, my cousin and my childhood friends. This guy right here [gestures to the studio manager], he’s my friend, and he told me that one of my records, Volume Three, was wack. People set higher standards for me, and I love it.

But we were just in a chauffeured car, on our way to free courtside seats at a Nets game, and we saw your new music video playing on BET.
Yeah. [Laughs] I’m still separated. You told me to separate—I’m still looking in on that guy. Like, Wow, that guy’s doing it!

So how can people relate to you when you possess so many things they don’t have?
I’ve been through a lot of things, so I could write songs off memory for another four years. Since my first album, it was like, Wow, that guy’s really hitting it on the head about life in the streets. Now people are growing with me, and they’re seeing the integrity is real. A guy came up to me at the gym the other day and told me, ‘I know you now.’ I just rhyme about what I’ve been through.

Roc-A-Fella has grossed an estimated $300 million.

How much of that has ended up in your pocket?
[Smiles] I’ve got about $5,000 on me now. I do. That’s just the leftovers for me. I went to Miami two weeks ago, and we gambled on the plane. I won a little bit of money, and I still got it in my pocket.

How much do you usually bet?
That night I won about $17,000 from my friends.

You take money from friends?
Yeah. It’s gambling! They take mine, too. They don’t give me a walk. They don’t say sorry. Actually, they laugh. Then they go buy shit. A friend who won recently paged me the next day: 'I just bought a plasma TV. Thank y'all!’

I hear your best game is guts. What’s that?
It’s like a three-card poker game. I taught Will Smith to play guts. Now he has guts tournaments. I don’t know if he wants people to know that. I talk too much. What if Will Smith gets hooked on gambling? He’s clean-cut, he can’t gamble. I can gamble because I’m from the hood [makes a mean face]. We’re having a guts game this Thursday. We’re trying to get Michael Jordan to come. Can I say that, too? Damn, I’m telling everybody’s business. God, I just told on Will Smith and Michael Jordan, huh?

You refer to yourself as “the $40 million boy” on Blueprint 2. Is that an accurate number?
I don’t know the math. How’d I get that number? I might be past that by now.

We bet you know exactly how much you have at any given moment.
Everyone should, don’t you think? Especially in rap music. There’s nothing worse than putting in all this work and waking up broke. I’ve seen it happen, and I vowed it won’t happen to me.

Jam Master Jay of Run-D.M.C. died broke. How does that happen?
I always have to blame it on the accountants. They have to be tough, they have to be willing to quit if a guy calls up and says, “I want to buy a new car.”

I’m doing it for the artistry. I’m doing it to try new things, to create, to invent.

Have any of your accountants ever said no to you?
I fire my accountant every year. Every time I pay taxes, he’s fired. Uncle Sam did not go in that recording booth with me. He didn’t bang his head against the wall until he came up with the hook for “Hovi Baby.” It’s crazy, the checks that I send to the government, for nothing. And then my accountant says, “Be happy that you’re fortunate enough to cut this check.” Oh yeah? Fuck you! You’re fucking fired! That’s my response. Then I hire him back, because he’s right.

When you named the label Roc-A-Fella, did you know anything about the Rockefeller family?
I just knew they was millionaires. That was the part that stuck.

All that money, and you still release records more often than any other rapper. Why work so hard? Is it just for the money?
I’m doing it for the artistry. I’m doing it to try new things, to create, to invent. I’m a guy who wants to see rap go further, even after me. I want people to open their minds, start making different types of music. Don’t follow what’s going on. That’s what hip-hop is about. It’s a rebellious voice. You’re going left? Then I’m going right. But say it like this: [Sneers] I’m going right.

How did growing up in the Marcy Projects shape you?
It was a poor neighborhood, but you learned loyalty and integrity. You learned to respect other people, because it was a minefield. If you disrespect somebody, or act dishonorable, you get hurt. Somebody puts you in your place. So I learned integrity. It’s a beautiful place to grow up, as far as having honor.

Was it dangerous?
It wasn’t safe. Everyone there was poor and trying to get ahead. There was not much hope. You put all those ingredients together, you have people who are willing to do anything at any time. What am I going to do, lose my life? What is my life worth, anyway? That can’t be a safe environment. In each of the buildings, there’s six floors, four families on each floor, three buildings connected together. Everyone’s on top of everybody else. That’s a powder keg. Then crack hit around 1985. You had so many people strung out. I mean, everybody. It was an epidemic.

And have those projects changed since you were a kid?
[Shakes his head] There’s no lawyers, no doctors, no psychiatrists. Everyone that makes money moves out. They just go. I want to tell kids, “Yo, I’m Jay-Z….” Not even Jay-Z. “I’m Shawn Carter, from 5C. I lived in that building right there, the one you live in now. And it can happen for you. I don’t know what it is that you want to do, but something will happen for you.”

Like you, most of the kids you grew up with didn’t have fathers.
I could name the ones who did [laughs]. There were about three in the whole project.

Your dad split when you were 11. What happens when a boy grows up without a dad?
He learns how to be a man in the streets. Everyone needs that role model, that blueprint, to guide you through. Depending on your environment, it could be a bad thing.

You’ve talked about your dad in a few songs, especially “Where Have You Been”?
In hindsight, I was hard on the guy in a lot of songs. At that time, everyone was leaving. They was leaving before the kid was born. He wasn’t totally a scumbag—not totally. After those songs, I told my mom I wanted to talk to him. I can’t keep living in the past. My mom got in touch with him. The first time he was supposed to come to my house, he didn’t come. I figured it was embarrassing for him, going to his son’s house. I got mad again. Like, “All right, forget it, then! I ain’t reaching out no more!” Then my mom told me he was finally ready to come over, and we just kicked it—I told him everything that was on my mind. And we shook hands, like men.

Is he a dad to you now?
I don’t think anyone can be a dad to me at this point. I learned how to go inside my own mind, to figure it out, to learn as I go along.

You went to high school with the Notorious B.I.G. How did you end up recording together?
We always said we was going to do something together, and I was doing my first album, so we went into the studio and did “Brooklyn’s Finest.” He was sitting there, trying to memorize his lyrics, and I passed him a pen and paper, like, “Here.” And he was like, “No, I’m cool, you can take that.” I was like, “Nah, I don’t need that.” That’s so strange, to see two people who don’t write down lyrics. At the time, no one else was doing that. After that, we spoke every day.

Who do you think killed Biggie?
I don’t know, man. I have no idea. [Pause] I don’t want to further that. I don’t want to talk about what I think.

Did Biggie’s death, and Tupac’s, make you more cautious about starting beefs with people?
No, because I don’t believe either one of them got killed over rap music. That was just something to help the media sell magazines.

They were both rappers. They both got shot. So obviously they pissed off someone.
Not rapping.

What did you think of the Los Angeles Times story last year that said Biggie paid gang members to kill Tupac?
That was just irresponsible-journalism bullshit. It’s terrible to throw dirt on a guy’s name who’s not here. If it would have been about a politician, or somebody else powerful, there would be lawsuits. There would be hell to pay. It’s a lack of respect when they deal with rappers.

The guy who has cornered the market on disrespecting rap music is Bill O'Reilly.
He’s just doing shock TV. Now he knows, “Oh shit, the power of hip-hop—if I say something about them, my ratings go right up.”

Would you ever go on his show and explain your point of view?
Why? He don’t care. He’s doing what he do—he’s feeding his family. It’s not about his understanding. I don’t believe he wants to understand. It’s obvious he’s not researching the truth.

What’s left for you to do that you haven’t already?
Have kids. And run Universal Records. Not black music, either—I got to run the whole ship. I’ll make it cool to be different. Don’t sound like everybody else—we don’t even accept that. I get joy just sharing my knowledge with artists, like a guru. Put the love back in music. Make a record you know will be somebody’s song, will mark somebody’s life. Don’t sell records—make music.

Universal is the biggest record company in the country. It would be hard to run the label while you’re a rapper.
That’s what I’m saying: Next album is my last album. I’m freeing up my time. The next one’s coming with a book, so you know it’s the end.

You say that you’re going to record only one more album, but you have been talking about retiring since your first record.
You don’t understand. When I said Reasonable Doubt was going to be my first and only album, I meant it. “He made one album, then, puff, he’s gone with the wind.” But now I really mean it. Write the book, release the Black Album, go head Universal.

And maybe do a guest spot on other people’s records?
Not a guest spot at 50. That’s disrespectful. That’s just embarrassing.

You can’t be a rapper at 50?
No, forget it. Just a guru.

What’s the Black Album?
It’s my last album. I want it to be the prequel to Reasonable Doubt. I want my mother to open it, then I go through my life and end saying how I want to do “Ain’t No Nigga,” which is my first hit, and trying to find a beat for it. “I keep it fresher than the next bitch” [the first line of “Ain’t No Nigga”]. Then it ends. I want it to come out on November 28—Black Friday. Then, no more albums.

You’re a betting man, right?

Here’s a bet: We’ve got $20 that says your next record isn’t the last.
And if I make more than one album, I give it back?

No, you’re giving us odds of 50-1. If you lose, you pay us $1,000.
That’s a great bet. That’s a wonderful bet. [Grabs the money, puts it in his pocket] I just got $20! And I’m gonna keep it, too.

Fine, but we’ll get our money in about 18 months, after you’ve made two more records.
Ya-ha-ha! That’s a great bet, for you. I would take that bet, too, if it was switched. It’s on tape, too. My integrity is legendary—I would never fuck you out of $20. If there’s a discrepancy, I’ll give it to you just so it won’t be on our minds.

Only one rapper has sold more records than you: Eminem. Is that because he’s white?
He’s an extraordinary talent. He’s a genius, bottom line. But race has something to do with it. If you listen to his record “White America,” he addresses that topic.

We’re just cool. We’re just friends. We don’t really, ah, know each other like that yet.

He says if he were black, he’d have sold half as many records.
Right. It might be less than that [laughs].

So who are your peers? Who do you compete with?
There was one person: Big. If I heard “Who Shot Ya?” in a club, I would leave and go make some music. That’s not to take anything away from Eminem or Nas, I just don’t look at them as that.

It’s like when Michael Jordan had Magic Johnson.
Right. I heard Jordan say, when Magic had AIDS, he felt like he was cheating him. “You leaving now? Yo, I need you. You’re going to define my greatness.” It was selfish.

Then Jordan got bored and retired, like you’re threatening to do.
See that? You just lost $20.

No, because guess who’s playing basketball tonight? Michael Jordan.
You know why you lose again? Because Jordan stayed a year too much. I wanna cry for him. Fuck!

How’s the rap game going to survive without you?
Hey, man, it had better find a way. It existed before me, and I’m sure it will exist after me.

Rap appears simple because it’s just rhyming—but you need a lot more words and ideas in rap than you do in a pop song.
That’s true. I mean, I wrote a couple of pop songs for Mya. I just started doing that. And it’s so easy. Repeat the words over again? And again? They repeat not only the choruses, they repeat the verses, too!

Can you sing?
I can sing bad.

At the Nets game, you sang whatever song that came on, from Eminem to Whitney Houston. And you knew all the words.
Yeah, I know a lot of songs. I store them. I’m an iPod. The human iPod.

Something else that’s new on Blueprint 2—your mistrust of women has softened.
Right. People already know my paranoia about women. Before I was a rapper who didn’t know who his friends were, I was a hustler who didn’t know who his friends were. When it’s a song about women, it’s usually the single, which makes people say, This guy is dissing women on every fucking record. [Laughs] “Big Pimpin’,” “Can I Get a Fuck You,” those are the hits. But the slower ones are usually more meaningful and serious.

Do you think women are less trustworthy than men?
No. But guys don’t want to date me for my money, so I don’t have to worry about them.

If you’re going to have kids, you have to get over that paranoia.
Yeah. I’m learning, I’m growing. I’m growing slow.

You tell a story in “This Can’t Be Life,” that you were almost a father. True story?
Yeah. The girl I was seeing about four years ago had a miscarriage. But I wasn’t sad. I didn’t even grieve. Maybe it happened because I wasn’t ready to be a dad.

And now you’re dating a woman who doesn’t need your money, either.
Is that right?

How did you meet Beyoncé Knowles?
I used to see her all the time. [Quickly] We’re not engaged or anything, by the way. We’re just cool. We’re just friends. We don’t really, ah, know each other like that yet.

Just friends, like the way you and Memphis Bleek are just friends?
No, Beyoncé’s a woman. A very attractive woman. But we’re friends for now. Me and Bleek, we’re tighter. I took him from the projects—I’m from 5C, he’s from 3C. He’s been with me since 1994. Between Beyoncé and him? Beyoncé’s got to go [laughs].

Do you wish that she was your girlfriend?
She’s beautiful. Who wouldn’t wish she was their girlfriend? Maybe one day [smiles].

We’re not quite convinced. We know you like to keep parts of your life private. If she were your girlfriend, would you tell us?
Probably not.

Well, you’re pretty cool—hard to read at times.
Thank you, brother. [Raises a glass of Cristal] Toast to that.

Does that create problems in relationships?
Yeah, it could. I’m not the most I-love-you guy. That’s one of my problems. “What, you want me to tell you? Those are just words—everyone is going to tell you. Look at what I do.” I have to change that.

How are you going to change that?
I know it. That’s half the battle.

But only half.
But half! Shit. It was zero before—be happy.

If we were going to play amateur psychiatrist—
That’s what this feels like.

Here’s what we would say: As a kid, you loved your dad. But he left and you felt rejected, and that hurt so much, you don’t want to love anyone else the same way.
Definitely. That could be 100 percent true. There’s no worse pain. That’s why a lot of things didn’t affect me growing up.

For instance, you had a fight with your own brother, when you were 12, and shot him. He lived, but it was an intense experience.
Yeah. [Pause] You know what? Let’s not. I’ll tell you that one day, you as a person. Does he have to relive it every time someone talks to me about it? Is that fair to him?

Where did you get the gun?
That story’s even worse. I was 12. I didn’t know better. The person who gave me the gun had to be 20 or 21—you’re an adult. Damn, why would you do that? How could you even… I don’t understand. But I can’t blame nobody but myself.

Someone gave you a gun so you could shoot your brother?
[Pauses] Yeah. Terrible. That’s the one thing to this day I regret.

Why did you shoot him?
My brother was a really, really, really tough person to get along with. He was messed up on drugs really bad.

Did he forgive you?
Oh, right away, and that made it worse.

Then a few years later, when you were selling drugs, someone shot at you three times on the street.
It was a little bit farther than me to you.

Who shot at you?
I ain’t going into that. I know who it was. He was a friend of mine. It was a misunderstanding. We’ve talked about it and laughed.

On “Dead Presidents II,” you talk about being shot at and say it was “divine intervention” you weren’t killed. Do you think God protects drug dealers?
I think God protects anyone with a good heart. People say,“That’s a comfort blanket so you can do whatever the fuck you want.” But my intention was good. I was in a place where there’s no hope. It was like, Fuck, man, I ain’t going to continue to live like this. I’ve got to do something. Then I got addicted to that life. It was fun. It helped my situation, helped everyone around me.

So how much money did you make back then?
I don’t know the dollar amount.

Two grand a week? Ten grand a week?
I did well.

When you were dealing, did you use drugs?
No. Never. I’d seen my brother. After my father, that was the next person I looked up to. He had all the girls, he played basketball. Then he was a whole different person.

We’ve heard you only recently started smoking pot.
[Laughs] There would be 10 of us, out in the Hamptons, and we won’t finish one joint. “Ooh, we high!” “That’s too strong! Put that out!” I don’t smoke pot no more.

From listening to your songs, people might believe that you’re always drinking—
Cristal at 10 in the morning, right. Although I was drinking champagne and eating caviar this afternoon.

I went shopping today, at Jacob the Jeweler. Had champagne and Beluga caviar.

Were you buying a present for Beyoncé?
Ha-ha. No.

I wouldn’t tell you honestly.

Cristal at 10 in the morning, right. Although I was drinking champagne and eating caviar this afternoon.

You frequently mention Cristal in your songs. Are you a connoisseur? Would you know it if you ordered Cristal, and someone brought you—
Taittinger? Yeah, I would know right away.

We heard you have a wristwatch worth so much money, you won’t wear it outside your house.
What kind of silly shit is that? Then why would I buy it? I got a one-of-one, an Audemars Piguet. There’s no other watch like it in the world. It’s like a piece of art.

How much did it cost?
A little bit. I’m trying to get grown up and not talk about figures anymore. I’m learning that the big cats don’t talk about money, only us ignorant rappers. I have to get sophisticated with my paper. I’m not nouveau money.

We should have interviewed you a few years ago, huh?
I would’ve gave it to you. You’d have known how much money I have right now. You’d know Roc-A-Fella was $400 million instead of $300 million—I’m not saying it, though.

You just did!
I tried. Old habits are hard to break [laughs]. And you got me drinking this goddamn Cristal.

Let’s talk about sex. Which have you done more often, turned down sex or accepted it?
I think every artist has turned it down more. I hope. Shit [laughs]. If the place is filled with 20,000 people, 10,000 of them are screaming women. I never got carried away. I have always been a person who’s more interested in business first.

If there’s a beautiful woman on one side of the room, and a business deal on the other—
I’d take the business deal. Sorry. I know people will be like, “You fucking asshole! You dummy!”

You rapped with Eminem and DMX and Biggie, all of whom are highly respected. You also rapped with Puff Daddy and Ja Rule, who aren’t respected. Does it make a difference to you who you rap with?
I rap with people for different reasons. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I respect them. I was on a Juvenile remix because I liked this record he had, called “Ha.” He did something new. So I called him and said that I would love to do the remix.

So why rap with Puffy?
I respect Puff on a creative level. As a rapper, you ain’t got to respect him. As a producer, he gave “Juicy” to Biggie. Biggie didn’t want to do it. [The song made Biggie a star.] “That beat is soft. I ain’t doing that.” As a rapper, I can’t say I want to hear him. He’s not a rapper.

Do you want to follow Puffy into movies?
I do. I have a bunch of scripts, from Wesley Snipes, Denzel. Chris Rock said, “Boy, you better take these movies. There ain’t no telling if you’re going to be hot tomorrow.”

How about female rappers? Years ago, you had Queen Latifah, MC Lyte. Now all the top female rappers—Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim—have to be sexy and trashy, wearing fur bikinis. Why is that?
Maybe it’s because rap is so angry. “Breakin’ off on a motherfucker like that!” A girl don’t have no street credibility. You don’t believe a girl when she’s saying, “I’m holding a gat to the motherfucker.”

Especially if she’s wearing a fur bikini when she says it.
[Laughs] You’re like, You can’t run fast in those stilettos.

Last year you made a record with R. Kelly, Best of Both Worlds. Just before it came out, he was arrested on 21 counts of child pornography, over a videotape that seems to show him having sex with an underage girl. The music video you were going to make was canceled, the tour was canceled, the record didn’t sell. Was that your biggest disappointment in music?
I would say so. I had such high expectations for it. I made the album with somebody I think is the greatest writer of our time. And we didn’t finish the story, with the videos and performing.

How did you find out about the charges against him?
People were talking about it before the album. Damn, why didn’t nobody tell me? It seems like this was a known fact for a while, and people just started telling me a week before the album dropped. “You didn’t know?” Then it finally hit the news.

A lot of counts of child pornography. Do you think that Kelly’s career is over?
I have no idea. It’s going to be really tough.

Do you think that he might be guilty?
I don’t want to speculate, man. I don’t know what half of America is doing behind closed doors. When it’s an entertainer, it’s headline news. It ain’t the first time it happened. Look at fucking Elvis, man. How old was Priscilla when he married her? Eleven?

And when Kelly married Aaliyah, she was 15. Doesn’t that indicate a sexual interest in underage women?
I miss Aaliyah. I hate that her name is even involved in these kinds of conversations.

You’ve said before that rap is like wrestling. What do you mean?
When I say that, I’m talking about all the beefs going on. Everybody is from a place where they had nothing. Now they’re getting a little bit of something—they’re not going to risk that over “I rhyme better than you.” All that muscling up, all that sticking out your chest, it’s all wrestling. “Come here, boy!” Nobody is gonna do nothing to nobody. It’s all just a show.

Just hype?
There you go. A lot of attention to your record.

And yet rappers are always saying, 'I’m keepin’ it real.’
Someone recently told me, “Real is just a foundation for a great fantasy.” That’s deep.

You’ve had a big battle with Nas—he made a song about you, you made a song about him, back and forth. If it was just wrestling, does that mean you never got mad?
You get angry, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to do nothing. It just pushes you to make better records. I got mad and went into the studio.

Someone recently told me, ‘Real is just a foundation for a great fantasy.’ That’s deep.

Which got you angrier: When he called you ugly or when he implied you’re gay?
Ugly? A guy’s not supposed to judge another guy. So that didn’t bother me. But there’s an imaginary line in the sand, and most people cross it when they are off balance. You don’t say things about another guy’s genitalia.

He said that you should suck his dick.
Yeah. You can’t say that to a man. It’s like when you have nothing else to grab on to and you say, “Fuck you! Your mother!” I take comfort from that. I dropped some heavy records, and he was a little off balance.

You offered to settle the fight in a boxing ring. Was there ever a chance that would happen?
No, too much to lose. Especially in rap. People get knocked out, they lose that image. When you’re listening to a record, “I’m the illest!” I don’t know, man, I just saw you get knocked out [laughs]. I hear what you’re saying, but my eyes are seeing something different. I would have boxed him.

How do you know you would have won?
My will. My will alone. I’m too strong, man.

Blueprint 2 is a double album. What’s next, a triple album?
Never. That was too much music. Eminem said, “Yo, I love the album, man. I ain’t finished listening to it. But I’m gonna get to it.”

On “The Ruler’s Back,” you liken yourself to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
What did I say?

We have to tell you? You’ve written so many songs, you can’t remember your own lyrics?
Word up. Friends have to tell me my rhymes all the time.

“I’m representing….”
“I’m representin’ for the seat where Rosa Parks sat/Where Malcolm X was shot, where Martin Luther was popped.” Yeah. I believe that every black person has a responsibility. When you do good, everyone is looking at you—every black person. So you’re the same person as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I’m not just representing the hood and Roc-A-Fella Records, I’m representing for the whole culture. A lot of people look at me like they looked at Martin Luther King.

Some people might say,“What’s a rapper who used to deal drugs doing comparing himself to Dr. King?”
I’m not like a politician who says he never did nothing wrong. I’m not a saint—I did bad things. I fucked up. But I’m a very legit person. I try not to do bad things anymore. I try to be a decent citizen.

But you’re not always so levelheaded and orderly. In December 1999 you were arrested for stabbing Lance “Un” Rivera in a nightclub and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. What happened that night?
A fight got out of hand.

The rumor was, you were mad because he was bootlegging your music.
That doesn’t make sense. My stuff gets bootlegged every year. It had nothing to do with bootlegging.

If the story’s been told wrong, set the record straight.
No. There’s a lot of stories being told wrong. I can’t correct every story. Me and Un, we talk—we’re not cool, but we’re not mad.

Why did you have a knife on you that night?
I don’t want to talk about the knives. Just leave that one alone.

Let’s put it this way: At any given time, do you have protection on you?
No. One time I heard Russell Simmons say, “I don’t even want to see a gun. I don’t want no friends with guns.” I was like, He’s crazy. But now I feel the same way. What’s wrong with me? I’m a gangsta rapper. [Makes a mean face] From the hood.

But a few months after the stabbing, you were arrested again because your bodyguard was found with an unlicensed Glock semiautomatic.
I’m seldom with a bodyguard. I like to go and come as I please. I go to games by myself all the time. But if I’m going to be in a partylike atmosphere, where there’s a bunch of people? Yeah, definitely, 100 percent. Like Michael Jackson or Britney Spears would.

If he had the gun, why were you charged? I don’t understand.
Me neither. I didn’t have a gun. I was in a limousine with a partition. The partition was up. I don’t know what’s going on in the front. But I’m thinking, All right, he’s going to straighten it out. I was joking around with the cop. I was laughing. Then the cop was like, Turn around, put your hands behind your back. I wasn’t laughing no more. They said they charged me because it was my car. Took my fingerprints and a picture. I understood it later. It was just for the media. The DA has a publicist who came down to the station house. That was all about imaging.

From your first album to the last, you use the word fag a lot. Are you homophobic?
Um, I think rap is homophobic. I don’t know. I could be. My friends and I play a game called Pause—if you say something that sounds gay, like, “I was with the dude the other day,” you have to say, “Pause.” That could be viewed as homophobic. I stopped playing Pause this year—I’m too grown. So maybe I’m getting better.

But not playing Pause doesn’t mean you’re no longer homophobic.
I mean, it’s a start, man. Shit. Goddamn [laughs].

Could there ever be a successful gay rapper?
That would be extremely tough. Rap is all, “Pickin’ off a motherfucker like that. [Makes a mean face] I’m from the hood.”

Every time you say, “I’m from the hood,” you screw up your face like a cartoon villain.
Because it’s funny. “I’m from the hood.” It’s a joke. You can’t take that seriously. Rappers, we ain’t from the hood. We got nice homes and nice cars. We from the mansion.