NEWS: If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Zadie Smith, feel free to ask her anything about her extensive writing career just don’t mention Shawn Carter’s name. TheLaunchMagazine.com made numerous efforts to interview Smith about her latest projects including a new book release and a recent cover story on Jay-Z in T: The New York Style Magazine. Smith serves as a contributor to the magazine and when her interim supervisor approached her about our interview request a few weeks ago she declined. A week later, another attempt was made to a publicity director at her book publisher, The Penguin Group. Initially there was interest if the interview would focus solely on her novel but when it was confirmed that Jay-Z would be a topic of discussion, the email response from her representative stated that she was “unable to do this.”
Smith’s feature on Jay-Z was a cunning piece that was conducted during an intimate lunch with the rap mogul in Manhattan where she dissected his rap lyrics, discussed his thoughts on politics, and briefly delved into his contributions to the Brooklyn Nets. When the article went public in last month’s issue of the magazine, readers immediately reacted to shocking quotes made by Jay-Z about his disinterest and overall lack of understanding in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“What’s the thing on the wall, what are you fighting for?” said Jay-Z to Smith which he also said he reiterated to Russell Simmons. “I’m not going to a park and picnic, I have no idea what to do, I don’t know what the fight is about. What do we want, do you know? I think all those things need to really declare themselves a bit more clearly. Because when you just say that ‘the 1 percent is that,’ that’s not true. Yeah, the 1 percent that’s robbing people, and deceiving people, these fixed mortgages and all these things, and then taking their home away from them, that’s criminal, that’s bad. Not being an entrepreneur. This is free enterprise. This is what America is built on.”
Jay-Z’s fans were astounded by his response since his Rocawear clothing line once sold “Occupy All Streets” T-shirts but quickly stopped amid criticism that none of the proceeds would be allocated to support the cause. No one was more confused by his response than Simmons who not only supports the movement but has been a regular fixture at Zuccotti Park.
“I would agree that for many it was hard to understand the purpose of the movement if you did not attend any of the General Assemblies, or march hand-in-hand with the millions of protesters around the country,” wrote Simmons from his GlobalGrind.com Web site days after the article was published. “The months during the height of the beginning of the movement were unlike anything we had seen before in our nation. A protest led by no one, but always led by leaders. Organized through social media, yet no organization at the forefront. This was a true people’s campaign… So, Jay, here’s the deal. You’re rich and I’m rich. But, today it’s close to impossible to be you or me and get out of Marcy Projects or Hollis, Queens without changing our government to have our politicians work for the people who elect them and not the special interests and corporations that pay them. Because we know that these special interests are nothing special at all.”
Simmons wasn’t the only one who took issue with the piece. In her blog post for NYMag.com, Kat Stoeffel questioned whether Jay-Z’s chivalrous gesture of ordering Smith a fish sandwich rather than allowing her to select her own meal was appropriate. She pointed out that “it’s not that I wouldn’t trust Jay-Z to pick something good for me, especially at his favorite chicken parm spot, it’s just that I really value my right to choose what I eat.” Aisha Harris of Slate.com took Stoeffel’s stance a step further when she researched the ethical guidelines of The New York Times to see if a policy was violated when Jay-Z purchased lunch for Smith. Phil Corbett, associate managing editor for standards at The Times, called her implication “ridiculous” when he responded to her inquiry. Ravi Katari wrote a piece for Counterpunch.org questioning the writer’s ability to be biased stating that “Smith, recognizing Jay-Z as more a persona than activist, was able to take the Occupy comment with a grain of salt and move on.”
THE TRUTH: Smith wasn’t the first writer from The New York Times to recently request an interview with Jay-Z. David Halbfinger, a veteran staff reporter for the newspaper who previously interviewed Jay-Z during his promotion of the “American Gangster” album, presented an idea to the rapper’s handlers in July about focusing on his obscure role with the Brooklyn Nets. He was told that the timing wasn’t right and was urged to withhold the story until they reconsidered. Halbfinger decided to move forward after speaking with more than 40 people who knew of Jay-Z and his business dealings including Nets CEO Brett Yorkman and Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner. The article was published in The Times on August 15 and revealed Jay-Z’s stake in the team and the Barclays Center to be less than 1 percent, unlike what most of his fans assumed was much higher based upon his braggadocio lyrics where he raps about acquiring the basketball team and being able to park in his own arena.
When TheLaunchMagazine.com reached out to the interim editor at The New York Times Style Magazine to uncover the reasons why Smith was selected for this article, we were told that the information was unavailable because she was specifically chosen by Sally Singer, the former editor-in-chief of the magazine. Singer departed last month amid rumors that she clashed with management on the direction of the publication and was unable to improve slumping advertising numbers.
Smith is currently on a book tour and will be arriving at Kaufmann Concert Hall on the evening of October 4. We are told that while there will be questions taken from the audience, she will only provide commentary on her novel.
For more on TheLaunchMagazine.com’s interview with David Halbfinger of The Times about his journey in researching Jay-Z’s role with the Brooklyn Nets, read Jay-Z: The Allure of Ownership.