Jay-Z stood on a tiny step-up of a stage on Monday morning, a giant American flag behind him and ahead, the steps run by Rocky Balboa that lead to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Against such huge backdrops, he still managed to be the biggest presence. The announcement for Jay-Z's latest venture – the two-day Budweiser Made in America music festival set for Labor Day weekend, to benefit the United Way – was interrupted by screaming fans, as well as a surprise visit from his one-time signee Freeway. Wearing Yeezy 2 sneakers in the rain – "I know a guy. I'd hope I could get a second pair," he cracked – with his blazer unbuttoned and a Jacob the Jeweler gold Mardi Gras rope half-hidden beneath his loose white tee, Jay-Z looked relaxed. "You're the best, Jay!" fans shouted. He responded, "I know."
On Blueprint 3, you put out a classic ode to New York. Your basketball team just moved to Brooklyn, and you helped design the logo. You're always at the Yankees games with Mike Kyser. So, just what are we doing in Philadelphia?
That's a great question. This was tailor-made for Philadelphia, home-made for Philadelphia. Philadelphia's one of the most iconic cities: Declaration and the whole bit. I feel like I've done enough in New York where I feel I could branch out a bit, and she won't get mad at me so much. And it's a short trek from New York, so...
It's the sixth borough. This will be a two-day festival with 30 artists playing across three stages. What is your presence going to be like that weekend?
I'll headline the first night; I'll probably get one of those silly headsets with the thing, just to look important. I don't really need it, but I'll just do that. Overall, have a good time. You'll see me with probably a beer in my hand, just enjoying the festivities and the music like everyone else. I'ma try and keep it as normal and simple as possible.
You said you're looking for artists that embody the American spirit. I've got a guy: he's got a beautiful voice and he sings Al Green songs well. The only problem is that he's super-busy and Donald Trump thinks he was born overseas.
[Laughs] Ah, yeah, that guy. I'm gonna try. I'm gonna tell you guys right now: I'm gonna give him a call and I'm gonna try to get him to perform – do a little rendition of Al Green – but I doubt it. I think that opens up the political season. He'll be so far into helping the world that he probably won't have time, but I'm absolutely going to ask him.
What is the American spirit to you? Can someone from overseas have the American spirit? How do you define that?
Yes, of course. American spirit is "Pull yourself up by the bootstraps," the whole, "You can make it anywhere" sort of mentality that our generation really, really put to the forefront, really took it over the top. But yeah, just that sort of embodiment of spirit.
What is Beyoncé doing on September 1st and 2nd? Have you checked her calendar?
I tried to put it far enough away that she'd have a little gap in her schedule, so hopefully that works.
You're curating this festival. Pharrell is curating Karmaloop. Swizz Beatz and Kanye West are doing the same with shoes. When did curation become a buzzword for rap moguls?
It's always been there; it's just that now it's official. You know, we've always been curators of style – that's what music is. We've always been curators of culture, always, by default. It's just that now it's in an official way.
How does your role in this festival differ from your 1999 Hard Knock Life tour with DMX – is it just that the shirts are closer cut and there are fewer dogs?
For Hard Knock Life, I just had to show up. It was already a done deal. I just had to pick three or four artists then – this is 29 artists to start with.
Yeah, but DMX had a huge entourage.
Yeah, yeah, true. [Laughs] You know, it may have prepared me! Dealing with the Ruff Ryders at that time, when they were that hot, it was so hard to get that thing done. We actually had a meeting in Justin's, I remember, just to introduce each other's entourages so there would be no problems. Like, "Listen, there cannot be a problem on this tour." It was the first...I remember, in the beginning – and no disrespect to Sisqo – they was trying to tell me to put Sisqo and all these other acts, like, "There's no way you can take out an all-rap tour. The insurance would be so high." 'Cause that was the trick, how they would keep rap out of buildings – they would put insurance at a number where you couldn't make money. And I was like, "Well, we'll make a little less money." We ended up making more money because they didn't realize that we would sell out North Carolina. The economics really worked because of the amount of hunger and interest in the Hard Knock Life tour. Then we made a little movie on top of it, and you know...it all worked out.
In 2005, you performed the second "I Declare War" concert in Philadelphia, ending your feud with Nas. Is there any chance of you doing the same thing in September and reconciling with Beanie? It's the city of brotherly love, after all.
Um, I dunno. You know, I haven't spoken to Beanie, so I don't know how that plays out. It's kinda, you know. And I'm going on tour tomorrow, to Europe, so I don't know how that works.
What new things are you bringing to the European tour, besides converters for the outlets?
I don't know. I just thought about the flag. It's a major part of the show. We just gonna have to drop the flag everywhere. Everyone has to know we're from America – I hope no one boos us.
There are all of these rumors flying around for who you're working with on Watch the Throne 2. The name Kanye West keeps coming up. How is it different working together in 2012 as opposed to the last go-round?
I don't know. We haven't actually started working on Watch the Throne 2 yet; I had to put that to the side. I had a little interruption on January 7th.
That whole thing.
Yeah, that whole thing. And Kanye's touring, working on G.O.O.D. Music – which I haven't heard, but I heard it's great.
So, everyone wants to know – streets are talking, suburbs, exurbs – you recently played Jenga for the first time, at 42 years old. What was that like? When was the last time you lost at something?
Where did that even come from? That's some kind of rumor. I played ...
I heard you played Jenga at a birthday party in L.A. ...
That wasn't my first time playing Jenga...he lied. He lied! I played Jenga many times. We have Jenga nights at The Spotted Pig. And I'm not very good, 'kay? [Laughs]