Oprah: Did you aspire to be a drug dealer?

Jay-Z: Well, no. No one aspires to be a drug dealer. You don't want to bring trouble to your mother's door, even though that's what you're doing. You aspire to the lifestyle you see around you. You see the green BMW, the prettiest car you've ever seen. You see the trappings of drug dealing, and it draws you in.

Oprah: How old were you when you got involved?

Jay-Z: Maybe 13.

Oprah: Did you realize it could cost you your life?

Jay-Z: In my mind, that wasn't risking a lot. You think, "If I'm living like this, I'll risk anything to get more. What's the worst that could happen?" 

Oprah: You could die.

Jay-Z: Yes, but you don't think about that.

Oprah: Were you seeing people get shot?

Jay-Z: Definitely—I saw a guy get shot when I was 9. And he wasn't even a bad guy. His name was Benny. He was the guy who would take us to play baseball. We always believed he could have made it to the majors. He was that good. Some guy was chasing him—and then I heard a shot and saw him on the floor.

Oprah: So by the time you were 13, this was a way of life. Did the lifestyle frighten you?

Jay-Z: No. It was normal. And at some point, you become addicted to the feeling. The uncertainty and adrenaline and danger of that lifestyle.

Oprah: This is where we differ. This is where we differ. Because I'd be very scared! Weren't you shot at three times—within six feet—and you lived to talk about it?

Jay-Z: That was divine intervention. Divine intervention, and nobody knowing how to shoot.

Oprah: What happened in each situation?

Jay-Z: It was one situation, three shots.

Oprah: So he was a bad shot.

Jay-Z: Well, no one really practices shooting a TEC-9 machine gun, right? And when you're a kid, with little bony arms—no wonder nobody could aim.

Oprah: Getting shot like that would be a wake-up call for the average guy. But you continued in the drug world.

Jay-Z: You want to shoot back. Well, maybe not everyone, but I did. I was angry.

Oprah: Did you go home and get a gun?

Jay-Z: Yeah. But the guy and I were actually friends.

Oprah: This is also where we differ! I don't shoot at my friends. Did you ever make up with him?

Jay-Z: You can't. You can agree not to shoot at each other, but you can't be friends after that—unless the guy is your brother.

Oprah: You made up with your brother after you shot him?

Jay-Z: Yeah.

Oprah: So even after you went to London with Jaz, you stayed in the drug world?

Jay-Z: Right. Before I went, I spent a week making sure everything would be cool for when I came back. I was preparing to come back to the streets because I always had a fear that this music thing wouldn't be successful. And since Jaz's album didn't work out, I did end up back on the streets. The same record label tried to sign me, but Jaz was the one who'd brought me in, and I felt that signing wouldn't be loyal to him. So I told them no. I didn't want to be involved with those record guys. They weren't stand-up people.

Oprah: It's ironic that you, a drug dealer, couldn't trust the guys in the record business, as if they had no integrity!

Jay-Z: Exactly.

Oprah: How do you define integrity?

Jay-Z: As doing the right thing.


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