Oprah Talks to Jay-Z
Jay-Z: Outside in front is where I learned to ride a bike. I learned to ride a ten-speed when I was 4 or 5. My uncle gave me the bike, hand-me-down, and everyone used to stare at me riding up and down this block.
Oprah: You could ride a ten-speed when you were 5?
Jay-Z: I was too short to reach the pedals, so I put my legs through the V of the frame. I was famous. The little kid who could ride the ten-speed.
Oprah: Wow. That's one great memory. Any others?
Jay-Z: The boat. For some reason there was an abandoned boat on this block. We used to play on it all the time, every day.
Oprah: You know, I also grew up poor, but rural poor is different. Did you feel poor?
Jay-Z: Not at all. Probably the first time was in school when I couldn't get the newest sneakers. We didn't have elaborate meals, but we didn't go without. We ate a lot of chicken. You know, 'cause chicken's cheap. We had so much chicken—chicken backs, chicken everything. To this day, I can only eat small pieces or else I feel funny.
Oprah: That's too much chicken in a lifetime. So when you were 5, your family moved to the Marcy projects—and then your father left when you were 11. When you look back at that, what did your 11-year-old self feel?
Jay-Z: Anger. At the whole situation. Because when you're growing up, your dad is your superhero. Once you've let yourself fall that in love with someone, once you put him on such a high pedestal and he lets you down, you never want to experience that pain again. So I remember just being really quiet and really cold. Never wanting to let myself get close to someone like that again. I carried that feeling throughout my life, until my father and I met up before he died.
Oprah: Wow. I've never heard a man phrase it that way. You know, I've done many shows about divorce, and the real crime is when the kids aren't told. They just wake up one day and their dad is gone. Did that happen to you?
Jay-Z: We were told our parents would separate, but the reasons weren't explained. My mom prepared us more than he did. I don't think he was ready for that level of discussion and emotion. He was a guy who was pretty detached from his feelings.
Oprah: Did you wonder why he left?
Jay-Z: I summed it up that they weren't getting along. There was a lot of arguing.
Oprah: And did you know you were angry?
Jay-Z: Yeah. I also felt protective of my mom. I remember telling her, "Don't worry, when I get big, I'm going to take care of this." I felt like I had to step up. I was 11 years old, right? But I felt I had to make the situation better.
Oprah: How did that change you?
Jay-Z: It made me not express my feelings as much. I was already a shy kid, and it made me a little reclusive. But it also made me independent. And stronger. It was a weird juxtaposition.
Oprah: I've read that when you were 12, you shot your brother in the shoulder. Did your father's leaving have anything to do with that? Did it turn you into the kind of angry kid who would end up shooting his brother?
Jay-Z: Yes—and my brother was dealing with a lot of demons.
Oprah: How old was he?
Jay-Z: About 16. He was doing a lot of drugs. He was taking stuff from our family. I was the youngest, but I felt like I needed to protect everybody.