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About (Late) Last Night: Jay-Z cools off with Jon Stewart

November 18, 2010 |  6:42 am
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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In the last week alone, Jay-Z has sat down for interviews with African American studies leader Cornel West, PBS host Charlie Rose and David Letterman on "The Late Show." But his chat with Jon Stewart was probably the funniest and the lightest in only five minutes Wednesday night on "The Daily Show."

The rapper, businessman and international icon (Jay-Z not Jon Stewart) is on a press tour to celebrate the release of his new book "Decoded," part memoir, part lyrical exegesis. And in putting hip-hop biography and minutiae to the masses under a microscope, Jay has remained patient and good-humored as the same subjects come up again and again: rap as scapegoat, not writing down his lyrics and Andy Warhol, for instance.

"Warhol's Rorschach, the idea being people see many things when they see you?" Stewart asked, taking an obvious stab at the book cover's meaning. "There you go," said Jay-Z. "You're sharp." Stewart took the hint: "Did I just give away the ending?" Jay-Z giggled.

The pair's interaction was relaxed enough to blur the line between a good rapport and an interview with a subject bored with the proceedings on the final leg of a whirlwind week.

"I care about the culture and about rap and about it being a respectable form of art," said Jay-Z, deflecting the solo spotlight in favor of plugging a larger movement. "We grew up at about the same time as rap," he said about his "generation of kids," amid Reaganomics, crack cocaine and Rodney King. "It's bigger than me the individual," he continued.

"It may seem extreme," said Stewart about rap music sans context. "It's a bit extreme," Jay-Z joked, at least partially. "Rap became a scapegoat for everything in America," he explained.

"By the way, as a Jew, I want to thank you for that," said Stewart. "When you guys came along, you really took a little heat off our shoulders."

In an otherwise tame conversation, both host and guest were comfortable enough to forgo network rules and sprinkle in some casual profanity, fortunately picked up by the censors. The third time, as Jay discussed the lesser quality of some rap music, Stewart cracked up. When the host started to inch toward substance, he always pulled up and made a joke; Jay-Z was happy to kick back and follow suit.

-- Joe Coscarelli