By Andy Exley
Within four months in 1996, two events that could hardly be more disparate occurred, yet both paved the way for the making of an icon.
Arsène Wenger joined Arsenal as manager (complete with ‘Arsène Who?’ headlines in the press) in September of that year and his impact on Arsenal Football Club and the game in general needs no explanation in this magazine. Rewind four months to June of that year and Shawn Corey Carter, also known as Jay-Z, released his debut album Reasonable Doubt to great critical acclaim.
The following 14 years have witnessed remarkable success for both men with the Arsenal manager claiming three league titles, four FA Cups, four Charity Shields and three Manager of the Year awards. Rapper Jay Z has gone on to conquer the music world, selling over 40 million albums worldwide and when his most recent album, The Blueprint 3, reached the top of the Billboard charts in the United States he surpassed Elvis Presley as the solo act with the most number one albums ever.
So we’ve established the credentials of Mr. Wenger and Mr., urm, Z but why the comparison? Well after rumors have done the rounds over recent weeks about the 40 year-old Hip-Hop star having a liking for Arsène Wenger’s Gunners, the Official Magazine managed to receive cast-iron confirmation of the Brooklyn born superstar’s support by nabbing ‘Mr. Beyonce’ for an exclusive interview about his beloved Arsenal.
First things first, and why does a man from Brooklyn who is part-owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team in the NBA, have an emotional stake in a football team across the Atlantic?
“It was about five years ago now,” explains the ten-time Grammy Award winner. “When Thierry Henry was at the club I saw him play and I just thought he was an amazing player, ever since then I have been a big fan of the club, following you guys and still today you play the beautiful football that Thierry did, I think he had a real long term effect on the team.
“I love all sports, but what I really love is when people play sport in a beautiful way, and that's one thing Arsenal do for sure.
“I don't get chance to watch the team in London,” he continues, “it's difficult to find time with all the travelling I do, plus I live so far away. But we get all the EPL games over in the States, you can watch any games you like, so it's pretty easy to keep up to date with how Arsenal are doing.”
Despite not getting to Emirates Stadium yet, Jay-Z did make his Premier League debut at Eastlands earlier this season, when he saw Manchester City’s controversial 4-2 victory over the Gunners. His high-profile presence as a guest of the City hierarchy ¬ he was in Manchester for a concert in the city – led to speculation that the New Yorker harbored loyalties for the Premier League’s nouveau riche, a fact he is quick to dispel. “The result wasn't great [at City], but I was glad to see Arsenal play,” he says. “After that game the press started reporting that I was a Manchester City fan, I am really glad all that has been cleared up and that everybody in the UK knows that I am an Arsenal fan.
“I will come to Emirates soon that's for sure. I love London as a city, it’s just finding time when I am over here for a few days to come and watch a game. I will find time soon, I will make sure of it.”
So who would Jay-Z particularly like to see in action when he finally gets to watch a match at Emirates? Not surprisingly, the peerless skipper gets a special mention, whilst the man who originally pricked his interest would also be on the menu, if at all possible.
“I think Cesc Fabregas is a great player,” says the rapper who recently topped the singles charts with ‘Empire State of Mind’. “It doesn't matter what sport it is the greatest sportsmen in the world do the difficult things and make it look easy. That's what Cesc does, he is so graceful in everything he does, and it looks effortless, the boy was born to play soccer you can see that.
“And Thierry Henry – that is a guy I would like to meet. I know he is a big NBA fan, so I might meet him courtside one day, or maybe when I come to the Emirates. He still comes to watch you guys right? He must do he is a legend there.
“I don't know if there are any fans in the current team,” he says modestly, “but if there are they would be more than welcome to come to my next concert when I am over in London. They can come and see me do my work, and then I will come and see them do their work.”
Basketball references are frequent with Jay-Z and his love for the sport is matched by so many in the ‘Big Apple’ but is football finally taking a foothold there?
“Basketball is the sport of New York, and you are never going to change that,” he stresses. “Then New Yorkers love their [American] football and baseball, but I think soccer’s popularity is growing in the US. It's never going to be the number one sport, but more people are playing it and watching it than ever have before.
“I just love watching people at the top of their game,” he continues, “plus when I was growing up basketball was a big part of our life and I used to spend a lot of time playing. It doesn't matter what level it is, when people are on the field or on the court they just want to win, and that can bring the best out in people.
“Soccer is a beautiful game to watch, and people want to see it. It's something different as well, if Americans want to see soccer played at the highest level they need to watch a European team. American soccer is getting better, but it's still a long way off you guys.”
Back on the basketball trip, was Jay-Z aware that Chicago Bulls stars Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were big Gooners and have visited Emirates? “No I didn't know that, that's pretty cool. Maybe we could all watch a game together when the NBA season is over, I am sure they would love to come.”
And maybe extend an invite last month’s magazine feature Idris Elba – Stringer Bell from hit US drama The Wire…
“Sure, why not that sounds pretty cool. With all these people you are inviting over you are going to need a pretty big box if we all come on the same week!”
As well as a globally successful recording artist, Jay-Z is also an entrepreneur with his business portfolio including record companies and clothing lines as well as the stake in the New Jersey Nets. And four years ago, he was even rumored to be interested in purchasing a significant amount of shares in Arsenal Football Club, so could fellow American Stan Kroenke one day be joined on the Arsenal Board’s headed paper by Mr. Shawn Corey Carter?
“I am a businessman, and I will always look at an opportunity, and if it feels right great,” says Jay-Z, keeping his options open, “I don't know a lot about the business of soccer, but in the future if the right opportunity presented itself then who knows?”
As for the immediate Gunners concerns, it’s all about a two-pronged attack on domestic and European fronts, and Jay-Z has his fingers crossed.
“You have always got to hope for the best, and in life you are never out of it until you are out of it,” he muses, “It's still a very young team, but youth counts for a lot, and I am confident this can still be a very successful season. If we win the title, then I will make sure I give Arsenal a shout out on stage for sure.”
And with that the Official Magazine concludes its interview with perhaps our first non-footballing megastar since Demi Moore back in Highbury’s final season. All that’s left to do is extend an invitation to a game of his convenience in the future, to which he responds, “thanks for inviting me, that's very cool of you.” Any time, Jay-Z, any time.
With thanks to Tom Bennett
Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source
This article originally appeared in the April issue of the official Arsenal Magazine. To subscribe, call + 44 845 880 0445 or click here.