Jay-Z, the rapper who last year turned the theme from Annie ("It's a Hard Knock Life") into a ghetto anthem, is leaning back in a barber chair at Milk Studios, talking on his Motorola cell phone: "Yo, you havin' too much fun out there!" He laughs, a great guffaw at odds with his usual demeanor, which is famously subdued, watchful, penetrating, in keeping with the slick poet he is and successful drug dealer he once was. Today, before a photo shoot for his Roc-A-Fella Records, Jay-Z -- lanky, six feet four, and looking beach-ready in khaki shorts, a muscle-T, and luminescent white sneakers -- seems relaxed, almost peaceful. Lately, he's been vacationing out in the Hamptons. "I never drive, I take a helicopter," he says. "Everybody says it's murder driving -- and you ain't got to tell me twice."
In case you've been concentrating on your Jewel collection, Jay-Z is the top-selling rapper in the country, considered one of the most lyrically gifted, and the man who made "Can I get a fuck-you?" a handy phrase. This year, with the album Vol. 2 . . . Hard Knock Life, he went from hard-core-rap respectability to international superstardom, including an as-told-to account of his life in Teen People. ("I was in the fifth grade the first time I saw someone get shot. . . . To see something like that at 11 years old is crazy!")
The record was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for five weeks straight (a first for rap), went platinum five times, and earned Jay-Z his first Grammy (although he boycotted the ceremony in L.A. to protest the Grammy oversight of fellow rapper DMX). Jay-Z's had a busy year; he went on a 56-city tour, made four videos, appeared on eight magazine covers. So when the heat wave hit, it seemed time to chill; and where else for an up-and-coming young man with money to go -- when "money ain't a thang" -- but the Hamptons?
"I mean, the Hamptons is cool," says Jay-Z, in his curiously high, thick, melodic voice (when he raps, it booms). "It's very serene, a change of pace, a kind of getaway, you know what I'm saying? But everything is so hard to find out there. The first house we rented" -- in East Hampton, in June -- "was behind these trees, and we'd been playing softball with Russell Simmons and Andre Harrell and all them over in Wainscott, and I had to get back to the house at six to meet the masseuse; well, we was only fifteen minutes away, but we were rolling back and forth past that house for one hour." The masseuse waited.
When Jay-Z -- a.k.a. Jigga, Iceberg Slim, and J-Hovah, and born Shawn Carter, in Brooklyn -- decided he wanted to make the Hamptons scene, for the first time, "for real," Island Def Jam co-president Lyor Cohen offered him and partner Damon Dash guidance through the potentially embarrassing pitfalls of late-summer rental. "Lyor was showing us step-by-step where to go; he got us a Realtor Bettie Wysor, at Dunemere Associates," says Dash, CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records. "He wanted to be sure our location was right -- we could go in blind and get a house just anywhere and be thinking we're rolling, when we're not even in the right part of town."
And this was Jay-Z, so it couldn't be just any house; he had a reputation to consider. "Jigga" -- more than Puffy, more than Will "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" Smith -- is the rapper most associated with the sublime state of jigginess. His lyrics tell the story of a defiantly ambitious entrepreneur who likes his champagne and cars expensive, his women beautiful, and his freedom unfettered -- which doesn't sound too far off from some of the high-rollers laying down $48 a pound for lobster salad at Loaves and Fishes in Sagaponack these days. "My plot is, stick up the world and split it, 50-50 -- uh-huh -- is take the dough and stay real jiggy," Jay-Z raps.
"If he says 'Drive a 4.6 Range Rover,' people change their cars," says Dash. "If he says 'Rock platinum jewelry,' people rock platinum."
"It's a Masterpiece Rolex," says Jay-Z demurely, allowing an inspection of the diamond-studded watch twinkling on his wrist. "I was, like, the first one in the country with it. I try to stay on top of things. It's a little hobby, know what I'm saying? I read the Robb Report, the duPont Registry, things like that. I tend not toward expensive -- more toward exclusive."
Goose Creek, the Wainscott mansion Dash and Jay-Z settled on for a two-weekend rental in July, isn't exactly the Maidstone Club -- "It's the Hilton of the Hamptons," sniffs one society macher -- but it is . . . big. "I walked in and said, 'Damn, this'll be fun for a few weeks,' " says Dash. "I felt like a little kid in a big haunted house in there," says Jay-Z, laughing.
The $20 million, 30,000-square-foot, Italianate stucco house sits on eight-and-a-half acres of land and is equipped with an indoor-outdoor pool, tennis courts, a spa, a 120-seat screening room, and a canoe and rowboat to tool around Georgica Pond (which is shared by Steven Spielberg, among other players). Former renters include Madonna, Warren Beatty, and Kevin Costner (when he was hot). Meg Ryan and Ed Burns were neighbors this summer, and Sandra Bullock was next door in the estate's smaller farmhouse, known as Main Street.
Another renter actually had dibs on the cottage before Bullock, says Bob Felner, who co-owns Goose Creek with film and fashion impresario Bryan Bantry, but the client backed out upon hearing of the arrival of a rap brigade -- "for reasons I would not like to characterize," Felner says with pronounced delicacy. "We always just thought it would be a lot of fun to have Jay-Z and his people in the house" -- so to speak. "Like any newly successful entertainer, of course he wants to be in the Hamptons; I think it's sweet that they all want to be here."
It was no doubt equally sweet to receive Jay-Z and Dash's $30,000-a-week rent check -- a widely reported figure which Felner calls inaccurate, although he admits the rental's "a lot." So much that some of Jay-Z and Dash's friends, Simmons and Cohen included, complained that they thought the Roc-A-Fella crew was being taken. "They all said they were overpaying," says Felner, sounding a bit miffed, "but Russell was here every day and so was Puffy. This is a bigger house than Puffy's -- and in a better neighborhood." (Puffy lives near Donna Karan in a Charles Gwathmey steel-and-chrome monolith in East Hampton.)