Jay-Z donned his music theorist/historian hat recently to share his thoughts on the grunge movement. Pharrell spoke with Hov for his upcoming book, Pharrell: The Spaces and Places I’ve Been, and the two got to talking about Nirvana and the genre as a whole. Pharrell asks Jay where he was the first time he heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and he gets a pretty insightful take on the intertwined histories of grunge and hip-hop in response. Check out the passage below and pick up the book October 16.
“So, where were you mentally and physically when grunge music hit?” Pharrell asks Jay-Z. “Like where were you when you first heard, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit?’” Coincidentally, Hova was in Pharrell’s home state of Virgina when he heard the generation-defining song for the first time. But he’s more interested in discussing why the song hit so hard than where he was when it got going. “First we got to go back to before grunge and why grunge happened,” reasons Jay. “‘Hair bands’ dominated the airwaves and rock became more about looks than about actual substance and what it stood for—the rebellious spirit of youth….That’s why ‘Teen Spirit’ rang so loud because it was right on point with how everyone felt, you know what I’m saying?”
Jay-Z then goes on to say that grunge actually stalled the rise of hip-hop in popular culture. “It was weird because hip-hop was becoming this force, then grunge music stopped it for one second, ya know?” he says. “Those ‘hair bands’ were too easy for us to take out; when Kurt Cobain came with that statement it was like, ‘We got to wait awhile.’” Next, Pharrell mentions that he used to see Jay-Z in his old Virginia stomping ground of Newport News, but Jay-Z is still focused on the Kurt tip. “I have always been a person who was curious about the music and when those forces come on the scene, they are inescapable,” Jay says. “Can’t take your eyes off them, can’t stop listening to them. [Cobain] was one of those figures. I knew we had to wait for a second before we became that dominant force in music.” Pharrell’s The Places and Spaces I’ve Been is out October 16. Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for D’USSE.
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)