Jay-Z Remembers How Nirvana “Stopped” Hip-Hop With “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Superstar producer Pharrell Williams is notorious for branching well outside of music, launching everything from skateboard teams, clothing lines and even furniture. Now he’s releasing his very own coffee table book, Pharrell: The Places and Spaces I’ve Been (Rizzoli), which features the Renaissance man interviewing a wide variety of creative celebrities including Anna Wintour, Hans Zimmer and Takashi Murakami.
The book also includes a conversation with hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, where the two discuss the impact of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana on the early ‘90s music scene, with Jay-Z admitting that the grunge pioneers were so culturally powerful that hip-hop had “to wait awhile” before becoming the dominant sound of youth culture.
“First we got to go back to before grunge and why grunge happened,” Jay-Z is quoted as saying in the book according to Hip-Hop DX. “‘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, who this year helped launch the wildly diverse Made In America festival in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend with such acts as Pearl Jam, Passion Pit and Skrillex, added that Cobain was an immensely important artist whose influence was literally bigger than hip-hop.
“I have always been a person who was curious about the music and when those forces come on the scene, they are inescapable,” he stated. “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.
“It was weird because hip-hop was becoming this force, then grunge music stopped it for one second, ya know?” Jay-Z continued. “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.’”
Nirvana, whose popularity refuses to wane all these years later, has been in the news recently thanks to J Mascis, guitarist and frontman of alt-rock legends Dinosaur Jr. Mascis recently revealed that on two different occasions, Cobain approached him about ditching Dinosaur Jr. and joining Nirvana instead.
“Nirvana was playing Maxwell’s and after the show I was talking to Kurt and [Sonic Youth's] Thurston Moore,” Mascis remembered in a SPIN interview, referring to the famous New Jersey concert venue. “Kurt said, ‘you should join my band.’ I think he was sick of the guy Jason [Everman] who was in the band at the time, and thought I should play guitar. I didn’t think much about it. Later, there was also talk of playing drums on a single [1990 release 'Sliver'] they were doing, but it ended up being [Mudhoney drummer] Dan Peters.”
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local