As Jay Z’s cofounder at the entertainment conglomerate Roc Nation, TyTy Smith builds musical empires for little acts you may have heard of, like Rihanna and J Cole. But he’s known to hip hop fans as the guy from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects who Jigga Man has shouted out no fewer than 9 times since 1996. Apparently, the man likes Mai Tais.
Smith had his first son when he was just 16 and, “didn’t know what the f—k I was doing,” but the 42-year-old is also father to a 9-year-old boy. Considering his insights on things like work/life balance and the evolving role of fatherhood in hip hop, it appears Smith has figured a few things out since then.
Hip hop is a very social world. How do you manage being a present father while taking care of business at Roc Nation?
I never allow myself to get used spending time away from my son, no matter what. I can be anywhere in the world and I’ll make sure I’m home on Saturday and Sunday. If I have to be in Tokyo on Thursday, I’m on a red eye and home by Saturday morning. If I’m spending 2 weeks in LA, I’m home Saturday and Sunday and go back Monday morning. Because, if you get used to being away, then it’s like, ‘Well, I handled 7 days. I can handle 10.’ And it gets wider and wider, but 7 days for a kid is like 2 weeks. They look at it differently, and I’m very conscious of that.
“At the end of the day, we’re still African American. He has to be on 10 all day, every day, because that’s just the world we live in.”
Your son was already 7 years old when Jay Z and Beyoncé had Blue Ivy. Did you have parenting advice for him?
Oh, yeah. I can’t tell you what it was off the top of my head, but we have conversations about it all the time. We’re going to parent each other’s kids because we’re family. If my son is doing something and Jay or [Roc Nation cofounder] Jay Brown or any of the guys see it, they don’t wait for me to explain the situation that just happened. They’ll just handle it.
You come from a pretty modest background, financially, and never went to college but still rose to the top of the entertainment business. Does that influence how you think about college for your own son?
I just want him to have more information than I had. Everyone’s path is different — I didn’t go to college but I got lucky. I found talent in myself that I didn’t know I had because someone gave me the opportunity to show it. I want him to go to college because, at the end of the day, we’re still African American. He has to be on 10 all day, every day because that’s just the world we live in.
Music is different. You don’t have to have a PhD to hear a great song or for people to say, ‘That guy’s got really good ears.’ If you do other things, then you need the information. I couldn’t go to Citibank and get a job — I don’t have that information. So, I want him to have all the tools, I want him to have extra tools. He’s got to have a backpack full of tools.
“Our generation is changing the cycle, and that’s really important. That’s my intention, to change the way I was taught things.”
Have you learned anything as a father that you apply to your business, day to day?
I’m trying to. I’m trying to apply patience. It’s a process.
Lyrically, it seems like the topic of fatherhood is cropping up more and more often in hip hop. What do you attribute that to?
You know, I was very fortunate to grow up with a father. Most of my friends didn’t, and it wasn’t spoken about. Now, people are rapping about it and it should have always been cool but for whatever reason it wasn’t. When rappers rap about it, it makes it whack to not take care of your kid. That translates to our communities, which is a great thing.
“I could have gotten passes, but we did it the right way. We was in the crowd, he was on my shoulders, it was great.”
Maybe it has something to do with the culture itself maturing — rap’s still fairly young as an art form and at the beginning it was more young people rapping about young people stuff.
It’s part of the culture now, to step up. Our generation is changing the cycle, and that’s really important. That’s my intention, anyway, to change the way I was taught things. I’ll never spank my kid, ever. I got spanked growing up and it didn’t change nothing for me. It didn’t stop me from doing anything bad. All it did was make me tougher. So, that’s what I tell people now. Don’t beat your kid, that shit don’t work. Did it change anything for you? No, it made you withdraw, and it made you hide, it made you lie, right? Nothing good comes out of it.
My son has the freedom to speak his mind. I remember growing up, if the adults were having a conversation and I had an idea, I’m not able to talk about it. With my kid, if you’re talking in front of him, he can have an opinion on what you’re talking about. Otherwise, don’t have the conversation in front of him. He has a voice.
How did you introduce hip hop to your son — did you play him a particular first song?
He just heard it. I mean, Jay Z’s his uncle. You can’t escape that shit. And he just loves music. He loves EDM — he introduced me to Skrillex. But he loves Kendrick Lamar, so one summer I took him to Lollapalooza to go see Kendrick Lamar perform. He was 7, and we just went and did it. Stood on the line, straight through the crowd, no backstage or nothing like that. I could have gotten passes, but we did it the right way. We was in the crowd, he was on my shoulders, it was great.
What advice do you have for a guy who’s trying to start a business when he’s got a little kid at home?
Maintain a balance, because nothing is more important than your kids. A lot of times, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re only doing this for the betterment of our family, and that makes it easier to stay away longer. Then, you put yourself in positions where, you don’t have to be there, but if you allow yourself to get used to it, you’ll be there. If you don’t allow yourself to get used to it, you won’t be there.
“I’m not looking to be hot, I don’t have to be in everyone’s face. It’s fine for me to just go home.”
That can be particularly hard because, in this country, we really celebrate the guy who never stops working, all in the name of providing for his family.
I don’t want to be that guy. I remember watching Oprah Winfrey say that she knew if she had a kid something in her life would have had to suffer because she wouldn’t be able to give it her full attention. And she felt that probably would have been her kids, so she never had kids. There are sacrifices, but I try to balance as much as I can and understand that I don’t have to be everywhere.
I’m so happy that, my personality, I’m not the guy who needs the hype. I’m not looking to be hot, I don’t have to be in everyone’s face. It’s fine for me to just go home.