Though he famously remarked, “I’m not a businessman — I’m a business, man,” Jay-Z’s got 99 problems with that old corporate adage, “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” Describing his creative process as “No paper, no pen, just listen to the music,” the rapper hasn’t written out a prefabricated rhyme since his teens. Instead, he rolls into the studio, checks the beat, spends a few moments mumbling to himself (“like Rain Man,” he says), then gets on the mic to record a flawless, fully-formed verse. His contribution to Beyoncé smash “Crazy in Love”? Just 10 minutes’ work for Young Hova.
Of course, you don’t develop the skills to drop impeccable improvised lyrical bombs (time after time after time) overnight. Jay’s virtuosity is the result of years honing his art. There are parallels aplenty with Audemars Piguet, a watchmaker Jay-Z feels a natural affinity with. The Swiss manufacture’s iconic model, the Royal Oak, may have been dreamt up in a single day in 1971 by Gerald Genta, but it was that horological iconclast’s vast experience, depth of skill and inspiration — his genius — that allowed him to complete the task so effortlessly. Equally, it was only a watchmaker of Audemars Piguet’s prestige, pedigree, OG bona fides and fuck-all-y’all ballsiness that could’ve pulled off the coup of producing that seminal luxury sports watch — for its time, a stupendously expensive stainless-steel timepiece, albeit ‘with a heart of gold’ — and making it a surprise commercial success.
Just as Jay earned the props of the hip-hop community thanks to his whip-snap off-the-cuff wordplay, so too did Audemars Piguet win the rapper’s admiration entirely on merit. Jay-Z shared the story of how he came to identify so strongly with Audemars Piguet with WatchTime magazine in 2005: “Well, I had a gold Rolex ‘President’ and a few other nice pieces in the early ’90s, but it wasn’t until (then) American President of Audemars Piguet, François Bennahmias [now AP’s CEO] brought me into the private vault at their New York headquarters that I really got serious about wristwatches. It was in 1997, so that’s when it got in my bones, right there. It’s aspiration really. Complicated timepieces are a lot more interesting than giant gold chains or diamonds.”
Just a few years later, Jay-Z began name-checking Audemars Piguet in his lyrics — he was one of the first rappers to attempt the tricky task of finding rhymes for the manufacture’s mouthful of a francophone moniker. As one of the most prominent and influential hip-hop artists of all time, Jay-Z was instrumental in turning Audemars Piguet into a culturally relevant force. The Bed-Stuy-bred ex-crack-slanger done good, Sean Carter brought Audemars Piguet the priceless gift of street cred. And where Jay-Z went, others soon followed.
As a watch brand, these days Audemars Piguet is well-represented in hip-hop lyrics, with everyone from Rick Ross to Rich The Kid getting in on the action. According to Genius.com’s RapStats, Jay-Z started things off in 2002, with a mention of the watchmaker on “Show You How” and hitting peak Audemars with “N****s in Paris” (2012), with this verse:
(Ball so hard) Got a broken clock / Rollies that don’t tick tock / Audemars that’s losing time / Hidden behind all these big rocks
Most famously, in 2006, the artist-entrepreneur released a collaboration in the shape of the 100-piece Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore “Jay-Z” 10th Anniversary Limited Edition with his autograph emblazoned in the caseback. Celebrating the star’s 10th anniversary in music, the Arabic numeral 10 was set in diamonds to draw attention to the anniversary, creating a unique countenance for the Offshore. There were three versions of this distinctive watch, 50 in stainless steel, 30 in pink gold and 20 in platinum, for that ultimate baller feeling of wearing 800 grams of pure watchmaking bravado on your wrist. Icing on cake, each special limited edition 10th anniversary box came with its own 40-gigabyte iPod (packed with the entire discography of his music up to that time) and was engraved with a signature and a quote from Jay-Z.
Of course, with a net worth in the neighbourhood of $800 million, Jay-Z has the wherewithal to indulge his horological whims, and doesn’t restrict his collection to exclusively Audemars Piguet. It was widely reported that Beyoncé got her man a fully gem-set (iced is the word of choice these days, edging out the much-loathed bling) Hublot Big Bang for his 43rd birthday, while he has his own Sean Carter Hublot Classic Fusion watch, which he helped to create, just as he did with the Offshore Jay-Z 10th Anniversary Limited Edition. He is also reported to have an RM027 and an RM001, as well as numerous Rolexes.
Promiscuous wrist-adornment aside, Jay-Z led a cavalcade (or perhaps we should say, an Escalade) of hip-hop stars into the world of haute horlogerie, AP-style. The likes of DJ Khaled, Lil’ Wayne, Nas, Meek Mill, TI and The Game followed Jay’s lead, dropping rhymes biggin’ up “tha Aud-maw”. The manufacture continues to collect copious lyrical hat-tips, with recent mentions from MCs including Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, Fabolous and Future. But as the first rapper to truly champion this watch for men who “break the rules”, Jay-Z was way ahead of the Audemars Piguet game. As he spat on 2009 track, “Off That”: “I’m so tomorrow the Audemar says yesterday.”