Rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z has opened up in a rare interview about his relationship with Beyoncé, the joint album the two music moguls were making and even his friendship with sometimes-rival Kanye West.
“We were using our art almost like a therapy session,” he told the New York Times about working with his wife Beyoncé. The duo had been collaborating on an album and they “still have a lot of that music,” he said. But Beyoncé’s work on critically acclaimed 2016 album Lemonade was moving faster, so she wound up releasing that first. Its confessional nature ignited a frenzy of speculation over their marriage, as the songs detailed pain, infidelity and anger in the path to forgiveness. Jay-Z’s ensuing solo album, 4:44, also alludes to his marital challenges. In the interview, he shared his experiences of putting up a front as a coping mechanism for the pain of a fraught upbringing.
More from TIME
“So you go into survival mode, and when you go into survival mode what happen? You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can’t connect,” he explained. “And then all the things happen from there: infidelity…”
“But the best place is right in the middle of the pain,” he told the Times of working through their issues jointly. “And that’s where we were sitting. And it was uncomfortable. And we had a lot of conversations. You know. [I was] really proud of the music she made, and she was really proud of the art I released. And, you know, at the end of the day we really have a healthy respect for one another’s craft. I think she’s amazing.”
Since Lemonade and 4:44 came out, the two have welcomed twins, Rumi and Sir, joining daughter Blue Ivy.
Jay-Z also touched on the status of his relationship with longtime friend and rival Kanye West, with whom he’s had public beef since last year. “I [talked to] Kanye the other day, just to tell him, like, he’s my brother. I love Kanye. I do. It’s a complicated relationship with us,” he explained. “It’s always been like a little underlying competition with your big brother. And we both love and respect each other’s art, too. So it’s like, we both — everyone wants to be the greatest in the world.”
4:44 leads the Grammy nominations this year with eight bids.