Jay-Z was sitting behind the desk in his cavernous office, smoking a cigar, when the speaker in front of him beeped.
“Jay,” a male voice said, “your ten o’clock is here.”
“Word,” Jay-Z said, pushing a button on the box. “Send him in.” He pinched his tie and sat back in his chair.
“You can go in,” the man said, before the speaker clicked.
The door at the far end of the office opened. A young rapper walked in. He looked about 18 or 19, and moved with a confident strut that made Jay-Z nod.
“Morning,” Jay-Z called.
The boy lifted his chin in recognition. Under his long white t-shirt, his dark jeans made a soft noise as he walked across the opulent room.
A woman in her mid-twenties appeared behind him, wearing a tight pant suit and glossy black high heels. She saw Jay-Z and looked down nervously.
“Good morning, miss,” Jay-Z said, walking around his desk. “Thank you for coming. I’m Sean.”
“Hi,” the woman said. “I’m Young Mike, and this is Vanessa Jones.” Her eyes widened. “I mean—”
“Hi, Vanessa,” Jay-Z said, smiling charismatically as he shook her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. What up, Mike?”
“I’m just maintaining right now,” Young Mike said. He shook Jay-Z’s hand. “What up?”
“Oh, you know,” Jay-Z said, smiling. “I liked your video.”
“Respect for that.” Young Mike said. “We threw it together to get the word out.”
“Well,” Jay-Z said, sitting on the edge of his desk and crossing his black Italian loafers, “maybe I can help with that. Have you got more tracks?”
“Two hundred and sixteen burners,” Young Mike said.
“But the one in the video’s our latest joint.”
“Our?” Jay-Z asked. “Who you working with, Mike?”
Vanessa frowned. “Mr Z,” she said quietly.
Jay-Z looked over at her.
“You did read the description on Mike’s video, didn’t you?” she said. “I mean, I’m only asking because, on the phone, you—”
“You know what,” Jay-Z said, looking up at the ornate ceiling, “I don’t think I did. Who you working with, Mike?”
“I’ve mainly been in the lab with underground heads.”
“Mr Z,” Vanessa said. She looked at Young Mike and then back to Jay-Z. “Young Mike’s a robot.”
Jay-Z nodded. “No doubt,” he said, smiling.
“No,” Vanessa said, “I mean it. I work for a company called Boston Dynamics, and we’ve been developing our Rapping Robot project for over five years now. Young Mike’s our final system.”
Jay-Z was still smiling. He looked from Vanessa to Young Mike. They both returned his gaze, completely serious. “I get it,” he said. “Very funny.” He looked around the office. “Is Ashton here? Or is B getting me back for the Rolls thing?”
“Mr Z,” Vanessa said, “we came on our own, like you asked. Young Mike is our most advanced project, and my bosses are beside themselves about me taking him out of the lab.”
Jay-Z’s expression changed suddenly, and Vanessa followed his gaze. Young Mike had lifted the skin on his neck to above his chin. Between the mess of wires and metal, a silver box glowed in the light. Jay-Z stared at it with wide eyes.
Vanessa kept talking. “That’s his atomic clock,” she said. “Young Mike has the most accurate timing of any device on Earth. His vocabulary is over 200,000 words, in 10 languages, and we’ve combined the styles of all the great rappers. Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Nas, yourself…”
Jay-Z was not listening. He was staring at Young Mike in disbelief.
“Mr Z,” Vanessa said. “I could keep talking, but… Would you like to hear Young Mike rap?”
It took several seconds for Jay-Z to turn his head, and when he did, she wasn’t sure that he’d heard her question. But finally, he gave a tiny, slow nod.
Vanessa nodded and turned to Young Mike. “Ok,” she said, “Load Program 215 at 94 beats per minute.”
Young Mike lowered his neck skin and started nodding along to an unheard beat. While Jay-Z and Vanessa watched, he narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding and moving his shoulders. “Check it… Uh… Turn the vocals up in my headphones… yeah…
I was born to burn the competition like the end of a, uh…
Young Mike, the wildest animal to get out the, uh…
Floatin’, Incan like an Uru,
Makin’ billys like a swag…. swag… swag… swag… swag, swag, swag—
Vanessa hurried over to Young Mike. His shoulder and chin were twitching. “I’m sorry,” she said, pulling up his shirt. “Something must have been damaged in transit.”
Young Mike’s entire right side was jerking violently. His pitch fell with every word. “Swag, swag, swag,” he slurred.
Jay-Z broke into a wide smile, nodding along from his desk. “Yo,” he said, “this robot’s dope!”