At the start of the decade, he was already a multimillion-selling superstar back home in the States, but still best known in this country for the Annie-sampling Hard Knock Life. A string of stunning albums, including The Blueprint and The Black Album followed, but while critically acclaimed, they only just made the top 30 in the UK. He had his business empire encompassing Roc-A-Fella Records and his Rocawear clothing line, but Eminem and his protégé Kanye West were the household names here. But then? It might have helped that he had “the hottest chick in the game wearin’ [his] chain”, but it was the furore surrounding his ultimately triumphant Glastonbury appearance in 2008 that saw Shawn Carter make the jump from cultural icon to superstar in Britain.
In New York in late October, he’s on world-beating form, helped by news that, at 39, he now has more US No 1 albums than any other solo artist ever.
What do you think has been your crowning achievement of the Noughties?
Right now? Right this second? Eleventh No 1 album, surpassing Elvis as the No 1 solo artist. I think that is a statement in itself, especially within hip-hop, where everything is about the gift of discovery – what’s new today. To be consistent and still have relevancy in hip-hop, to still be at the top of the game is a very difficult thing to achieve. You’re swimming upstream, fighting against the current. So I think The Blueprint was my most perfect album. I think Reasonable Doubt was my best album. And I think this [Blueprint 3] is the album I’m most proud of.
Do you have a favourite album of the decade?
Oh man, let’s see. That’s very difficult. The Blueprint would be my favourite. Other than my album? Maybe Graduation [by Kanye West].
And you get some credit for that, too, having given Kanye his break…
A bit! Ahahahhahaha!
Does Glastonbury feel like a defining moment for you, now some time has passed?
Yeah, I think it’s one of the highlights. I would put it up there because it felt like something new. Well, it felt like something old actually – but it felt like a chance to open the door for hip-hop again. It was almost like hip-hop had to prove itself yet again in that type of arena and performing there really brought it home.
Did it restore your affection for the UK as well?
Yeah – it was pretty much my evolution, I was pretty much on my way there anyway, but it definitely opened the doors and made it a natural transition.
Rock fans now have computer games like Guitar Hero. You’re involved with DJ Hero – will that have the same impact on your culture?
Definitely. I think we’re all frustrated DJs – we all make playlists for specific moments, whether it be the gym or a social setting. I just think we don’t have the technical skill to blend one song from the next. But I think this is the fun way to get into it, because at higher levels the game is challenging that way. You can challenge yourself; if you can do that then maybe you can take the next step into DJing.
What do you think the Noughties will be best remembered for?
Being the first generation to put a black man in office – and not just a black man, someone who’s right for the job to give a new face to America, as land of the free, home of the brave. I think at some point after 43 presidents we were becoming a bit hypocritical. I think that’s what this generation will be remembered for.
A year on, have you noticed a change in the country? Are things better now?
Here and abroad, the feeling has been restored. America was always this place where everybody wanted to be. And we were losing a bit of that. I think we finally turned the corner back on the road to being that nation that everyone looks to.
You talk about swimming upstream – where might you go next?
I want to make it even more difficult; throw on some scuba diving gear, go 50,000 feet below and swim upstream!
How far can you push it?
It actually challenges me, it’s exciting to me, that’s the thing about being in music – I like swimming upstream. If I didn’t have to, I’d probably lose interest. It’s like being at school – when I was in 6th grade I was reading on a 12th-grade level. I lost my interest, I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t graduate high school – it wasn’t interesting to me. As long as I’m being challenged, it’s exciting. -Guardian