Jay-Z has a fan in Ellen Grossman.
The 67-year-old New York City resident, who shot to instant fame this week after popping up in a video of the rapper riding the subway, is speaking out for the first time about that fateful encounter in October when Jay-Z chatted her up on the way to Brooklyn for the last of his eight concerts to celebrate the Barclays Center opening.
In phone interviews with various media outlets, Grossman said she wasn't aware she was meeting hip-hop royalty because she didn't recognize him.
"In general, I have poor face recognition unless I know someone really well," she told The Washington Post. "I was aware Jay-Z was famous and existed, but I didn't know how famous."
After their meeting, someone in H.O.V.A.'s entourage made a disc of his music for her to listen to, and Grossman noted she also did her own bit of homework, including watching Jay-Z's 24-minute documentary posted online this week chronicling his role in the building of the arena.
"I've become much more aware of what he's done and who he is," she added. "And I didn't know who he was! There were all these photographers and a crowd of happy people around him, and security people. So it sort of dawned on me as I was looking around that he was someone famous."
When Grossman first noticed the hitmaker, he was standing uneasily on the subway platform, which quickly filled with hordes of fans calling his name and trying to snap a picture of him. Once inside the car, he gravitated toward a seat next to Grossman, whereupon she asked, "Are you famous?"
At that point, she said "he looked kind of relieved…that it was a safe spot. Not to imply that his fans were threatening; just overwhelming."
Grossman, who is a visual artist and lives in Manhattan's East Village not far from Jay-Z's posh pad in Tribeca, also told the U.K.'s The Guardian newspaper that she was "energized" by their chat, which lasted roughly 15 or 20 minutes—the time it took for the train to go from Lower Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn.
"It was just a wonderful conversation," she recalled. "He's very real. He didn't seem disturbed that I didn't understand who he was—he's not full of himself."
Grossman acknowledged all the attention she's been getting since being identified as the "old lady" in the video, as some blogs described her—a characterization that didn't bother her, by the way.
For one, traffic has spiked on her website, which features her drawings and sculptures. But she knows not to let the whole insta-celeb thing go to her head.
"It'll pass in a week or two," she told The Guardian. "I'm an artist, so I obviously want a certain kind of attention, but it's more for my work as opposed to presenting myself as a public person. I suspect it's my 15 minutes of fame."