“I swear I met success, we lived together shortly / Success is like lust, she’s good for the touch / She’s good for the moment but she’s never enough”
From hustling on the streets of Brooklyn to closing in on a personal value of a billion dollars, Jay-Z is a representation of the contrasts of America.
30. S. Carter
Jay-Z was born Shawn Corey Carter in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn on December 4th, 1969. His father abandoned his family, and he and his three siblings were raised by their mother.
29. Rapping Schoolmates
Carter bounced around high schools for a few years, and attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School with both The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes. During these years he sold drugs, notably crack cocaine, and was shot at several times.
28. Cain and Abel
At the age of 12, Carter shot his older brother for stealing his jewellery. At the time, he was terrified he’d spend his life in jail, but his brother didn’t press charges, and they reconciled while he was in the hospital.
27. What's In a Name
Originally known as Jazzy around his neighborhood, he adopted the stage name of Jay-Z to pay homage to his musical mentor Jaz-O.
26. British Jay
For a brief time in the late 1980s, Jay lived in London, where he took in everything he could from their culture, before returning back to the states to embark on his career.
25. Rising Through The Ranks
During the early 1990s, Jay-Z would fill in as a freestyling hype man for Big Daddy Kane. During this time, he began to make appearances on up and coming New York rappers' songs, including Big L, DMX, and Ja Rule.
24. Pop The Trunk
As a local rapper trying to gain steam, featuring on other rappers albums wasn't enough. So, is classic NY hustler style, Jay began selling CDs out of his car. Soon after he would create the independent label Roc-A-Fella Records with Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs.
23. Taste of Success
Reasonable Doubt would be Jay-Z’s first album, and it is now considered an all-time classic. He was able to strike a distribution deal with Priority Records, which allowed for a wide release of the album, and a platform for it to reach #23 on the Billboard 200.
22. B.I.G Death
Jay-Z was close friends with The Notorious B.I.G., and after his death Jay went through a depressive period, using his strife to record In My Lifetime Vol. 1, which was produced by Biggie’s friend Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs.
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21. Last Call
One of the last people to talk to The Notorious B.I.G. before he was murdered, Jay-Z spoke to him on the phone only hours before his shooting.
20. It’s a Hard Knock Life
With the previous success of his first two albums, Jay-Z reached a massive new height with the release of his Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life album, featuring the song "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)." In order to acquire the famous sample for this song, Jay lied to Annie composers Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, claiming that he not only saw the play on Broadway as a child but also won an essay-writing contest about the work.
19. Platinum Jay
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life went on to become his most commercially successful album, going 5x Platinum with over 5 million copies sold, and earning him his first Grammy nomination. However, Jay would boycott the awards ceremony because DMX didn't receive a nomination.
18. Platform For Success
Through the years, Jay-Z introduced many talented rappers and producers to a wider audience, thus helping propel their careers forward. On his album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, he featured the newcomers Just Blaze, Kanye West, and The Neptunes with super producer Pharrell Williams.
17. Rap Beef
2001 would prove to be a pivotal year in the career of Jay-Z. Early in the year, he would feud with both Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Nas. His feud with Nas would prove to be one of the most notorious rap beefs in history. He would also release a highly praised album, The Blueprint, on September 11th, 2001. He references this coincidence on his later song “The Bounce” with the lyric “rumor has it / the Blueprint classic / couldn’t even be stopped by Bin Laden.”
16. Top of the Head
Jay is known for not writing his lyrics. Instead, he records his songs off of the top of his head, editing for lyrics live on the mic.
In 2003, he would retire for the first time after the release of his Black Album. He would only stay officially retired for three years; he was still working in the music industry and realized retirement wasn’t the right direction for him to go in.
On Jay-Z's hit single "Girls, Girls, Girls," an uncredited Michael Jackson can be heard singing the background vocals.
13. Got to Give It up
Marvin Gaye was Jay-Z's earliest musical memory from his parent's house, and he has made it a point to feature many samples from the late legend's catalog in his music.
12. Sport Club
Jay-Z co-owns the 40/40 Club in New York City, a high-class sports bar and lounge.
11. Sports Agent
He founded the sports agency Roc Nation Sports and is now a certified sports agent for the MLB and NBA, representing several of the sport's biggest stars.
10. Brooklyn Basketball
Jay owned part of the Brooklyn Nets, buying in when they were still in New Jersey, and helped their relocation bid to Brooklyn in 2012. He was also a figure behind the building of the Barclay’s Center before relinquishing his shares in the team and arena in 2013.
9. Money To The Musicians
In 2015, he bought Aspiro, the media technology company that operates music streaming service Tidal. He reworked Tidal and launched it as a high definition streaming service that attempts to divert revenue back to the actual artists themselves.
8. Power Couple
After dating for some time, Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles married in 2008. The couple is famously private about their lives, and they believe this privacy has helped them maintain their high profile relationship throughout the years.
7. Princess Blue
After the birth of their first child in 2012, Jay recorded a track dedicated to his daughter Blue Ivy Carter entitled "Glory." Blue Ivy, just two days old at the time, can be heard on the song, making her officially the youngest person to ever be credited on a song that reached the Billboard charts.
6. Giving Back
Jay-Z has been noted for his philanthropic work, donating $1 million to the Red Cross after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
In the mid-2000s, Jay-Z turned his attention to business and became president of Def Jam records. During this time, he signed several popular acts, including Rihanna. However, in 2008 he would step down due to frustration in the stagnant business side of music, as many executives in the company resisted the change he wanted to make.
4. To The Hall
In 2017, Jay became the first rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; it was a watershed moment for hip-hop.
Jon Platt accepting the award
To this date, Jay-Z has sold more than 100 millions records worldwide, and has received 21 Grammy Awards. He also holds the record for most #1 albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200 and has had four number one songs on the Billboard 100 (though only "Empire State of Mind" in 2009 was his own track).
2. Rags to Riches
The sum of his career currently sits, monetarily, at an estimated net worth of $810 million. This makes him the second richest hip-hop artist in the world, behind Sean Combs. Combined with Beyonce, the couple is worth an estimated $1.16 billion.
Jay-Z pled guilty to stabbing record producer Lance Rivera at a 1999 party, all because he suspected that Rivera had been the person behind the bootlegging of Jay’s album Vol. 3...Life and Times of S. Carter. He was convicted of a second-degree felony and served a three-year probation sentence.