Originally from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, Carter was abandoned by his father Adnes Reeves when he was twelve years old and he was consequently raised by his mother Gloria Carter. Jay-Z attended George Westinghouse High School in Downtown Brooklyn but did not graduate. He claims to have been caught up in selling drugs on the streets of New York in the Marcy Projects. In addition to this, Jay has lyrically alluded to having sold marijuana in Virginia and Maryland.
According to his mother, a young Jay used to keep his siblings up at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. Eventually, she bought him a boombox for his birthday and thus sparked his interest in music. He began freestyling, writing rhymes, and followed the music of many artists popular at the time.
In his neighborhood, Carter was known as "Jazzy", a nickname which eventually developed into his stage name, "Jay-Z." The moniker is also a homage to his musical partner Jaz-O (a.k.a. the Jaz, Big Jaz) as well as to the J-Z subway lines that run through Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Jay-Z can be heard on several of The Jaz's early recordings, including The Originators and Hawaiian Sophie, which began his popularity as an artist. His career had a jump start when he battled a rapper by the name of Zai. The battle caught the eye of many record labels, as Jay-Z was able to hold his own against Zai. He also made an appearance on a popular song by Big L, "Da Graveyard".
From the beginning of his commercial recording career, Jay-Z chose a route that many would consider untraditional. Rather than waiting to get signed to a major label, Jay-Z created Roc-A-Fella Records as his own independent label. After striking a deal with Priority to distribute his material, Jay-Z released his 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt with beats from acclaimed producers such as DJ Premier and DJ Clark Kent and a notable appearance by The Notorious B.I.G.. Although the album received critical acclaim, record sales didn't meet the expectations.
In 1997, after reaching a new distribution deal with Def Jam, Jay-Z released his follow-up, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Executive produced by Diddy, it sold better than his previous effort, though Jay later explained that this was one of the worst periods of his life: he was reeling from the death of his close friend Biggie, and due to Jay's own beef with 2Pac many West Coast fans and fans of the late rapper viewed him with disdain. Due to the glossy production on his sophomore album, many of the fans he'd earned previously now claimed he was selling out and catering to a more commercial audience.
1998's Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life spawned the biggest hit of his career at the time, "Hard Knock Life". This album saw Jay trying to balance commercialism with his lyrics and subject matter, though critics would still accuse him of becoming even more commercial and egotistical. He also relied more heavily on flow, developing it further, and he continued his penchant for mining beats from the popular producers of the day such as Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. Charting hits from this album included "Can I Get A..." featuring Ja Rule and "Jigga What, Jigga Who". Vol. 2 would eventually become Jay-Z's most commercially successful album, certifying platinum five times in the United States.
In 1999 Jay-Z released Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter. Despite continued criticism for his increasingly pop-oriented sound and a large number of collaborations that many felt crowded out Jay-Z himself, the album proved to be successful and went platinum three times. Through his lyricism, he was able to retain respect from the many die-hard fans. Vol. 3 is remembered for its smash hit, "Big Pimpin" (feat UGK) and the disses to a then relatively unknown 50 Cent.
By this time, Jay was seen as a hip-hop figurehead both by hardcore fans and by the corporations of rap due to his lyrics and his high album sales, achieving a pinnacle rarely held in rap music. The subject of much criticism, praise, popularity, condemnation, and discussion, Jay decided to begin developing other artists besides himself. Around 2000, he and Damon Dash signed various artists (including Beanie Sigel and Freeway) and began introducing them to the public. He next appeared on The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, which was intended as a compilation album to introduce these new artists, though Jay was present on most of the tracks and many fans viewed it as another Jay-Z release.
2001's The Blueprint is considered by many to be one of hip hop's "classic" albums, and is seen as a return to form for Jay. Released on September 11, 2001, the album managed to debut at #1, selling more than 450,000 albums in its first week despite being overshadowed by the September 11 attacks.
The Blueprint was applauded for its production and the balance of "mainstream" and "hardcore" rap, receiving recognition from both audiences. Eminem was the only guest artist on the album, producing and rapping on the single "Renegade" (to which rival Nas would rap, "Eminem murdered you on your own shit" on "Ether".) The Blueprint also includes the popular "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "Takeover," a song which blasts rivals Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Nas. A large portion of the material on this album was produced by Kanye West and represents one of his first major breaks in the industry.
A feud between Jay-Z and Nas resulted from "Takeover" in the fall of 2001. Nas responded with the diss track "Ether". The track begins with a clip of 2Pac saying "f*ck Jay-Z", and then Nas accuses Jay of brown nosing other artists for fame, and then leaving them for dead once he was famous. Jay-Z responded with "Super Ugly", a track in which he claims that he and Allen Iverson slept with Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas' daughter, Destiny. This feud proved to be a huge draw in the world of hip-hop. The feud died down over 2002 and was finally resolved in October 2005.
Jay-Z's next solo album was 2002's The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse a sprawling double-album which was touted by fans as having too much 'filler' or unnecessary material. It was later reissued in a single-disc version, The Blueprint 2.1, which retained half of the tracks from the double-album. The album spawned two hit singles "Excuse Me Miss" and "03 Bonnie and Clyde" featuring Beyoncé Knowles, with whom Jay-Z has ongoing personal relationship.
In 2003, Jay-Z toured with 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and Sean Paul while finishing work on what was announced as his final album, The Black Album. The album was driven by "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," a Timbaland produced track which became one of that year's most popular singles.
As this was to be his last effort, it was one of Jay's most anticipated albums, and has been both criticized (for his continual proclamation of being the "best rapper alive") and praised (for his more open and personal song topics). The album's "Threats" provided producer 9th Wonder with his big break in music and paved the way for him to become one of the most popular new producers in 2004.
In 2004, there was a runaway hit remix project by Danger Mouse called The Grey Album in which Jay-Z's Black Album vocals were blended with instrumentals heavily sampled from The Beatles White Album (which subsequently embroiled the DJ in a lawsuit that was later dropped with EMI, the owner's to the Beatle's work). This was made possible by an a cappella version of the "Black Album" that Jay-Z released with the specific intent for others to mix. The success of "The Grey Album" led to a rainbow of Black Album remix projects including The Red Album, The Blue Album and so forth.
In his earliest appearances, Jay's style was less developed; he showed a propensity for rhyming fast, which gradually lessened over the years. By 1996, he had become more known for his witty metaphors and similes, as well as being one of the first to stress the life of a drug dealer (glories, repercussions, regrets and all). Later, flow would become a big part of his style.
He has often pointed to his ability to switch from emotionally provocative material like "Song Cry" to more commercial topics, such as "Big Pimpin," as a sign that he straddles a line between material and thought-provoking rhymes that few artists since Tupac have bridged successfully.
Recently, producers and artists alike have been praising Jay's ability to create verse after verse without the aid of a pen and paper. His ability to memorize and recite verbatim line after line of lyrics is both envied and praised.
Although he penned his recordings as Jay-Z, it was not uncommon for Jay to take upon other aliases or character names in his tracks. Using such monikers as "Jigga" or "H.O.V.A." and their variants reflect Jay-Z's attempts to keep his material ever-evolving.
On November 25, 2003, Jay-Z held a concert at Madison Square Garden, which would later be the focus of his film Fade to Black. This concert was his "retirement party." All proceeds went to charity. Other performers included collaborators like The Roots (in the form of his backing band), Missy Elliott, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Siegel, Freeway, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Twista, Ghostface Killah, Foxy Brown, Pharrell and R. Kelly with special appearances by Voletta Wallace and Afeni Shakur, the mothers of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.
While Jay-Z had attested to a retirement from making new studio albums, various side projects and appearances soon followed. Included in these were a greatest hits record, mash-up projects and concert appearances with R. Kelly, Linkin Park and Phish. These appearances have kept Jay's name in the spotlight and furthered peoples' speculation that he would not remain retired for long.
Jay-Z was the executive producer of The Rising Tied by Fort Minor which was released in November 2005. He states that Mike Shinoda, the lead singer of this Linkin Park side-project, is one of his closest friends.
Currently Jay-Z is working on his new label Roc-A-Fella West (the west coast branch of Roc-A-Fella records) and his new artist Immense. There is still heavy speculation that he may come out his "retirement" to record & release a new album in 2006, ten years after his first album was released.
Having been such a visible artist in the late '90s through the early 2000s, Jay has been the subject of more rap-related controversy than most artists in hip-hop. Some of these have been resolved, some are ongoing, and some have simply dissipated.
On October 27, 2005, Jay-Z performed at New York's Power 105.1 annual concert, Powerhouse. He had previously announced that he would "declare war" on other rappers taking subliminal shots at him. Instead, to the surprise and delight of many fans, he ended his infamous beef with Nas, bringing him on stage to do the chorus to Jay-Z's song, "Dead Presidents." Nas also performed songs of his own. Also present on stage were P. Diddy and The LOX, who had a simmering controversy relating to the LOX's departure from Bad Boy Entertainment. Rappers Freeway and Beanie Sigel performed on stage as well, also putting aside their recent differences, along with several other performers.
Apart from being President and CEO of Def Jam Recordings, Jay-Z is also one of the owners and founders of the Roc-A-Fella empire, which includes Roc-A-Fella Records, Roc-La-Familia, Roc-A-Fella Films and Rocawear.
At heart, Jay-Z is an entrepreneur like his fellow hip-hop-moguls-turned-friends Russell Simmons and Sean "Diddy" Combs, who also have business holdings such as record companies and clothing lines. He redirected the hip hop culture from hooded sweatshirts and baggy jeans to button-ups and crisp jeans, and received GQ's International Man of the Year award.
Jay-Z co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records with partners Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke. Def Jam purchased a 50% stake in the company in 1997 for a reported $1.5 million.
In late 2004, Jay-Z, Dame Dash and Biggs sold their remaining interests in Roc-A-Fella Records and the label was retained as an Island Def Jam imprint. Soon thereafter Jay-Z was appointed the new President and CEO of Def Jam Recordings by Island Def Jam chairman L. A. Reid. Reportedly this major industry move was prompted by disagreement between Jay-Z and Dash as to what new ventures Roc-A-Fella could undertake.
The publicized split between Jay, Dash and Biggs led to the former partners sending jabs at each other in interviews. Dame Dash has made comment that after the break up he was portrayed as "Osama Bin Laden" to ensure no rappers would sign with him and rather stay with Jay. Dash currently operates the recently-founded Dame Dash Music Group as a joint venture with Island Def Jam producing former Roc-A-Fella artists such as Beanie Sigel.
Co-founded in 1999 by Jay-Z and Damon Dash, Rocawear designed for and sought out a share of the lucrative urban fashion market already being capitalized on by labels like Phat Farm.
In 2005, Jay-Z bought out Rocawear co-founder Damon Dash for an estimated $30 million and has sought to expand the company's reach by developing the S. Carter high-end clothing line. Jay also has a line of Reebok sneakers aptly named The S.Carter Collection, which holds the record for fastest selling Reebok shoe in history and made him the first non-athlete to have a signature line of sneakers. In the spring of 2006, he introduced his collaboration with Swiss luxury-watch maker Audemars Piguet.
Jay-Z co-owns The 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar which started in New York City and has since expanded to Atlantic City, NJ. Future plans will see 40/40 Clubs in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Singapore. Roc-A-Fella also distributes Armadale, a Scottish vodka, in the U.S.
Jay-Z is a part owner of the New Jersey Nets NBA team, and is one of the franchise owners interested in relocating the team to Brooklyn. In October 2005, he was reported in English media as considering a takeover of Arsenal F.C., an English football team.
Jay-Z and Beyonce were first spotted as a couple when photographs emerged of them in the South of France. They later recorded the hit single "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" in 2002. In 2003, Jay-Z appeared on Beyonce's hit single "Crazy In Love". They never publicly discuss their relationship and have been a couple for almost 4 years. Beyonce has mentioned that not publicly discussing their relationship has helped them. Jay-Z has said in a People Magazine article that "We don't play with our relationship." They were recently listed as a Power Couple on Time Magazine 100's Most Influential People of 2006.
The Artists
Shawn Corey Carter (born December 4, 1969), popularly known as Jay-Z or by a variety of nicknames (Jigga, Jay-Hova, Hova, Young), is a rap/hip hop performer and current President and CEO of Def Jam. He has been one of the most prolific and successful American rappers of the late 1990s and early 2000s. In a recent MTV top ten list compiled by hip-hop critics, he was listed as the greatest MC of all time, above Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.
Known for his deft use of metaphor, freestyling abilities, crafty word play, and blending of street and popular hip hop, Jay-Z became one of the most respected rappers in the music industry before his retirement in 2003. He is one of the founders of Roc-A-Fella Records, a hip-hop record label which also launched the careers of artists such as Beanie Sigel, Kanye West, Memphis Bleek, Young Gunz, Freeway and Teairra Mari. As of 2005, he is estimated to be worth around $320 million. It is heavily rumored that he will release a new album of some type in 2006.
Collision Course
33 - Dirt Off Your Shoulder/Lying From You
35 - Jigga What/Faint
34 - Big Pimpin’/Papercut
36 - Numb/Encore