Jay-Z

Jay-Z was born Shawn Corey Carter, on December 4, 1969 and was raised in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, New York. During his school days, he befriended a young Christopher Wallace, who grew up to be known as the Notorious B.I.G. As a hustler in his rough neighborhood, Jay-Z used his money to finance a career in music and released independent records in the late ’80s. His parents were avid record collectors and Jay-Z would sit down at the dining room table as a child writing rhymes while his mother cleaned the house with the music blaring. The more time he spent on the block though, the less time he had for transcribing lyrics. As a result, Jay-Z developed a genius skill that few others could emulate, even now.

Jay-Z underwent some tough times after his father left his mother before the young rapper was even a teen. Without a man in the house, he became a self-supportive youth, turning to the streets, where he soon made a name for himself as a fledging rapper. Known as « Jazzy » in his neighborhood, he soon shortened his nickname to Jay-Z and did all he could to break into the rap game. Of course, as he vividly discusses in his lyrics, Jay-Z also became a street hustler at this time, doing what needed to be done to make money.

He first started releasing records in the late 80s, part-financing his music by hustling. In 1990, he appeared on records by his close friend Jaz (« The Originators ») and Original Flavor (« Can I Get Open’), and later scored an underground hit single with 1995″s « In My Lifetime ». Drawing on Jaz’s dealings with mercenary labels, Jay-Z set-up his own Roc-A-Fella imprint in 1996 with entrepreneur Damon Dash and Kareem « Biggs » Burke.

Of course, he needed a quality distributor, and when he scored a deal with Priority Records (and then later Def Jam), Jay-Z finally had everything in place, including a debut album, Reasonable Doubt (1996). Though Reasonable Doubt only reached number 23 on Billboard’s album chart, Jay-Z’s debut eventually became recognized as an undisputed classic among fans, many of whom consider it his crowning achievement. Led by the hit single « Ain’t No Nigga, » a duet featuring Foxy Brown, Reasonable Doubt slowly spread through New York; some listeners were drawn in because of big names like DJ Premier and the Notorious B.I.G., others by the gangsta motifs very much in style at the time. By the end of its steady run, Reasonable Doubt generated three more charting singles — « Can’t Knock the Hustle, » which featured Mary J. Blige on the hook; « Dead Presidents »; and « Feelin’ It » – and set the stage for Jay-Z’s follow-up, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997).

The anticipated sequel, In My Lifetime Vol. 1, debuted at Number 3 in November 1997 and featured a slew of big names in the world of rap, from Too Short to talented producer DJ Premier. The album was a personal revelation for Jay-Z as he spun the tale of his hard knock upbringing and in trademark Jigga style, had a few seductive anthems for the clubs.

Much more commercially successful than its predecessor, In My Lifetime peaked at number three on the Billboard album chart, a substantial improvement commercially over Reasonable Doubt.

With his third album, Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z answered his critics, creating an album full of guest superstar rappers — DMX, Too Short, Jermaine Dupri — and the hottest producers of the moment — Swizz Beatz, Timbaland — as well as making sure to include a small handful of radio-ready singles. Though unbalanced because of its commercial aspirations, Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life became the rapper’s breakthrough album, selling over 300,000 copies in just its first week before going on to sell several hundred thousand more copies thanks to a series of massive hits: « Money Ain’t a Thang, » « Can I Get A…, » « Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), » and « Cash, Money, Hoes. » The fact that Jay-Z was heading the massive coast-to-coast Hard Knock Life Tour with other superstars such as DMX accompanying him obviously didn’t hurt.

Jay-Z made a strong comeback in late 2000 with his next album, The Dynasty: Roc la Familia, which was aided enormously by the phenomenal success of its Neptunes-produced lead single, « I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me). » This album’s commercial success once again affirmed Jay-Z’s reign over the rap game.

Jay-Z’s next album, The Blueprint (2001), solidified his position atop the New York rap scene upon its release in September. Prior to the album’s release, the rapper had caused a stir in New York following his headlining performance at Hot 97’s Summer Jam 2001, where he debuted the song « Takeover. »

Jay-Z capitalized on the album’s runaway success with a number of follow-up projects. For instance, he collaborated with the Roots for the Unplugged album (2001) and with R. Kelly for Best of Both Worlds (2002). He then went on to record, over the course of the year, 40 or so new tracks, 25 of which appeared on his next record, the double album The Blueprint˛: The Gift & the Curse (2002). Though billed as a sequel, The Blueprint˛ was remarkably different from its predecessor.

The Black Album (2003), was rush-released by Def Jam and soared to the top spot in the album charts at the end of the year.

With his final album behind him and his reputation never more regarded, Jay-Z next accepted an offer to assume the role of president at Def Jam Records. The seminal rap label was struggling and needed someone to guide it through a rocky transitional phase. Jay-Z accepted the challenge and took over the company began by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin roughly 20 years earlier.

In 2005 he came out of retirement for the I Declare War concert in New York City. The ambitious show featured a parade of high-profile guest stars including Diddy, T.I., Kanye West, and in a peacemaking move, Nas. With this longstanding beef squashed, Jay-Z announced he was coming out of retirement. He made it official when Kingdom Come hit the shelves in late 2006.

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