Shawn Corey Carter (born December 4, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York, United States), is an American rapper and former president and CEO of Roc A Fella Records. He is more commonly known by a variety of stage names including Jay-Z, S. Carter, Jigga, Hova, J-Hova, Hov, and Young Hov. He is regarded as one of the most prolific and successful American blend artists of the mid-90s and early 2000s and is known for his use of metaphors, freestyling abilities, word play, flow, and blending of street and popular hip hop. He is one of the most respected rappers in the music industry, and is admired for his ability to craft songs from memory without the use of pen and paper. He married his long time girlfriend Beyonce in April 2008 after dating for over seven years. 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.
Originally from the infamous Marcy Houses projects in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in brooklyn in New York City, Shawn Carter was abandoned by his father Adnes Reeves when he was only twelve years old and he was consequently raised by his mother Gloria Carter. Jay-Z attended George Westinghouse High School in Downtown Brooklyn and Trenton Central High School in Trenton, New Jersey 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-Z has lyrically alluded to having sold crack cocaine and marijuana in Virginia and Maryland.
According to his mother, a young Jay-Z 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 Lee Dub (www.soundclick.com/kingdeezy) Jaz-O (a.k.a. The Jaz, Big Jaz) as well as to the J-Z subway lines that have a stop at Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jay-Z can be heard on several of The Jaz’s early recordings, including 1988’s “The Originators” and “Hawaiian Sophie”, he also collaborated with Inglewood, California producer Three-1-Zero 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 Clark Kent and a notable appearance by The Notorious B.I.G.. Although the album received critical acclaim, record sales were poor and were a disappointment.
After reaching a new distribution deal with Def Jam in 1997, Jay-Z released his follow-up In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Executive produced by Diddy, it sold better than his previous effort even 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. 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. However, the album did feature some beats from producers who had worked with him on Reasonable Doubt, namely DJ Premier and Ski.
1998’s Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life spawned the biggest hit of his career at the time, “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem).” Critics would still accuse him of becoming even more commercial and egotistical, due to the lack of intellectual matter on this album. 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 some of his die-hard fans. Vol. 3 is remembered for its smash hit, “Big Pimpin” (feat UGK) and the negative remarks to then-underground New York rapper known as 50 Cent.
By this time, Jay-Z 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 the album had Jay-Z’s name on it to strengthen sales and acclaim.
2001’s The Blueprint is considered by many to be one of hip hop’s “classic” albums, receiving the coveted “5 mic” review from The Source magazine. Released on September 11, 2001, the album managed to debut at #1, selling more than 450,000 albums in its first week.
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 takes 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 West’s first major breaks in the industry.
A feud between Jay-Z and Nas culminated in “Takeover”, a diss from Jay-Z to Nas, in the fall of 2001. Many fans praised the diss as an effective method to shut down Nas’s career for good. Nas responded with the diss track “Ether”. He shocked fans by creating arguably an even more lethal track than Takeover, and had regained his respect. Over the course of the feud, Jay-Z claims that he and Allen Iverson slept with Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas’ daughter, Destiny. Nas, in turn, accused Jay of brown nosing other artists for fame, and then leaving them for dead once he was famous. 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 original. The album spawned two hit singles “Excuse Me Miss” and “03 Bonnie And Clyde” featuring Beyoncé Knowles.
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. Notable songs on the album included “What More Can I Say,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “Change Clothes,” and “99 Problems.” That song was a cross-over hit comparable to The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” which some believe pays homage to the now-rare old-school rap style. A few of the songs done on this album portray a more personal side of Jay-Z; for example, “Moment of Clarity” sheds light on his feelings towards his estranged father and coping with his death. It also deals with accusations that he sold out to reach a wider audience. “What More Can I Say” addresses the “biting” accusations with which many critics have impugned him.
In 2004, there was a runaway hit remix project by DJ Danger Mouse called The Grey Album in which Jay-Z’s Black Album vocals were blended with instrumentals sampled exclusively from The Beatles’ White Album (which subsequently embroiled the DJ in a lawsuit that was later dropped with EMI, the owner’s to the Beatles’ 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.
Also in 2004, Jay-Z collaberated with the triple platinum selling band, Linkin Park. The project was named Collision Course, and contained a six track EP, as well as a making of DVD. Some of the mash ups tracks were entitled Dirt Off Your Shoulder/Lying from You, Jigga What/Faint, and Numb/Encore.
Jay-Z returned with his comeback album on November 21, 2006 titled Kingdom Come. Jay-Z’s comeback single, “Show Me What You Got”, was leaked on the Internet in early October 2006, scheduled to be released later on that month, received heavy air-play after its leak, causing the FBI to step in and investigate. Jay-Z worked with video director Hype Williams, and the single’s video was directed by F. Gary Gray. The album features producers such as Just Blaze, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Dr. Dre and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. This album has sold more than 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. Jay-Z made a guest appearance on the Fall Out Boy album Infinity On High. Jay-Z appeared on rapper T.I.’s album T.I. vs. T.I.P. on the song “Watch What You Say to Me”.
Jay-Z released his tenth album entitled American Gangster on November 6, 2007. After viewing the film, he was heavily inspired to create a new “concept” album that depicts his experiences as a street-hustler. The album features production from Diddy & The Hitmen, Just Blaze, and The Neptunes, among others. Guest appearances include Beanie Sigel, Lil Wayne, and Nas. The album sold 425,861 copies in it’s first week and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
In his earliest appearances, Jay-Z’s style was less polished; he had a propensity for rhyming fast, which gradually lessened over the years. By 1996, he had become more known for his metaphors and similes, as well as being a rapper to stress the ordeals of the drug-dealer’s life. 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 mainstream topics, such as “Big Pimpin”, as a sign that he straddles a line between material and intelligent rhymes that not a lot of artists have been able to do. However, he has been criticized for selling out to reach a mainstream audience, and he has acknowledged this on the song “Moment of Clarity”.
Recently, producers and artists alike have been praising Jay-Z’s ability to create verse after verse completely in his head without the aid of a pen and paper. His ability to memorize and recite verbatim line after line of lyrics is praised.
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 Violetta Wallace and Afeni Shakur; the mothers of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur respectively.
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 Fort Minor’s debut album The Rising Tied. Mike Shinoda got together with Jay-Z himself, as well as his Linkin Park bandmate Brad Delson, and they went over what tracks they thought should make the album. Some of the tracks on the album include Remember The Name, Petrified, Believe Me, Where’d You Go and Right Now.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the release of Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z performed a show at Radio City Music Hall on June 25th, 2006 and a rehearsal show at New York’s Nokia Theatre one day prior. These shows will be followed by a world tour in September, calling at various cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. While locations for the tour have been confirmed, no dates have yet been given apart from 4 dates in the UK and 1 in Ireland.
”I Declare War” concert
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 mainstream hip-hop. Some of these have been resolved, some are ongoing, and some have simply dissipated.
On October 27, 2005, Jay-Z headlined New York’s Power 105.1 annual concert, Powerhouse. The concert was entitled the “I Declare War” Concert leading to intense speculation in the weeks preceding the event to whom exactly Jay-Z would declare war on. As he had previously “declared war” on other artists taking lyrical shots at him at other events, many believed that the Powerhouse show would represent an all-out assault by Jay upon his rivals. However, an anticipated response to subliminal shots taken by The Game and Cam’Ron never materialized.
The theme of the concert was Jay-Z’s position as President and CEO of Def Jam, complete with an on-stage mock-up of the Oval Office. Many artists made appearances such as the old roster of Rocafella records artists, Ne-Yo, Teairra Mari, T.I., Young Jeezy, Akon, Kanye West, Paul Wall, The Lox, and P. Diddy.
At the conclusion of the concert, Jay-Z put many beefs to rest to the surprise of hip-hop fans. Instead of declaring war, he declared that he was the “United Nations of this rap shit.” The most significant development in this show was closure to the infamous beef between Jay-Z and Nas. The two former rivals shook hands and shared the stage together to perform Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents” blended with Nas’s song “The World is Yours,” from which “Dead Presidents” had sampled the vocals on the chorus. (Nas’s verses were rapped over the “Dead Presidents” beat in the vein of a mix song done by DJ Statik Selektah.) Nas later performed songs of his own.
Beefs between other artists were also brought to a close (or put on hold) at the Powerhouse show. The event brought together for the first time in years, P. Diddy and The LOX, both who had a longstanding animosity due to a contract agreement between P. Diddy and The Lox and the latter’s departure from Bad Boy Entertainment. Shortly after the concert, the beef was fully rectified.
The event also saw the return of Beanie Sigel from incarceration. There had been some speculation that Beanie Sigel was going to depart from Rocafella Records, but this concert proved otherwise. Beanie and The LOX’s Jadakiss also officially ended their own beef when they, Jay-Z, the rest of the LOX and Sauce Money (who had been thought to have some animosity towards Jay) all performed the song “Reservoir Dogs.”
Apart from being former 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 that rappers would stay with Jay and not sign with him. 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.
Universal Music Group announced on December 24th, 2007 that Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter stepped down from his post as president of Def Jam Records. The rapper, 38, served as CEO of the historic hip hop label since 2005. He will continue to work as a solo artist under the Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam umbrella, Reuters reports. Universal did not give a reason for his departure.
Rocawear and fashion
Co-founded in 1999 by Jay-Z, Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, 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 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 is in collaboration with Swiss luxury-watch maker Audemars Piguet.
Entertainment and lifestyle
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 was accused of stabbing record executive Lance “Un” Riviera for what he perceived was Riveria’s bootlegging of Vol 3…Life and Times of S. Carter. The stabbing allegedly occurred at the record release party for Q-Tip’s debut solo album Amplified at the Kit Kat Klub, a now defunct night club in Times Square, New York City, on December 9, 1999. Jay-Z’s associates at the party were accused of causing a commotion within the club, which Jay-Z allegedly used as cover when he supposedly stabbed Riviera in the stomach with a five-inch blade.
Jay-Z initially denied the incident and pled not guilty when a grand jury returned the indictment. Jay-Z and his lawyers contended he was nowhere around Riviera during the incident and they had witnesses and videotape evidence from the club that showed Jay-Z’s whereabouts during the disturbance. Nevertheless, he later pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge which resulted in a sentence of three months probation. The New York Post reported that Jay-Z had bought out Riviera for $600,000 to cease his cooperation with prosecutors, and without the cooperation of the victim, prosecutors had to cut a plea deal that would not interfere with Jay-Z’s touring plans. Riviera also dropped a civil suit, where he asked for $40 million.
Jay-Z makes reference to the trial and incident on his songs “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, off The Blueprint, and “Dear Summer”, which was included in Memphis Bleek’s 2005 release 534.
Rival rapper Cam’ron has since claimed on his song “You Gotta Love It” that Jay-Z had actually “stabbed Un over Charli Baltimore”. Some media moguls have criticized Jay-Z for not fulfilling his position as a role model due to these incidents.
Jay-Z has been collaborating with Beyoncé Knowles since 2002. That same year Beyoncé appeared on Jay-Z’s hit single “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde” and in 2003, Jay-Z was featured on Beyonce’s hit single “Crazy In Love.” The couple never publicly discuss their relationship and have been together for years. Beyoncé 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.”
The couple married in November 2008.