Jay Z Biography

Music Producer, Rapper, Entrepreneur(1969–)
In addition to his award-winning hip-hop albums, Jay Z is known for an array of successful business interests, as well as his marriage to singer Beyoncé.

Synopsis

Born Shawn Corey Carter in New York City on December 4, 1969, Jay Z grew up in Brooklyn's drug-infested Marcy Projects. He used rap as an escape, appearing for the first time on Yo! MTV Raps in 1989. After selling millions of records with his Roc-a-Fella label, Jay Z created his own clothing line and founded an entertainment company. He wed popular singer and actress Beyoncé in 2008.

Early Life

Rapper Jay Z was born Shawn Corey Carter on December 4, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York. "He was the last of my four children," Jay Z's mother, Gloria Carter, later recalled, "the only one who didn't give me any pain when I gave birth to him, and that's how I knew he was a special child." His father, Adnes Reeves, left the family when Jay Z was only 11 years old. The young rapper was raised by his mother in Brooklyn's drug-infested Marcy Projects.

During a rough adolescence, detailed in many of his autobiographical songs, Shawn Carter dealt drugs and flirted with gun violence. He attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, where he was a classmate of the soon-to-be-martyred rap legend Notorious B.I.G. As Jay Z later recalled in one of his songs ("December 4th"): "I went to school, got good grades, could behave when I wanted/But I had demons deep inside that would raise when confronted."

Rise to Hop-Hop Fame

Carter turned to rap at a young age as an escape from the drugs, violence and poverty that surrounded him in the Marcy Projects. In 1989, he joined the rapper Jaz-O—an older performer who served as a kind of mentor—to record a song called "The Originators," which won the pair an appearance on an episode of Yo! MTV Raps. It was at this point that Shawn Carter embraced the nickname Jay Z, which was simultaneously an homage to Jaz-O, a play on Carter's childhood nickname of "Jazzy" and a reference to the J/Z subway station near his Brooklyn home.

But even though he had a stage name, Jay Z remained relatively anonymous until he and two friends, Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, founded their own record label, Roc-a-Fella Records, in 1996. In June of that year, Jay Z released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Although the record only reached No. 23 on the Billboard charts, it is now considered a classic hip-hop album, featuring songs such as "Can't Knock the Hustle," featuring Mary J. Blige, and "Brooklyn's Finest," a collaboration with Notorious B.I.G. Reasonable Doubt established Jay Z as an emerging star in hip-hop.

Two years later, Jay Z achieved even broader success with the 1998 album Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life. The title track, which famously sampled its chorus from the Broadway musical Annie, became Jay Z's most popular single to date and won him his first Grammy nomination. "Hard Knock Life" marked the beginning of a fruitful period in which Jay Z would become the biggest name in hip-hop.

During those years, the rapper released a slew of No. 1 albums and hit singles. His most popular songs from this period include "Can I Get A ...," "Big Pimpin'," "I Just Wanna Love U," "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "03 Bonnie & Clyde," a duet with future bride Beyoncé Knowles. Jay Z's most acclaimed album of this period was The Blueprint (2001), which would later land on many music critics' lists of the best albums of the decade.

In 2003, Jay Z shocked the hip-hop world by releasing The Black Album and announcing that it would be his last solo record before retirement. Asked to explain his sudden exit from rap, Jay Z said that he once derived inspiration from trying to outshine other great MCs, but he had simply gotten bored due to a lack of competition. "The game ain't hot," he said. "I love when someone makes a hot album and then you've got to make a hot album. I love that. But it ain't hot."  

Rap Comeback

In 2006, Jay Z ended his retirement from making music, releasing the new album Kingdom Come. He soon released two more albums: American Gangster in 2007 and Blueprint 3 in 2010. This trio of later albums marked a significant departure from Jay Z's earlier sound, incorporating stronger rock and soul influences in their production and offering lyrics that tackled such mature subjects as the response to Hurricane Katrina, Barack Obama's 2008 election and the perils of fame and fortune. Jay Z noted he was trying to adapt his music to befit his own middle age. "There's not a lot of people who have come of age in rap because it's only 30 years old," he said. "As more people come of age, hopefully the topics get broader and then the audience will stay around longer."

More recently, Jay Z proved that he had both commercial and critical staying power. He teamed up with another famous member of rap royalty, Kanye West, for 2011's Watch the Throne. The album proved to be a triple hit, topping the rap, R&B and pop charts that August. The song "Otis," which samples the late R&B singer Otis Redding, snagged several Grammy Award nominations and the recording was also nominated for Best Rap Album.

Two years after the release of a collaboration album with West, both rappers dropped solo albums within weeks of the other's release date. West's album, Yeezus (2013), was critically lauded for its innovation, while his mentor Jay Z's album gained less than stellar reviews. The rapper's 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013), was seen as decent, but failed to live up to the hip-hop star's larger-than-life reputation.

Expanding Empire

During his hiatus from rapping, Jay Z turned his attention to the business side of music, becoming president of Def Jam Recordings. As president of Def Jam, Jay Z signed such popular acts as Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Young Jeezy, and helped Kanye West's transition from producer to best-selling recording artist. But his reign at the venerable hip-hop label wasn't all smooth sailing; Jay Z resigned as Def Jam's president in 2007, complaining about the company's resistance to change from ineffectual business models. "You have record executives who've been sitting in their office for 20 years because of one act," he lamented.

In 2008, Jay Z signed a $150 million contract with the concert promotion company Live Nation. This super deal created a joint venture called Roc Nation, an entertainment company that handles nearly all aspects of its artists' careers. In addition to Jay Z himself, Roc Nation manages Shakira, Kanye West, Timbaland and Rihanna, among many others.

Jay Z's other business ventures include the popular urban clothing line Rocawear and Roc-a-Fella Films. He also owns the 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar that opened in New York City and later added venues in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Atlanta. Jay Z became part owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball franchise, which moved to a new home, the Barclays Center, in 2012. In 2013 he launched a full-service sports management company, Roc Nation Sports, and sold his Brooklyn Nets shares in order to pursue certification as a sports agent. As Jay Z once rapped about his business empire, "I'm not a businessman/ I'm a business, man."

The business of Jay Z made headlines once again in March 2015, when he and several of his high-powered friends, such as Madonna, Nicki Minaj and Jack White, launched Tidal, a streaming music service. The service has gained a reasonable stream of followers — a touted 1 million in September 2015 — but has been met with a great deal of controversy: a revolving door of top management, legal troubles and purportedly no substantial differentiation from competitors.

Political and Charitable Work

After staying out of the political arena for much of his career, Jay Z emerged as a strong supporter of Barack Obama during his first campaign for president in 2008. He appeared at rallies and had only high praise for the African-American candidate. According to the Telegraph newspaper, Jay Z told a crowd that "Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so that Obama could run. Obama's running so we all can fly."

Jay Z once again backed Obama for his 2012 reelection bid. That same year, he stepped forward as a supporter of gay marriage. As he told CNN, denying same-sex couples the right to wed "is no different than discriminating against blacks. It's discrimination plain and simple."

In 2015, Jay Z held his first annual charity concert called Tidal X: 10/20. The show raised around $1.5 million, with the funds to be used for social causes determined by the New World Foundation and Sankofa.org, a nonprofit started by Harry Belafonte.

Jay-Z Beyonce Photo

Jay Z and Beyonce attend the 'China: Through The Looking Glass' Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images).

Personal Life

Very protective of his private life, Jay Z did not publicly discuss his relationship with longtime girlfriend, popular singer and actress Beyoncé, for years. The couple even managed to keep the press away from their small wedding, which was held on April 4, 2008, in New York City. Only about 40 people attended the celebration at Jay Z's penthouse apartment, including actress Gwyneth Paltrow and former Destiny's Child members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.

Jay Z and Beyoncé welcomed their first child, a daughter named Blue Ivy Carter, on January 7, 2012. Concerned about their privacy and safety, Jay Z and Beyoncé rented part of New York's Lenox Hill Hospital and hired extra guards.

Shortly after the birth of his daughter, Jay Z released a song in her honor on his site. On "Glory," he expressed his joy of becoming a father and revealed that Beyoncé had previously suffered a miscarriage. Jay Z and Beyoncé also posted a message along with the song, saying "we are in heaven" and Blue's birth "was the best experience of both of our lives."

In February 2017, Beyoncé announced on Instagram that she and Jay-Z are expecting twins.

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