He was born Shawn Corey Carter in Brooklyn, New York, but the world knows him better as Jay-Z. At the time when he chose the moniker that would make him famous, Carter had no idea it would become a household name around the world. But then, who would have imagined that hip-hop could make it that far?
From humble roots and mostly due to his rap skills and business savvy, Jay-Z is one of rap music’s best known and financially successful MCs. He’s an artist first, but his creation of the Roc-A-Fella label imprint and his subsequent presidency of Def Jam Records have all added to his bottom line. His career is still the dream of most in the hip-hop world, one built on a combination of artistic respect and commercial success.
Jay-Z started out in Brooklyn like most kids of the time, fired up by the new form of verbal expression available through rap music. He was also reportedly a drug dealer who was well known to his peers in the Marcy Housing Projects. Whatever is true about his career as a hustler, Jay made his fortune rhyming about the streets, the crack game and the combination of skills needed to survive and thrive in his “hard-knock life.” Along the way, he shored up the spirits of the Brooklyn community after the death of their homegrown legend, the Notorious B.I.G., emerging as the borough’s most viable rap artist in the wake of Biggie’s death.
In the 2000s, with seven albums throughout the decade, Jay-Z stood tall over the competition. His hits, his pop culture influence and his dominance of the marketplace are what have made him one of rap’s most enduring artists. In fact, it is his 11-album catalogue has been the center of Jay’s success, unlike many other rap artists who’ve enjoyed enormous grosses outside of the career they began with. (See Will Smith, LL Cool J and Ice Cube.) He’s no model or actor, nor a commercial pitchman, but Jay made some brilliant moves in and outside of the studio by investing in himself and exercising quality control in his work. His label moves and his deals would be imitated by others in the rap game, but his overall blueprint hasn’t been duplicated.
His marriage to superstar Beyonce Knowles could have been viewed as another savvy move, as his might be the only woman on the planet aside from Oprah Winfrey who has as much money and as great a work ethic as he does. But if you read between the lines of Jay-Z’s songs, (“Lost Ones,” for example) it appears that their’s is a love match among real equals. How refreshing. On this as in everything else he does, Carter leads the pack.
Next up: His fourth collaborative album, “Watch the Throne,” with Kanye West, an artist he put on the map as a producer and watched turn into one of the few artists near his caliber. Also on deck is J. Cole, the latest to get the Jay-Z Stamp of Approval as one of his first signees to Roc Nation. (But no pressure, though.)
May real hip-hop reign!