Birth name: Shawn Corey Carter Also known as Jigga Jay Hova Born December 4, 1969 (1969-12-04) (age 38) Brooklyn, New York City Genre(s) Hip hop, hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, gangsta rap, pop rap Occupation(s) Musician Songwriter Record executive CEO President Years active 1989 – present Label(s) Roc-A-Fella/IDJMG/Universal Associated acts Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Beyoncé Knowles, Kanye West, R. Kelly, Freeway, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Young Jeezy Website Official site
Originally from Marcy Houses housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, Jay-Z was abandoned by his father Adnes Reeves when he was twelve years old. Jay-Z attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, along with rapper AZ, until it was closed down. After that he attended George Westinghouse Information Technology High School in Downtown Brooklyn, with fellow rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes, and Trenton Central High School in Trenton, New Jersey, but did not graduate. He claims to have been caught up in selling drugs, to which he refers in his music.
According to his mother Gloria Carter, a young Jay-Z used to wake his siblings up at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. Eventually, she bought him a boom box 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. It is stated that he beat Busta Rhymes in a rap battle, but also has lost to DMX.
In his neighborhood, Carter was known as "Jazzy", a nickname that eventually developed into his stage name, "Jay-Z". The moniker is also a homage to his musical mentor Jaz-O (a.k.a. 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 Jaz-O's early recordings in the late 80s and early 90s, including "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie". He also collaborated with Inglewood, California producer Three-1-Zero. 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", and on Mic Geronimo's "Time to Build", which also featured early appearances by DMX Q-Man and Ja Rule and Shazim Hasan in 1995. His first official rap single was called "I Can't Get With That" which he also released a music video for.
Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Main article: Reasonable Doubt
From the beginning of his commercial recording career, Jay-Z chose a route that many would consider untraditional. When no major label gave him a record deal, 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. Despite reaching only #23 on the Billboard 200, the album was a critical success.
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997)
Main article: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
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 Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, it sold better than his previous effort. Jay-Z later explained that the album was made during one of the worst periods of his life. He was reeling from the death of his close friend The Notorious B.I.G. The album's glossy production stood as a contrast to his first release, and some dedicated fans felt he had "sold out". However, the album did feature some beats from producers who had worked with him on Reasonable Doubt, namely DJ Premier and Ski. Jay-Z mentioned on the YES Network's "CenterStage with Michael Kay" show that if he could do one thing in his career over, it would be Vol. 1, claiming that "it [the cd] was this close to being a classic, but I put like, a few songs on there that ruined it." Example is that he was referring to "I Know What Girls Like" and "(Always Be My) Sunshine", both of which were produced by Bad Boy beatmakers and criticized as a commercialization of his sound. Like its predecessor, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 also earned Platinum status in the U.S.
Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (1998)
Main article: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life
1998's Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life spawned the biggest hit of his career at the time, "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)". He also relied more on flow and brilliant wordplay, and he continued his penchant for mining beats from the popular producers of the day such as Swizz Beatz, an upstart in-house producer for Ruff Ryders, and Timbaland. Other producers tapped for beats include: DJ Premier, Erick Sermon, The 45 King, and Kid Capri. Charting hits from this album included "Can I Get A..." featuring Ja Rule and Amil and "Nigga What, Nigga Who" which featured Amil too. Vol. 2 would eventually become Jay-Z's most commercially successful album; it was certified 5x platinum in the United States and has to date sold over 8 million worldwide. The album went on to win a Grammy Award, although Jay-Z boycotted the ceremony protesting DMX's failure to garner a Grammy nomination.
Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)
Main article: Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter
In 1999, Jay-Z released Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter. Despite continued criticism for his increasingly pop-oriented sound, the album proved to be successful and went platinum three times and sold over 5.6 million records worldwide. 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). By this time, Jay-Z was seen as a hip-hop figurehead both by hardcore fans and by the hip-hop industry due to his lyrics and his high album sales.
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)
Main article: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
The subject of much criticism, praise, popularity, condemnation, and discussion, Jay-Z decided to begin developing other artists. Around 2000, he and Damon Dash signed various artists (including "Dynasty" members Amil, Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek) 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 market recognition and by extension, sales. This strategy worked to an extent - The Dynasty: Roc La Familia sold over 2 million units in the U.S. alone.