Jay Z (born Shawn Corey Carter) embodies the kind of fairytale rags-to-riches stories that propels the start of rap careers. From his early days of drug dealing on the streets of New York City, to his Rise as a platinum-selling rapper to becoming the first ever rapper ever inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Shawn Carter always seemed one step ahead of the rest.
Born on December 4th, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York, the future rapper grew up in the Marcy Houses where his love for rap began to manifest. His formative years found the burgeoning rapper being mentored by Jaz-O and featured on records with Big Daddy Kane, Big L, and Mic Geronimo.
In 1995, Carter teamed up with Kareem Biggs and Damon Dash to create the then independent, Roc-A-Fella Records. Following the release of the rapper’s platinum-selling debut, Reasonable Doubt, the Roc-A-Fella trio brokered a deal with Def Jam Records for distribution. Under that deal, Jay Z would release six platinum-selling albums, including the renowned classic The Blueprint before his proposed “retirement” in 2003. The Black Album, another platinum-selling album, would serve as a closer to the first act of his career and the beginning of the second act as a full-time mogul.
During the time that The Blueprint became a critical and commercial success, a beef that had been brewing between Carter and Nas began to take full-form. The beef birthed the kick-off album track, “Takeover,” that not only took aim at Nas but also Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Nas responded with a diss track of his own, “Ether,” and sparked a feud that had many critics and fans on the edge of their seats. In 2005, the two rappers made peace which culminated in Nas signing with Def Jam in 2006.
Shawn Carter became the President of Island Def Jam Records where he catapulted the careers of artists like Ne-Yo and Rihanna. Various other business endeavors during this time included the 40/40 Club, part-ownership of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team, the team’s relocation to the Brooklyn, and various real estate deals.
After his tenure at Def Jam, Jay Z founded Roc Nation, a full-service entertainment company with divisions in the music world and sports world. Still, Jay’s business endeavors were never able to quench his thirst for the mic. After only three years, he began recording again in 2006, making his retirement a short-lived one.
His latest album, 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, was a commercial success debuting at #1 and selling over 1 million copies. In 2017, Jay Z was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, making him the first rapper to be chosen for the honor. He continues to appear on tracks (especially with wife Beyoncé) while teasing the possibility of more projects of his own.