“I never lost sense of who I was, not for a day, not before I had a record deal, and certainly not after.”
Born Shawn Corey Carter on December 4, 1969, Jay-Z grew up in Brooklyn’s drug-infested Marcy Projects. He used rap as an escape, and appeared on Yo! MTV Raps in 1989. After selling millions of records with his own Roc-A-Fella label, Jay-Z created his own clothing line. He wed popular singer and actress Beyoncé Knowles in 2008.
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 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.” Jay-Z’s father, Adnes Reeves, left the family when Jay-Z was only 11 years old. The young rapper was raised by his mother, Gloria Carter, 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 remembered his childhood 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 very 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.
In 2000, Jay-Z released The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, which was originally intended to become a compilation album for Roc-A-Fella artists but Def Jam turned into a Jay-Z album. The album helped to introduce newcomer producers The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kanye West, and Bink, which have all gone on to achieve notable success. This is also the first album where Jay-Z utilizes a more soulful sound than his previous albums. The Dynasty sold over two million units in the U.S. alone.
Over the span of 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. Its release was set a week earlier than initially planned in order to combat bootlegging. Recording sessions for the album took place during 2001 at Manhattan Center Studios and Baseline Studios in New York City. Contrasting the radio-friendly sound of Jay-Z’s previous work, The Blueprint features soul-based sampling and production handled primarily by Kanye West, Just Blaze, and Bink, as well as Timbaland, Trackmasters, and Eminem, who also contributes the album’s sole guest feature.
At the time of the album’s recording, Jay-Z was awaiting two criminal trials, one for gun possession and another for assault, and had become one of hip hop’s most dissed artists, receiving insults from rappers such as Nas, Prodigy, and Jadakiss. The album is also famous for both its producers Kanye West and Just Blaze’s breakouts as major producers. West produced four of the thirteen tracks on the album, including the songs “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and the controversial “Takeover”, which included diss lyrics aimed at rappers Nas and Prodigy, while Just Blaze produced three tracks, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Song Cry”, and “U Don’t Know”, also including the hidden bonus track “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)”.
The Blueprint received universal acclaim from music critics, with praise being directed at Jay-Z’s lyricism and the production. It is considered one of his best albums and has also been labeled as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Despite its release coinciding with the September 11 attacks, it sold over 427,000 copies in its opening week and debuted at number one in the US, holding the spot for three weeks. It was later certified 2x Multi-Platinum by the RIAA.
In 2019, the album was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”
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 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.”
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 effect Kanye West‘s transition from producer to bestselling 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.
Jay-Z’s other, ongoing 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 with locations in New York and Atlantic City, and is a part owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise. As Jay-Z once rapped about his business empire, “I’m not a businessman/ I’m a business, man.”
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 tackling such mature subjects as the response to Hurricane Katrina; Barack Obama’s 2008 election; and the perils of fame and fortune. Jay-Z says he’s 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 says. “As more people come of age, hopefully the topics get broader and then the audience will stay around longer.”
Jay-Z released his tenth album entitled American Gangster on November 6, 2007. After viewing the Ridley Scott film of the same name, Jay-Z was heavily inspired to create a new “concept” album that depicts his experiences as a street-hustler. The album is not the film’s official soundtrack, although it was distributed by Def Jam. Jay-Z’s American Gangster depicts his life in correlation to the movie American Gangster. At the start of the album’s first single, “Blue Magic”, Jay-Z offers a dealer’s manifesto while making references to political figures of the late 1980s with the lyric: “Blame Reagan for making me to into a monster, blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra, I ran contraband that they sponsored, before this rhymin’ stuff we was in concert.”
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 Willow Smith and J. Cole among others.
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 rappers 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013), was seen as decent but failed to live up to the hip-hop stars larger-than-life reputation and his unhumbly titled album.
Very protective of his private life, Jay-Z did not publicly discuss his relationship with longtime girlfriend, popular singer and actress Beyoncé Knowles, 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.
Since tying the knot, Jay-Z and Beyoncé became the subject of countless pregnancy rumors. They 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 website. 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 2016, he won a lawsuit for the song “Made in America” with Kanye West featuring Frank Ocean against Joel McDonald.
2017–2018: 4:44 and Everything Is Love
In early June 2017, posters were displayed in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as banner ads on the Internet promoting a Tidal-related project titled 4:44. A teaser ad was aired during the NBA Finals on June 7 featuring actors Mahershala Ali, Lupita Nyong’o and Danny Glover in a one-minute video, ending in “4:44 – 6.30.17, Exclusively on Tidal”. On June 18, the project was confirmed to be a new Jay-Z album, and a clip featuring a song titled “Adnis” was posted on Sprint’s YouTube page.
4:44 was released through Roc Nation and Universal Music Group, as an exclusive to Sprint and Tidal customers. The album is the first in a planned series of music exclusives from the Sprint–Tidal partnership. For a short time, on July 2, the album was made available for free digital download in Tidal’s site. A physical edition was released on July 7, including three additional tracks. On the same day, the album was made available to other streaming platforms, such as Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music.
The album received widespread acclaim from critics, who praised its emotional and personal content. On July 5, the album was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in recognition of one million copies purchased by Sprint and offered to consumers as free downloads. It debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, making it Jay-Z’s 13th consecutive studio album to top the chart. The album spawned two singles, the title track “4:44” and “Bam”, as well as several music videos, directed by a variety of high-profile collaborators. The album received a Grammy Award nomination for Album of the Year, while the title track was nominated for Song of the Year and “The Story of O.J.” was nominated for Record of the Year at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.
On June 6, 2018, Jay-Z and Beyoncé kicked-off the On the Run II Tour in Cardiff, United Kingdom. Ten days later, at their final London performance, the pair unveiled Everything Is Love, their much-awaited joint studio album, credited under the name The Carters. The pair also released the video for the album’s lead single, “Apeshit”, on Beyoncé’s official YouTube channel. The song won two awards from eight nominations at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards.
He is a 2021 nominee for the 36th annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He also appeared on the song “Jail” on Kanye West‘s 2021 album, Donda.
ANNOUNCEMENT: In order to monetize this channel I will have to remove footage that I do not own. If you would like to donate you can do so at https://paypal.me/jjbro1 and https://cash.app/$JJBro1
I will be removing this video on January 5th but I’m glad that 2M+ have enjoyed this amazing concert over the last 6 years.
I have uploaded an even better version of this concert for you all to download. Enjoy! https://bit.ly/3Jk6IM3
Also no one can see jay in a verzuz
Jay-Z performing all b-sides! Nothing but the classics!
I’ve put together an album of this whole concert. Includes the whole intro and the whole freeway verse. Enjoy!
Set list: Thanks to Indraneel Purohit for the time stamps
0:00 Dynasty Intro
2:22 Young Gifted and Black
3:50 Pump It Up
5:54 Streets is Watching
9:52 Friend or Foe
11:20 Where I’m From
14:13 Say Hello
15:30 Tidal Freestyle
19:12 Politics as Usual
21:02 Guess Who’s Back
22:11 Show You How
23:48 Jigga My N__
25:30 Hovi Baby
28:06 22 Two’s
30:00 U Don’t Know
33:53 Intro / A Million and One Questions / Rhyme No More
36:29 So Ghetto
44:30 This Can’t Be Life
46:55 Party Life
50:28 Ignorant Shit
53:05 Grammy Family (Freestyle)
57:26 You, Me, Him and Her (performed with State Property)
1:00:45 What We Do (performed with Roc-A-Fella crew)
1:06:08 We Made It (with Jay Electronica)
1:09:05 Exhibit C (Jay Electronica cover) (with Just Blaze)
1:15:20 Go Crazy (with Jeezy)
1:18:17 Who Dat (Jeezy)
1:20:25 Can I Live
1:24:56 In My Lifetime (Remix)
1:26:19 Feelin’ It
1:28:25 Imaginary Player
1:31:44 Dead Presidents (Part 1)
1:34:39 It’s Like That
1:36:36 Never Change
1:40:43 Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)
1:42:14 The Thrill Is Gone (B.B. King song)
1:46:22 The Star-Spangled Banner(with Roc Boys)
1:49:01 Public Service Announcement