Jay-Z

  • Hip-Hop/Rap artist, songwriter, music executive born Shawn Carter in New York New York in 1969.
  • Carter grew up in a tough neighborhood, and was selling crack on the streets during his high school years. As a teenager, he started writing lyrics and freestyling on the streets – at that time, he was known as “Jazzy” in the neighborhood. He saw that gangsta rap music was developing as a genre, and he was determined to break into the industry. He adopted the name Jay-Z in homage to his rapper friend Jaz-O. Jaz-O helped him learn the ropes of the industry, and Jay-Z can be heard in several of Jaz-O’s recordings in the late 80s and early 90s. After rapping locally during the first half of the 90s, and appearing on recordings with several other New York artists, he released his first single, In My Lifetime, in 1995.
  • Major record labels showed no interest in him, so Jay-Z started his own record label in 1995. He struck a deal with a distribution company, and his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, was released in 1996. It reached #23 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and 3 singles reached the top 10 of the Rap chart – Dead Presidents, Ain’t No Nigga, and Can’t Knock the Hustle. His music was quintessential East Coast gangsta rap, with the usual themes of anger, confrontation and aggression. Critics praised the album – Rolling Stone puts it at #250 on their Greatest Albums of All Time list – one of 3 albums by Jay-Z to make the list.
  • His second studio album was released in 1997 – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Like his first album, several of the songs featured contributions from other rap and R&B artists. The album had more pop appeal as compared to his debut, though his singles still were not charting highly in the Hot 100 chart.
  • His next album in 1998 became his best selling album – Vol 2…Hard Knock Life – it was his first #1 album (as have the 10 studio solo albums that he has released since then), and it was certified 5x platinum (all 13 studio solo albums by Jay-Z have been certified platinum, with 8 of them multi-platinum). In 1999, he was the featured artist in Mariah Carey’s #1 hit, Heartbreaker – his first song to reach the top of the Hot 100 chart.
  • His popularity gained momentum during the 00s, as his singles began to crossover into the Hot 100 chart. While his music continued to utilize typical hip-hop themes, he incorporated more of a pop sound and softened (a little bit) the hardcore lyrics from his gangsta rock days. His first solo single to break into the Hot 100 top 20 was Big Pimpin’ in 2000. He ended the decade with 9 singles in the top 10, and in 2009 he released 2 of his biggest singles, Run This Town (featuring Kanye West and Rihanna – peaking at #2) and Empire State of Mind (with Alicia Keys – his first #1 song as lead artist on the Hot 100, also #1 on 3 other Billboard charts, and top 5 in 19 other countries).
  • Also in the 00s, he released 3 collaborative albums – 2 with R. Kelly, and 1 with Linkin Park. All 3 were certified platinum, and these collaborations showed his versatility in combining rap/hip hop with other music genres like R&B and metal. He was the featured artist in 2 other #1 songs during the decade – Crazy In Love by Beyoncé and Umbrella by Rihanna.
  • Jay-Z maintained his appeal throughout the 10s. He released 2 solo studio albums – 2017’s 4:44 was hailed by critics as one of his best, with Jay-Z showing a vulnerability and a reflective side as he approached 50 years old. He also released collaboration albums with Kanye West and Beyoncé. His best selling single of all time was in 2011, with Niggas in Paris (with Kanye West). His most recent single to top a chart was 2013’s Holy Grail (with Justin Timberlake) – it reached #1 on the rap chart, #2 on the R&B chart and #4 on the Hot 100.
  • In addition to his music success, Jay-Z’s success in business has made him incredibly wealthy. He founded the clothing retailer Rocawear, and a luxury Sports Bar chain called 40/40 Club. He founded the entertainment company Roc Nation, and acquired a Norwegian tech company called Aspiro. Aspiro has a streaming service called Tidal, and Jay-Z leveraged his relationships in the music industry to make Tidal the third largest streaming service in the world. He is part owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, he owns alcoholic product brands, and he has many other business interests. In 2019, he became a billionaire, and he is considered the wealthiest musician in the U.S. Oh…and he is married to Beyoncé too!
  • Jay-Z’s impact to the music industry cannot be understated. His 14 #1 albums are second all time to the Beatles’ 19 albums, and his 11 consecutive #1 albums are the most ever. He has won 22 Grammy awards, more than any other rap artist, and in 2018, he received the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons Award. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide, putting him in the top 35 artists of all time based on sales.
  • Here is the hip-hop master’s video with Alicia Keys, Empire State of Mind.

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