Arguably one of the greatest rappers alive, Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay Z, planted seeds in hip hop that would grow into an empire and international brand.
Born on Dec. 4, 1969, and raised in the mean streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Jay Z was a product of his environment — hustling and selling drugs to make ends meet. But Jay saw beyond the drug money. From “rapping to the rain drops” on his window pane, Jay Z transitioned from rapper to artist to clothing designer to mogul and household name.
Jay Z got his start in the rap game in 1989, and after dropping out of high school he met Jonathan Burks, who went by the name of Jaz-O. Jay recorded his first verse on Jaz-O’s track “The Originators.” But Jay Z wouldn’t take rap seriously until almost a decade later. In 1996, he linked with Damon Dash and Kareem Burke to form the independent label Roc-A-Fella records. That same year, Jay Z dropped his first album, Reasonable Doubt, one of hip-hop’s most profound albums from an “unknown” artist.
Although he announced retirement in 2003, following the release of The Black Album, his eighth studio album, it was short lived. In 2009, he released The Blueprint 3, his eleventh No. 1 album, making him achieve the goal of the most No. 1 albums by any solo artist ever.
His collections of 16 albums have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. He has won 17 Grammy Awards.
Outside of rap, Jay Z also expanded his personal and professional empires. While simultaneously producing hits, Jay developed Roc-A-Wear clothing and became the president of Def Jam in 2005.
He married his longtime girlfriend, singer Beyoncé, in 2008 and the couple welcomed their first child, Blue Ivy Carter, in 2012. Jay Z was part owner of the Brooklyn Nets and was instrumental in the NBA club's transition from New Jersey to Brooklyn. He recently added sports agent to his long list of titles with the launch of Roc Nation Sports in 2013.
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(Photo: C.Smith/ WENN.com)