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The Life and Career of Jay-Z

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born on December 4, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York, Jay-Z started off rapping and hustling around the city. He created his own record label to release his debut, which charted on Billboard and paved the way for his future successes in hip hop music. He has churned out several number-one records and many hit singles, and has collaborated with many different artists. His biggest hits include, "Big Pimpin'," "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "Empire State of Mind". In this takes a look at the life and career of the rapper and businessman.

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Musical Beginnings

Shawn Corey Carter was born on December 4th, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York. Writing lyrics and free-styling at a young age, he eventually became involved in street hustling while he tried to break into the music industry.

Roc-A-Fella Records

After failing to secure a record deal, he created the label Roc-A-Fella Records with friends. The rapper released his hip hop debut under the name, Jay-Z, in 1996. Reasonable Doubt reached the top twenty-five on the Billboard 200 and contained the charting single, “Ain’t No N****.”

Sophomore Effort

Jay-Z’s sophomore effort was 1997’s In My Lifetime, Vol 1. The very personal album was recorded while he was trying to cope with the death of his friend and fellow rapper, The Notorious B.I.G. It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, and produced the single, “Who You Wit.”

It's a Hard Knock Life

He came out with Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life the next year. The Grammy-winning record premiered at the top spot of the Billboard 200 chart, catapulting the rapper into superstardom. This was thanks to singles such as “Can I Get A…,” and “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” which was the album’s biggest hit.

"Big Pimpin'"

In 1999, Jay-Z collaborated with Mariah Carey on the number-one single, “Heartbreaker.” A few months later, his fourth album, Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter hit the charts at number one, and produced the commercially successful single, “Big Pimpin’.” That year, Jay-Z also faced misdemeanor charges in a stabbing incident that eventually led to a three-year probationary sentence.

Another #1 Album and Feuding with Nas

2000 saw the release of The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. It was another number one album and had a more soulful hip hop sound. This record featured the hit single, “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me).” In 2001, Jay-Z and Nas began a high-profile feud in which the rappers disrespected each other through various methods. Their hip-hop rivalry was resolved in 2005.

"The Blueprint"

Jay-Z’s next effort was 2001’s The Blueprint. Juxtaposing mainstream and hardcore rap styles, the record hit the top of the charts. It also produced his first top ten single, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”

"The Blueprint 2"

The double album, The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse came out the next year, and sold even more copies than the previous record. The number-one disc yielded two huge hit singles. These were the commercially successful, “Excuse Me Miss” and a duet with his future wife, Beyoncé, called “03 Bonnie & Clyde.”

The Top Selling Record of the Decade

2003’s The Black Album became Jay-Z’s top selling record of the decade. It fared well with critics and generated the Grammy-winning single, “99 Problems,” the top ten song, “Change Clothes,” and the top five hit, “Dirt off Your Shoulder.” That same year, Jay-Z held a farewell concert to mark his musical retirement, and the footage was later released as the documentary, “Fade to Black.”

Linkin Park and Def Jam

However, Jay-Z returned to music in 2004, collaborating on the mash-up EP, Collision Course, with Linkin Park. He also became president of Def Jam Recordings, though he left the company a few years later.


2006 saw the release of his comeback album, Kingdom Come. The commercially successful record included the top ten single, “Show Me What You Got.” Jay-Z’s tenth disc, American Gangster, came out in 2007. The number one concept album featured the single, “Blue Magic.”

Glastonbury Festival and Oasis

Through 2008, Jay-Z performed at many summer festivals. The most notable was his set at the Glastonbury Festival, which stirred controversy because he became the first major hip hop artist to headline the normally guitar-oriented event.

Eleventh Number-One Album

2009’s The Blueprint 3 became Jay-Z’s eleventh number one album on the Billboard 200. Charting singles from this effort included “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” “Run This Town,” and his first number one track as a lead artist, “Empire State of Mind.”


In 2010, Jay-Z, along with Rihanna and members of U2, recorded the charity single, “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)” for the survivors of the Haitian earthquake. He also began collaborating with Kanye West on the EP, Watch the Throne, which was released in 2011.

A Musician and a Businessman

While Jay-Z may be known for his rapping techniques, he is also a businessman who has his own management company, clothing line and is part owner of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. Despite humble beginnings, he has gone on to become one of the most successful hip hop artists and entrepreneurs of our time.

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