Jay-Z biography

Originally from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, New York, Carter's father abandoned the family when he was a young child and he was consequently raised by his mother Gloria. As a young man, he claims to have been caught up in selling crack cocaine on the streets of New York. He was known as "Jazzy" in his neighborhood, a nickname he soon shortened to "Jay-Z" while in pursuit of a career in music. The name Jay-Z is also a homage to his musical partner Jaz-O (AKA The Jaz) as well as to the J-Z subway lines that go from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Jay-Z can be heard on several of The Jaz's early recordings including The Originators and Hawaiian Sophie.

He briefly attended high school in Trenton, New Jersey. He dropped out, but is still remembered there for his rhyming. It was said that his involvement in dealing drugs ended after he was shot at six times (he was not hit) in a dispute with another dealer, after which he became more serious about music as a profession. After several unsuccessful attempts to launch a career--first with Jaz-O, and then as part of a group called Original Flavor--Jay-Z co-founded Roc-a-Fella Records with partners Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. His debut album Reasonable Doubt was released in 1996 to considerable acclaim within the hip hop community, and included four charting singles: "Ain't No Nigga" (with Foxy Brown), "Can't Knock the Hustle" (with Mary J. Blige), "Dead Presidents" and "Feelin' It."

AT millennium's end, the hottest rapper in pop music is Jay-Z. Since the release of his quadruple-platinum Vol. II … Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z has had an incredible string of urban radio hits: "Can I Get a …," "Hard Knock Life," "Jigga What, Jigga Who," "Money, Cash" … the list goes on and on. And unlike many of today's most popular rap artists, he built an extensive catalog of hits before making his mark on the charts and enjoys underground respectability as well as mainstream acceptance.

Longtime rap fans may remember Jay-Z as an associate of the Jaz, who had a minor hit in 1988 with "Hawaiian Sophie." Before that, he was Shawn Carter, a young man from Brooklyn's Marcy Projects. Though Carter was a promising student, his wild behavior led him to a vocational high school in Brooklyn, where he met future stars Christopher Wallace (the Notorious B.I.G.) and Trevor Smith (Busta Rhymes).

As a young MC, Jay-Z appeared on several underground mix tapes, and his work with the Jaz appeared promising. But with bills to pay, Jay-Z increasingly found himself mired in the criminal underworld, a life he had known since the age of 16. It wasn't until 1992 that he found the courage to leave the life of a drug dealer behind him.

After his retirement from crime, Jay-Z began to look for a record deal as a solo artist, but only had a guest appearance on long-forgotten rap group Original Flavor's 1993 single "Can I Get Open" to show for his efforts. It wasn't until a friend, Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash, convinced him to form a record company with him that Jay-Z's career finally got off the ground. Jay-Z released his first single through Roc-A-Fella in 1995, "In My Lifetime." It proved to be a hit in New York's fickle hip-hop scene, and helped Dash and Jay-Z secure a distribution deal for Jay-Z's debut, Reasonable Doubt.

Though it wasn't a huge seller, Reasonable Doubt confirmed Jay-Z's status as one of the most promising lyricists in years, a rapper who vividly portrayed the highs and lows of being a black gangster. It yielded two hits, "Can't Knock the Hustle" (with Mary J. Blige), and "Feelin' It." More importantly, it earned the admiration of veteran rap stars as varied as Ice Cube and the Notorious B.I.G., who joined Jay-Z on "Brooklyn's Finest," a vicious response to 2Pac's "Hit 'Em Up" single. A third hit, "Ain't No Niggers (with Foxy Brown) found its way onto The Nutty Professor soundtrack.

The next year, Jay-Z and Dash negotiated a new distribution deal with Def Jam Records for Roc-A-Fella. The ascendant rapper had promised that Reasonable Doubt would be his only album, but he followed it up in 1997 with In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, a somber effort partly influenced by the murder of the Notorious B.I.G. Despite mixed reviews, the album entered the charts at No. 3, went platinum, and spawned two singles, "The City Is Mine" and "Sunshine" (with Babyface and Foxy Brown).

"I think 85 percent of it is solid," Jay-Z told Vibe magazine. "And that 85 percent was better than everybody else's album at the time."

That winter, Jay-Z was one of several opening acts on Puff Daddy's 1997 "No Way Out" tour. But conflicts with the tour's promoters led him to abandon ship soon after it began; instead, he decided to focus his energy on the fledgling Roc-A-Fella label and a straight-to-video film, Streets Is Watching. A short film about a group of hustlers in Brooklyn, Streets also served as a showcase for Roc-A-Fella artists like rapper Memphis Bleek, R&B;duo Christion, and mix-tape star DJ Clue.

In the spring, Jay-Z and his growing stable of artists mounted a nationwide tour. Growing commercial and critical acclaim, coupled with the mainstream acceptance of hardcore rappers like DMX and Master P, made the summer of 1998 an excellent time for Jay-Z to achieve crossover success. The buzz began with a guest appearance on Jermaine Dupri's hit single "Money Ain't a Thing." Then, with help from former Cash Money Click member Ja Rule and Amil from Major Coinz, Jay-Z released the bouncy, upbeat "Can I Get a …" which went platinum-plus and made Jay-Z a major star. (It eventually appeared on the Rush Hour soundtrack.) And in the fall, he released his third LP, Vol. II … Hard Knock Life. It opened at the top of the Billboard charts and stayed there for five weeks.

"This whole thing, me reaching the zenith of my fame on my third album, it seems backward to other people, but this is how it's always been," Jay-Z reflected in Vibe. "People are looking for the sensational, and I'm just not that [person]." Despite his modesty, Jay-Z's Hard Knock Life dominated the winter charts, spawning several singles — the aforementioned "Can I Get a …" the platinum-selling title track, "Jigga What, Jigga Who," and "Money, Cash, Hoes." His vocals also graced other hit albums of the season such as DJ Clue's The Professional ("Gangsta S---"), Foxy Brown's Chyna Doll ("Bonnie and Clyde Pt. II"), and Timbaland's My Bio ("Lobster and Scrimp").

In 1999, Jay-Z joined his fellow Def Jam cohorts DMX, Method Man, Redman, and DJ Clue on the "Hard Knock Life" tour. He also drew some attention for threatening a boycott of the 1999 Grammy Awards (he was nominated for three). "I am boycotting the Grammy Awards because too many major rap artists continue to be overlooked," he told the Associated Press. Despite the comments, Jay-Z did accept his Grammy for Best Rap Album. Throughout the year, Jay-Z has continued to make news, whether donating the proceeds from a Denver performance to the families involved in the Columbine, Colo., tragedy; making guest appearances on several of the year's top rap hits (Ja Rule, Memphis Bleek, Ruff Ryders); or launching a fashion line, Rocawear.

The latter half of the year is shaping up to be a busy one for the former Mr. Carter. He sings the lead track "Girl's Best Friend" on the Blue Streak soundtrack (a film starring Martin Lawrence, who makes a cameo appearance in the song's video). Fans can also catch him on new releases by Puff Daddy and Mariah Carey.

Commercial success: In 1997, Jay-Z's follow-up, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, peaked at #3 on the Billboard album charts, and helped establish his career and mainstream success. In spite of the success, Jay-Z's image was tarnished by what his core audience perceived as pandering to mainstream audiences with a more pop-friendly sound. The next year, Jay-Z released Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life, continuing this evolution towards a pop-oriented market. Hard Knock Life debuted at #1 on the Billboard Charts and stayed there for five weeks on its way to selling over 5 million records. It included several huge singles, including "Can I Get A..." (featuring Ja Rule and Roc-a-Fella artist Amil), "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," "Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators '99)" (featuring Jaz-O and Amil), "It's Alright" and "Money Ain't a Thang" (with Jermaine Dupri).

In 1999, Jay-Z released Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter (debuted #1), which was another big hit in spite of continued criticism for his pop-oriented sound, and a large roster of collaborators that many felt crowded out Jay-Z himself. His next album, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (debuted #1), was originally intended as a collaboration album with many guests from Roc-a-Fella's roster, including Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Amil, as well as Scarface, Just Blaze, R. Kelly, Kanye West, The Neptunes and Snoop Dogg.

2001's The Blueprint (debuted #1) is considered to be one of the best hip hop albums in history. Released on September 11, 2001, the album managed to debut at #1, selling more than 450,000 albums in its first week despite being upstaged by the attacks. Although it never surpassed Reasonable Doubt's status in the hip hop community, The Blueprint contained a balanced blend of soulful samples that had both street credibility and mainstream appeal, receiving recognition from both audiences. Eminem was the only guest artist on the album, appearing on the track "Renegade." The Blueprint also includes "Izzo (HOVA)," a top ten hit, and "Takeover," a song which puts on blast rivals Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Nas.

The latter responded to Jay-Z with both an underground single entitled "Stillmatic" and a track, "Ether," on his 2001 LP "Stillmatic," and the pair's resulting rivalry became one of the most talked-about subjects in the hip hop community. The feud between Jay-Z and Nas escalated until 2003, when the two MCs ended their rivalry peacefully.

Two side projects followed The Blueprint: a late 2001 MTV Unplugged album called Jay Z: Unplugged (debuted #6) (featuring The Roots as Jay-Z's backing band), and a collaborative album with R. Kelly, The Best of Both Worlds (debuted #1), in 2002. Jay-Z's next solo album was 2002's The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (debuted #1), a sprawling double-album which included the Top 10 single "'03 Bonnie & Clyde," a duet with his girlfriend, Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child. The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse was later reissued in a single-disc version, The Blueprint 2.1, which retained half of the tracks from the double-album.

In 2003, Jay-Z toured with 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and Sean Paul while finishing work on what was announced as his final album, The Black Album (debuted #1). The album featured the Top 10 singles "Change Clothes" and "Dirt Off Your Shoulders," one of a number of Jay-Z singles produced by Timbaland.

In 2004, an a capella special edition of The Black Album (which sported a red CD cover) was released with the intention of allowing others to create remixes. The most controversial of the ensuing remixes was by DJ Danger Mouse, entitled "The Grey Album." It combined the a capella version with instrumental samples of The Beatles' White Album. DJ Danger Mouse was sent a cease and desist order from EMI, The Beatles' record company, due to illegal sampling. As a result, many copies were destroyed and an original is now a rare find.

On November 25, 2003, Jay-Z held a legendary concert at Madison Square Garden, which would later be the focus of his film Fade to Black. This concert was his "retirement party." All proceeds went to charity. Other performers included The Roots, Missy Elliott, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Siegel, Freeway, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Twista, Ghostface Killah, Foxy Brown, and R.Kelly with special appearances by Voletta Wallace and Afeni Shakur, the mothers of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.

Jay-Z and R. Kelly released a follow up to their Best of Both Worlds album in October 2004 entitled Unfinished Business (debuted #1), which includes 11 previously unreleased tracks by the duo. This release was timed to coincide with the Best of Both Worlds Tour, which played half of its dates before R. Kelly was booted off the tour in November 2004 after his unpredictable and unprofessional behaviour. The tour was then changed to "Jay-Z and Friends" and completed its run with artists such as P.Diddy, Mary J. Blige, T.I., Busta Rhymes, and fellow members of the ROC accompanying Jay-Z.

On November 30, 2004, Jay-Z released Collision Course, a collaboration with Linkin Park. It features remixes of songs from the rock band's two studio albums, Meteora and Hybrid Theory; and also several from the rapper's albums including his latest, The Black Album. It debuted at #1 in the US Billboard Album Charts, #12 in Australia and #38 in the UK. The lead single "Numb/Encore" debuted at #14 in the UK, and remained on the charts for nearly six months.

On January 3, 2005, Jay-Z was appointed the new President and CEO of Def Jam Recordings. Damon Dash had left Roc-a-Fella Records in late 2004 to pursue other ventures; the label will be retained as a Def Jam imprint.

On July 2, 2005, Jay-Z made an appearance at Live 8 with Linkin Park performing songs from Collision Course and the song "Public Service Announcement".

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