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Rap Biographies: Jay-Z

Jay-Z, born Shawn Corey Carter (on December 4, 1969, Brooklyn, New York) is a rap/hip hop performer and record label executive. He attended George Westinghouse High School in Downtown Brooklyn but did not graduate. Known for his blending of street and popular hip hop, Jay-Z became one of the most respected rappers in the music industry.
Born and raised in the rough Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, NY, Jay-Z underwent some tough times after his father left his mother before the young rapper was even a teen. Without a man in the house, he became a self-supportive youth, turning to the streets, where he soon made a name for himself as a fledging rapper. Known as "Jazzy" in his neighborhood, he soon shortened his nickname to Jay-Z and did all he could to break into the rap game (another popular nickname for Jay-Z is "Jiggy"; though in 2005 he announced he wanted to be known by his real name). Carter was a school friend of the Notorious B.I.G.

He first started releasing records in the late 1980s. In 1990, he appeared on records by his close friend Jaz and Original Flavor , and later scored an underground hit single with 1995"s "In My Lifetime". His career had a jump start when he battled a rapper by the name of Zai. The battle caught the eye of many record labels, as Jay-Z was able to hold his own.

For a while, he ran around with Jaz-O, aka Big Jaz, a small-time New York rapper with a record deal but few sales. From Jaz he learned how to navigate through the rap industry and what moves to make. Drawing on Jaz's dealings with mercenary labels, Jay-Z co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records with partners Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke. In 1996, he released his debut album Reasonable Doubt, with beats from popular producers like DJ Premier and DJ Clark Kent and appearances by The Notorious BIG.

Though Reasonable Doubt only reached number 23 on Billboard's album chart, Jay-Z's debut eventually became recognized as an undisputed classic among fans, many of whom consider it his crowning achievement. Led by the hit single "Ain't No Nigga," ‘Reasonable Doubt' spread through New York; listeners were drawn by the gangsta motifs very much in style at the time. By the end of its steady run, Reasonable Doubt generated three more charting singles - "Can't Knock the Hustle," featured Mary J. Blige on the hook; "Dead Presidents"; and "Feelin' It" - and set the stage for Jay-Z's follow-up, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997).

The follow-up In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was released in the aftermath of Notorious B.I.G.'s murder, and debuted at US number 3 in November 1997. Featuring guest appearances from Puff Daddy, Lil' Kim, Too Short, BLACKstreet and DJ Premier, this sombre and intensely personal album included the stand-out tracks "You Must Love Me" and "Where I'm From".

The album boasted numerous marketable contributors such as Puff Daddy and Teddy Riley, which no doubt helped sales, yet Jay-Z's decision to move in a more accessible direction for much of the album, trading gangsta rap for pop-rap, increased his audience twofold. Singles such as "Sunshine" and "The City Is Mine" confirmed this move toward pop-rap, both songs featuring radio-ready pop hooks and less of the grim introspection that had characterized Reasonable Doubt.

Here he began his history of announcing retirement, only to repent and release another album; he would do these several more times in his career.

His breakthrough 1998 album Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life included the huge hits "Can I Get A..." and "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," The album won a Grammy for Best Rap Album, and Jay-Z's Hard Knock Life Tour cemented his stardom.

1998's Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life spawned the biggest hit of his career at the time, "Hard Knock Life". Songs like "Can I Get A..." and "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" sounded both distinct and unforgettable, garnering enormous amounts of airplay. Again, as he had done on In My Lifetime, Jay-Z exchanged the autobiographical slant of his debut for a sampler platter of radio-ready singles; and again, he reached more listeners than ever, topping the album chart and generating a remarkable six singles: the three aforementioned songs as well as "Jigga What?," "It's Alright," and "Money Ain't a Thang."

Like clockwork, Jay-Z returned a year later with another album, Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter (1999), which sold a staggering number of units and generated multiple singles. It was another big hit, in spite of continued criticism for his increasingly pop-oriented sound and a large number of collaborations that many felt crowded out Jay-Z himself. Here Jay-Z collaborated with yet more big names (nearly one guest vocalist/rapper on every song, not to mention the roll call of in-demand producers) and his most overblown work yet resulted.

Jay-Z's next album, The Blueprint (2001), solidified his position atop the New York rap scene upon its release in September. Prior to the album's release, the rapper had caused a stir in New York following his headlining performance at Hot 97's Summer Jam 2001, where he debuted the song "Takeover." The song accentuated verbal assault by showcasing gigantic photos of an adolescent Prodigy in a dance outfit. The version of "Takeover" that later appeared on The Blueprint also included a verse dishing Nas as well, who responded with "Ether." Jay-Z accordingly returned with a comeback, "Super Ugly". This back-and-forth bout created massive publicity for both Jay-Z and Nas. In addition to "Takeover,"

The Blueprint was applauded for its production and the balance of "mainstream" and "hardcore" rap, receiving recognition from both audiences. Eminem was the only guest artist on the album. The Blueprint also featured "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," one of the year's biggest hit songs, and the album topped many year-end best-of charts. Having been such a visible artist throughout the late 90's into the early 2000's, Jay has been the subject of more rap-related beef than most artists in hip-hop. Some of these have been resolved, some are ongoing, and some have simply dissipated.

By this time, Jay was seen as a hip-hop figurehead both by hardcore fans and by the corporations of rap due to his lyrics and his high album sales, achieving a pinnacle rarely held in rap music. The subject of much criticism, praise, popularity, condemnation, and discussion, Jay decided to begin developing other artists besides himself.

Jay-Z capitalized on the album's runaway success with a number of follow-up projects. He then went on to record, over the course of the year, 40 or so new tracks, 25 of which appeared on his next record. His next solo album was 2002's ‘The Blueprint2: The Gift & the Curse' a sprawling double-album which was touted by fans as having too much 'filler' or unnecessary material. It was later reissued in a single-disc version, The Blueprint 2.1, which retained half of the tracks from the double-album.

It was then that Jay-Z announced his imminent retirement after the release of one more album. That LP, The Black Album (2003), was rush-released by Def Jam and soared to the top spot in the album charts at the end of the year. As always, it spawned a couple big hits -- "Dirt off Your Shoulder" and "99 Problems" -- and, more curiously, also spawned a popular mash-up bootleg. The album was driven by "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," a Timbaland-produced track which became one of that year's most popular singles.

As this was to be his last effort, it was one of Jay's most anticipated albums, and has been both criticized (for his continual proclamation of being the "best rapper alive") and praised (for his more open and personal song topics).

In 2004 he embarked on a farewell tour. With his final album behind him and his reputation never more regarded, Jay-Z next accepted an offer to assume the role of president at Def Jam Records. Jay-Z accepted the challenge and took over the company began by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin roughly 20 years earlier. So Jay-Z became one of the few African-American major-label executives in the business, and he also became one of the few rappers to transition into that side of the business.

Apart from being President and CEO of Def Jam Recordings, Jay-Z is still one of the owners and founders of the Roc-A-Fella empire, which includes Roc-A-Fella Records, Roc-La-Familia, Roc-A-Fella Films and Rocawear, a clothing brand established in 1999. An EP he released with rockers Linkin Park produced the hit song "Numb/Encore," a 2006 Grammy winner. Currently Jay-Z is working on his new label Roc-A-Fella West (the west coast branch of Roc-A-Fella records). Jay-Z is planning on releasing a new album in 2006, 10 years after his first commercial release. It will include all new material.

Roc-A-Fella also distributes some firms in the U.S. Jay-Z is a part owner of the New Jersey Nets NBA team, and is one of the franchise owners interested in relocating the team to Brooklyn. He also co-owns The 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar which started in New York, NY and has since expanded to Atlantic City, NJ, with plans for locations in Miami and Atlanta. The Black Album was accompanied by Jay-Z's autobiography, The Black Book. Carter also has a line of Reebok sneakers called ‘The S.Carter Collection', which hold the record for fastest selling Reebok shoe in history and made him the first non-athlete to have a signature line of sneakers.

More than anyone, Jay-Z embodied the ultimate rags-to-riches rap dream, advancing from poverty to power, largely on behalf of his lyrical talent coupled with incredible dedication.
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