Jay-Z and his Path to Success
One of the greatest rappers of all time, both in terms of artistic influence and financial success, Jay-Z has built a name for himself as an energetic, brash and exuberant artist, combining musical snatches ranging from R&B, eighties funk, groovy beats and even Broadway tunes to create one of the most recognizable styles in hip hop. Throughout his career, spanning more than two decades, he managed to climb the ladder to success, with ten albums ranking consistently as Number Ones in the charts.
Jay-Z has gone a long way to reach his currently incredible, almost astronomical, fame and influence in the hip hop industry. Born Shawn Carter in a humble area of New York’s Brooklyn borough, the dilapidated Marcy housing projects, making his outlook grim right from the beginning. Family issues were a constant part of young Jay-Z life and would take a toll on his future lyrics. After his father left him while still a boy, he had to fend for himself and his mother and opportunities were few and far between. The only way out was resorting to the street thug life, with all its downsides and crime-stricken backdrop. Eventually, young Jay-Z found himself dealing crack cocaine to make ends meet, while being part of neighborhood gangs or getting involved in other illegal activities. These early experiences had a tremendous impact on the lyrics and their narrative, giving a unique first-hand experience, with a deep understanding of street life and its daily struggles. During these years he met Jonathan Burks, an East Coast rapper, going by the name of Jaz-O. The result was “The Originators”, the first song featuring lyrics by a young Jay-Z, released in 1989. The similarity between their stage names is only a coincidence, as Jay-Z puts it. Actually his stage name comes from his childhood nickname, “Jazzy”. But times were still tough for young Jay, and soon enough, he returned to the lucrative business of drug dealing, with rapping only taking second place, mainly as an artistic escape from the tough streets.
Jay-Z and his Career Breakthrough
The breakthrough however was in 1996, when together with two neighborhood friends, Kareem Burke and Damon Dash, he founded Roc-A-Fella records. The label launched Jay-Z’s debut album, “Reasonable Doubt”, which later became one of the founding pillars of modern hip hop. The fabulous album was coming from a practically unknown rapper and it marked a change in the hip hop world. Dealing with themes such as his difficult upbringing, the tough life as a drug dealer, friendship and family issues, the album didn’t become a financial hit, but the prospects were very promising for the young artist. The reviews, on the other hand, were exceptional. Brash, boisterous, even confrontational lyrics were intertwined with harsh criticisms of society, with a touch of good-natured elements. His rhyming dexterity and flow were also remarkable, bringing a fresh sound into the mid 1990’s rap scene. Jay tried to convince Jaz-O to join the newly created record label, but animosity towards its CEO, Damon Dash, caused him to reject the proposal. This divide between the two friends only grew deeper, as Jay-Z enjoyed great success in the years to come.
Another pivotal point in Jay’s career was the release of “In My Lifetime, Vol.1” in 1997. The year also saw a guest appearance on the smash hit Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death album. These two endeavors meant that Jay was now on the ladder to fame and authority as a leading hip hop figure. The album, however, was a different style from the previous “Reasonable Doubt”. Produced by P-Diddy and from the Bad Boy record label, it featured a glossier sound and some songs, particularly the overly commercial “I Know What Girls Like” were criticized for their unusual gaudiness.
1998 was another great year for Jay, with the launching of the fabulous “Vol 2 … Hard Knock Life”. The album featured an interpretation of a famous Broadway musical chorus (Annie) and dealt mainly with his troubled adolescence.
The album sealed Jay-Z as a commercially viable artist, while keeping his close relation to the streets and neighborhood. During this period, Jay was romantically linked with Destiny Child’s lead singer, Beyonce Knowles.
The next year saw the arrival of the successful “Vol 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter” which brought even more songs that broke the mold, establishing Jay-Z as a foremost figure in hip hop. The “Big Pimpin'” single was a prime example of this. But Jay’s climb was halted when rumors appeared of an alleged stabbing occurring at the Kit Kat Club in December 1999, with Lance “Un” Rivera being the victim. The legal turmoil after this incident attracted unwanted negative publicity for the artist and somewhat affected his reputation. The events culminated with his arrest and sentence to three years probation for the stabbing.
His new album, “The Blueprint”, released in 2001, and arguably his best one, was embraced with incredible success and it further established his dominance in the rap industry. The album was filled with allusions to other rappers, namely Mobb Deep and Nas, with attacking comments and feuds. This saw the beginning of a long dispute between the two rappers. The Blueprint was followed by the second installment, launched in 2002, and named “The Blueprint 2”, a double disc album, which was criticized as being bloated.
The following year, after the release of “The Black Album”, Jay announced that he will retire from rapping. He stated that there will no longer be full length Jay-Z albums. The album was a deep reflection on his life and featured some inspiring and sentimental work.
In 2005, Jay accepted to become the president of the legendary Def Jam record label. His performance on the job was not up to par and the 2006 album “Kingdom Come” was also received with somewhat reluctance, being criticized that he went soft. In 2008, he held the headline at the Glastonbury Festival which sparked a conflict with Oasis’s Noel Gallagher on whether hip hop should be present in a rock festival. Noel apologized later, saying that he liked Jay-Z’s music, but was disapproving of his presence at Glastonbury.
The release of the new album, “The Blueprint 3”, in 2009, had Jay-Z embark on a new musical trend. The album is packed with a collection of musical styles, ranging from electropop to rock and roll. The album lead Jay-Z to be compared with a hip-hop Frank Sinatra.
Jay-Z and Beyonce
After his marriage to Beyonce Knowles, the couple welcomed their first child, daughter Blue Ivy Carter, born on January 7, 2012. The birth of his daughter saw Jay-Z release a song in her honor on his website, named “Glory”. The song expresses his joy as a father and the couple’s experience as a happy family, with the birth of their daughter being the best moment of their lives.
Jay-Z Successes Other Than Music
As an entrepreneur, Jay-Z has his own urban clothing brand Rocawear, together with Damon Dash. In 2007 he sold his share of the company for $205 million but he still manages its marketing department. He is also the co-owner of an upscale sports bar in New York, named The 40/40 Club. The chain also has bars in Chicago and Atlantic City, with plans for Tokyo and Singapore. Jay-Z is also an investor in Carol’s Daughter, a beauty product line. He has a share in the Brooklyn Nets NBA team, for which he paid $4.5 million. On the real estate market, he is involved in a venture called J Hotels, which bought recently a $66 million parcel in New York. Plans for the area include a high end hotel with an art gallery in a building rising 12 stories high.
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