Jay-Z Biography

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Shawn Corey Carter, 4 December 1969, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA. Raised in Brooklyn, Carter was a school friend of the Notorious B.I.G. He first started releasing records in the late 80s, part-financing his music by hustling. In 1990, he appeared on records by his close friend Jaz (‘The Originators’) and Original Flavor (‘Can I Get Open’), and later scored an underground hit single with 1995’s ‘In My Lifetime’. Drawing on Jaz’s dealings with mercenary labels, Jay-Z set-up his own Roc-A-Fella imprint in 1996 with entrepreneur Damon Dash and Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke. His 1996 debut set, Reasonable Doubt, went on to achieve gold sales and produced the US number 50 pop single ‘Ain’t No Nigga’ featuring future rap star Foxy Brown. The album, which reached US number 23 in July, attracted fans with a mixture of hard-hitting street lyrics and rhymes, epitomized by the collaboration with the Notorious B.I.G. on ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’. The 1997 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 $hort, BLACKstreet and Babyface, this sombre and intensely personal album included the stand-out tracks ‘You Must Love Me’ and ‘Where I’m From’.

Although in demand as a guest artist, Jay-Z found the time to write, produce, and direct the semi-autobiographical short Streets Is Watching, which was released in 1998 and reissued in 2004. The gold-selling soundtrack introduced several of Roc-A-Fella’s rising stars, including Memphis Bleek, Rell and Diamonds In The Rough, and featured the hit single ‘It’s Alright’. Jay-Z then became a major star with the hit singles, ‘Can I Get A... ’ and ‘Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)’, the latter built around a line from the musical Annie. One of the more bizarre samples to be used on a hip-hop track, the single nevertheless became an international hit (UK number 2, December 1998/US number 15, March 1999). The album of the same name featured hotshot producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, while guest rappers included DMX, Foxy Brown and Too $hort, on a package that diluted Jay-Z’s hard-hitting lyrical edge in an attempt to corner the crossover market. Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life easily succeeded in its aim, staying at US number 1 for five weeks before finally being deposed by Alanis Morissette’s new album.

Despite a hectic schedule as a guest producer/writer and rapper, Jay-Z still found the time to enter the studio and record tracks for his new album. Released in December 1999, Vol. 3... Life And Times Of S. Carter confirmed his status as one of hip-hop’s most popular artists when it topped the album charts the following month. The following year’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia 2000, another US chart-topper, was originally planned as a supergroup collaboration with fellow Roc-A-Fella rappers Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Amil. Jay-Z’s remarkable roll continued with 2001’s The Blueprint, another stellar work putting Jay-Z out front as the current leader of the genre. The same December he was sentenced to three years probation for stabbing record producer Lance ‘Un’ Rivera at a New York nightclub two years previously.

Jay-Z announced in October 2003 that he would gradually retire from recording and performing and devote his time to the business side of the music industry. The following month’s The Black Album was promoted as a return to the ‘street’ sound of his earlier recordings, and received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the music press in addition to debuting at the customary number 1 slot on the US album chart. New recordings continued to emerge during the next two years, however, with bitty collaborations with R. Kelly and Linkin Park both topping the US charts.

A significant development in Jay-Z’s career took place in December 2004 when he was named president and CEO of Def Jam Recordings. Taken in addition to his commitments to the Roc-A-Fella business empire, the announcement confirmed him as one of the most powerful men in the US music industry. He returned to centre stage at the end of 2006, and in the process threw his ‘retirement’ out of the window, with the solo set Kingdom Come. The album was an expected commercial success but attracted some of the most disparaging reviews of the rapper’s career; for once in his life, Jay-Z was guility of treading water. Stung by the criticism, he bounced back the following year with the excellent American Gangster. On this concept album inspired by the movie of the same name Jay-Z was on fine rhyming form, and received stellar backing from a heavyweight production team featuring the Neptunes, Jermaine Dupri and Just Blaze amongst others.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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