Jay-Z (aka the Jigga, HOV and Hova, born Shawn Carter on December 4, 1970 in Brooklyn, New York) is an African American rapper/hip hop artist and record label executive; one of the most popular and successful rappers of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Besides pursuing his own career, Jay-Z was one of the founders of Roc-a-Fella Records, a successful hip-hop label which also launched the careers of Beanie Sigel and Kanye West. Known for his metaphoric lines, freestyling abilities, and blending of street and popular hip hop, Jay-Z became one of the most respected rappers in the music industry before announcing his retirement from recording in 2004.
Originally from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, New York, Carter was raised by a single mother, and as a young man sold crack cocaine on the streets of New York. He was known "Jazzy" in his neighborhood, a nickname he soon shortened to "Jay-Z" while in pursuit of a career in music. The name Jay-Z was also a homage to his musical partner/mentor Jaz-O as well as to the J,Z subway lines that go from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
He briefly attended high school in Trenton, New Jersey, where he honed his rap skills and is remembered as constantly rhyming. 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".
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, continued this evolution towards a pop-oriented market. This 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, 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, 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 is considered to be one of the best hip hop albums produced thus far. Although it never surpassed Reasonable Doubt's status in the hip hop community, The Blueprint contained a balanced blend of street credibility and mainstream appeal, and received 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 (featuring The Roots as Jay-Z's backing band), and a collaborative album with R. Kelly, Best of Both Worlds, in 2002. Jay-Z's next solo album was 2002's The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse, 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 Blueprint 2 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. The album featured the Top 10 singles "Change Clothes" and "Dirt OF Your Shoulder", 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.
Jay-Z and R. Kelly released a follow up to their Best of Both Worlds album in October 2004 entitled Unfinished Business, 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 being cancelled in November 2004 after R. Kelly accused Jay-Z's entourage of attacking him.
On June 18, 2004, Jay-Z appeared live with the jam band Phish at Keyspan Park in Brooklyn, performing some of his hit singles with the band.
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.
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.
For a list of albums and singles, see: Jay-Z discography