Shawn Corey Carter is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, and occasional actor. Since 1996, 19-time Grammy award winner, Shawn "JAY Z" Carter has dominated an evolution in popular culture. Between multiple businesses and accolades spanning the recording industry to global investment leaders such as Warren Buffett, JAY Z personifies the "American Dream."
Born Shawn Corey Carter in New York City on December 4, 1969, Jay-Z grew up in Brooklyn's drug-infested Marcy Projects. He used rap as an escape, appearing for the first time on Yo! MTV Raps in 1989. After selling millions of records with his own Roc-a-Fella label, Jay-Z created his own clothing line. He wed popular singer and actress Beyoncé in 2008.
Carter attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, along with future rapper AZ, until it was closed down. After that he attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in Downtown Brooklyn, with fellow future rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes, and Trenton Central High School in Trenton, New Jersey, but did not graduate. In his music he refers to having been involved in selling crack cocaine. He has also said he had been shot at three times during this time in his life.
Carter turned to rap at a young age as an escape from the drugs, violence and poverty that surrounded him in the Marcy Projects. In 1989, he joined the rapper Jaz-O—an older performer who served as a kind of mentor—to record a song called "The Originators," which won the pair an appearance on an episode of Yo! MTV Raps. It was at this point that Shawn Carter embraced the nickname Jay-Z, which was simultaneously an homage to Jaz-O, a play on Carter's childhood nickname of "Jazzy" and a reference to the J/Z subway station near his Brooklyn home.
But even though he had a stage name, Jay-Z remained relatively anonymous until he and two friends, Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, founded their own record label, Roc-a-Fella Records, in 1996. In June of that year, Jay-Z released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Although the record only reached No. 23 on the Billboard charts, it is now considered a classic hip-hop album, featuring songs such as "Can't Knock the Hustle," featuring Mary J. Blige, and "Brooklyn's Finest," a collaboration with Notorious B.I.G. Reasonable Doubt established Jay-Z as an emerging star in hip-hop.
Two years later, Jay-Z achieved even broader success with the 1998 album Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life. The title track, which famously sampled its chorus from the Broadway musical Annie, became Jay-Z's most popular single to date and won him his first Grammy nomination. "Hard Knock Life" marked the beginning of a fruitful period in which Jay-Z would become the biggest name in hip-hop.
Over the span of those years, the rapper released a slew of No. 1 albums and hit singles. His most popular songs from this period include "Can I Get A ...," "Big Pimpin'," "I Just Wanna Love U," "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "03 Bonnie & Clyde," a duet with future bride Beyoncé Knowles. Jay-Z's most acclaimed album of this period was The Blueprint (2001), which would later land on many music critics' lists of the best albums of the decade.
In 2006, Jay Z appeared with Russell Simmons in a PSA combatting racism and anti-Semitism that organized by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. By 2008, Jay Z got actively involved in politics during the 2008 presidential campaign, where he supported increased voter participation and helped send voters to polling stations. He was an early supporter for the candidacy of Illinois senator and subsequent U.S. president Barack Obama, performing for free in voter-drive concerts financed by the Democrats' campaign. He also became acquainted with Obama himself, who stated "Every time I talk to Jay-Z, who is a brilliant talent and a good guy, I enjoy how he thinks. That's somebody who is going to start branching out and can help shape attitudes in a real positive way." During the 2010 mid-term elections' campaign, Jay Z appeared, along with other artists, in an ad prepared by the HeadCount organization, urging voters, and especially younger ones, to register and vote. In May 2012, Jay Z announced his endorsement of President Obama's support of same-sex marriage for gay couples and participated in his re-election campaign.
Musician and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte has been openly critical of Jay Z and Beyoncé in their relatively safe political stances, saying that they "have turned their back on social responsibility" in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. A Syracuse University finance professor, also gave similar opinions, pointing to Jay Z's only giving $6,000 to charity after making $63 million in 2012. He also voiced that the hip-hop mogul likely would never have come out in support of gay marriage had President Obama not first taken the initiative.
During his retirement, Jay Z also became involved in philanthropic activity. In 2003, Jay Z, together with his mother, founded The Shawn Carter Foundation, which, in 2014, almost has put over a 1000 individuals facing socio-economic hardships with a GPA of 2.7 or below through college. On August 9, 2006, he met with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan at the organization's headquarters in New York City. The rapper pledged to use his upcoming world tour to raise awareness of and combat global water shortage. Already on the look-out for a way to, in his own words, "become helpful", he had been made aware of this issue during a visit to Africa by Bono from the rock group U2. The effort took place in partnership with the UN, as well as MTV, which produced a documentary entitled Diary of Jay Z: Water for Life, first airing in November 2006. Along with Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jay Z pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross' relief effort after Hurricane Katrina. Jay Z stated his support for Kanye West after the latter's outburst against President Bush during a live Katrina charity telethon. He also addressed the issue of the Katrina disaster, and the government's response, in his one verse song "Minority Report".
Jay Z has previously stated in a song that "the greatest form of giving is anonymous to anonymous" and, in 2013, it was revealed by author dream hampton, who co-wrote Jay Z's book Decoded, that he quietly established a trust fund for Sean Bell's children.
“I never lost sense of who I was, not for a day, not before I had a record deal, and certainly not after.”
During a rough adolescence, detailed in many of his autobiographical songs, Shawn Carter dealt drugs and flirted with gun violence. He attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, where he was a classmate of the soon-to-be-martyred rap legend Notorious B.I.G. As Jay-Z later remembered his childhood in one of his songs ("December 4th"): "I went to school, got good grades, could behave when I wanted/ But I had demons deep inside that would raise when confronted."
freestyling, writing lyrics, songs
Music & Bands
Jay Z is married to American R&B singer Beyoncé. Jay-Z and Beyoncé welcomed their first child, a daughter named Blue Ivy Carter, on January 7, 2012.
Soul Train, 2001, Favorite Male Rap/Hip Hop ArtSoul Train, 2001, Favorite Male Rap/Hip Hop Artist, American Music Awards, 2004, International Male Solo Artist, Brit Music Awards, 2010
one of The World's 100 Most Influential People
TIME magazine, 2005, Barbara Walters-10 Most FaTIME magazine, 2005, Barbara Walters-10 Most Fascinating People of 2006, The 100 Most Powerful Celebrities, Forbes.com, 2008, The 40 Under 40 Rising Stars, Fortune magazine, 2009
named to The Power 150
Ebony magazine, 2008
Best Rap Video award
Music Television Music Video Awards, 1999, Rap Music Television Music Video Awards, 1999, Rap Artist of Year award, Billboard Music, 1999, Lyricist of Year, Solo award, Source, 1999, Best Hip Hop Artist, Solo award, 2001, R&B/Soul or Rap Album of Year for The Blueprint, Soul Train, 2002, Michael Jackson Music Vide