Jay-Z arose from the ashes left by Biggie Smalls
' death and the subsequent battle between him and Nas
. Though he isn't a Gangsta Rapper, Jay-Z has perfected the Boastful Rap
, even calling himself Jay Hova
. And he gets away with it. His rhymes are sharp, his beats
, and his ego is towering.
Shawn Corey Carter was born on December 4, 1969. Originally from Marcy Houses housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, he was abandoned by his father and at 12 years old, he shot his brother in the shoulder for stealing his jewelry. Jay-Z attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, along with rapper AZ, until it was closed down. After that he attended George Westinghouse Information Technology High School in Downtown Brooklyn, which fellow rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes
also attended, 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.
According to his mother, Gloria Carter, a young Jay-Z used to wake his siblings up at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. Eventually, she bought him a boom box for his birthday, sparking his interest in music. He began freestyling, writing lyrics, and followed the music of many artists popular at the time. In his neighborhood, Carter was known as "Jazzy", a nickname that eventually developed into his stage name, "Jay-Z". The moniker is also an homage to his musical mentor, Jaz-O, as well as to the J/Z subway lines that have a stop at Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jay-Z can briefly be heard on several of Jaz-O's early recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie". Jay-Z was also involved in and won several battles with rapper LL Cool J in the early 90's as part of a plan to get a sought-after record deal. He first became known to a wide audience by being featured on the posse cut "Show and Prove" on the 1994 Big Daddy Kane album Daddy's Home. Jay-Z has been referred to as Big Daddy Kane's hype man during this period, though Kane explains that he didn't fill the traditional hype man role, instead Jay-Z "basically made cameo appearances on stage. When I would leave the stage to go change outfits, I would bring out Jay-Z and Positive K and let them freestyle until I came back to the stage". He made an appearance on a popular song by Big L, "Da Graveyard", and on Mic Geronimo's "Time to Build", which also featured early appearances by DMX
, and Ja Rule in 1995. His first official rap single was called "I Can't Get With That", for which he released a music video. From the beginning of his professional recording career, when no major label gave him a record deal, Jay-Z, Damon Dash, and Kareem Biggs created Roc-A-Fella Records as their own independent label. After striking a deal with Priority to distribute his material, Jay-Z released his 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt
with beats from acclaimed producers such as DJ Premier and Super DJ Clark Kent and a notable appearance by The Notorious B.I.G. The album went on to become a hip-hop classic and helped put both Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records on the proverbial map.
- Reasonable Doubt (1996)
- In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997)
- Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (1998)
- Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)
- The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)
- The Blueprint (2001)
- The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse (2002)
- The Best of Both Worlds (with R. Kelly) (2002)
- The Black Album (2003)
- Collision Course (with Linkin Park) (2004)
- Kingdom Come (2006)
- American Gangster (2007)
- The Blueprint 3 (2009)
- Watch The Throne (with Kanye West) (2011)
- Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013)
"The Life and Tropes of S. Carter":
- Author Tract: "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)".
- "Ignorant Shit" was his views on both the Don Imus situation and people preferring his more superficial music over his rather large body of lyrically deft work.
- Big Applesauce: "Empire State of Mind".
- Bookends: The song "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" begins and ends with the line "Now tuned into the motherfucking greatest"
- Calling the Old Man Out: "Where Have You Been?", in which Jay and Beanie Sigel both call out their deadbeat dads for not being there for them in their childhoods.
- Celebrity Song: "Tom Ford", from ''Magna Carta Holy Grail".
- Concept Album: The American Gangster album is inspired by the movie of the same name. It's based around the path he may have followed if he had continued to sell drugs as opposed to becoming a rapper.
- Crapsack World: The main idea of "Where I'm From" is to highlight how dangerous it is in the Marcy projects in Brooklyn, New York, which was where he grew up.
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster : A good portion of the American Gangster album. This trope is invoked by name during the Album's introduction. Jay-Z tends to invoke this with his style of rap. It's not quite gangsta rap to the point where it has to get dirty. He is rarely anything but Type 4. He does have tendencies towards boastful money ballads but he tends to be the best at them.
- Distinct Double Album: The Blueprint 2: The Gift And The Curse was spread across two discs, one labeled "The Gift" and the other labeled "The Curse" (hence the title). The Gift (blue label) is a lighter, more radio-friendly disc with quite a few guest stars, while the material on The Curse (black label) is a bit darker and has less guests. Interestingly, the album's reception was mixed because many felt that it had too much filler (a common criticism of double albums, including Life After Death and All Eyez On Me), so Jay-Z took the best bits from both the Gift and the Curse, put them on one disc, and released it as The Blueprint 2.1.
- Downer Ending: "Success" and "Fallin" on the American Gangster album. "Meet The Parents" off of the The Blueprint 2
- "D'Evils" from Reasonable Doubt has a "downer" feel to it. Could be a downer ending considering it's a violent fallout between two friends.
- "Coming of Age [Da Sequel]", for the same reasons as "D'Evils".
- Dueling-Stars Movie: The Best of Both Worlds with R.Kelly and Watch The Throne with Kanye West
- Everyone Went to School Together: He, Biggie and Busta Rhymes all attended the George Westinghouse Information Technology High School at the same time.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: How do you know Jay's working on a new album? He stops getting his hair cut. The bigger the fro, the more we have to wait.
- Evil Former Friend: Damon Dash, Beanie Sigel, Jaz-O, etc.
- Face-Heel Turn: Memphis Bleek's character in "Coming of Age [Da Sequel]".
- Final Battle: After concluding his feud with Nas he hasn't engaged in a major beef since.
- Glam Rap: Occasionally dips into this, with his own twist. For instance Niggas In Paris from ''Watch The Throne'', or Takeover from ''The Blueprint''. But it's not a dominant theme.
- Genre Savvy: "Moment of Clarity":
Music business hate me cause the industry ain't make me
Hustlers and boosters embrace me and the music I be makin'
I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars
They criticized me for it yet they all yell "HOLLA!"
If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be
lyrically, Talib Kweli
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did five mil, I ain't been rhymin' like Common since
When your cents got that much in common
And you been hustlin' since, your inception
Fuck perception go with what makes sense
Since I know what I'm up against
We as rappers must decide what's most important
And I can't help the poor if I'm one of them
So I got rich and gave back, to me that's the win/win
So next time you see the homey and his rims spin
Just know my mind is workin' just like them...
(Rims, that is)
- Happily Married: To Beyoncé.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Memphis Bleek As long as Jay's alive he's a millionaire, and even if Jay dies he's in his will somewhere.
- Also arguably Kanye West.
- I Call It "Vera": His little two-two, he call it Peggy Sue.
- I Have Many Names: Jay-Z, Jigga, Jay-Hova, Hove, Young H.O, Young Vito, Jiggaman, S-Dot, President Carter, etc. Par for the course as far as most rappers go. It did really start with the Wu-Tang Clan.
- The Illuminati: Lately uses more and more Masonic references, such as the pyramid and the all-seeing eye, especially on his streetwear merchandise, or during concerts◊. Apparently , the increase in Masonic symbols is to Troll his haters.
- Karma Houdini: If you believe his former partners at Roc-a-Fella Records, Jay stole the brand and allied himself with Def Jam behind their backs. Despite his shady dealings, Jay-Z's public image never suffered, where Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke have faded into obscurity (and in Biggs' case, prison).
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: Several. He even calls himself the "Monster of the Double Entendre."
- Apparently turned Up to Eleven with the "Triple Entendre" he claims to perform in Drake's "Light Up"; however, this is a subversion because he actually uses three completely different words, so it's not an entendre of any kind.
- Legacy Character: one possible origin of his stage name is that he named himself after his mentor, Jaz-O.
- The Mentor: To Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, State Property, Kanye West, Rihanna, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Alexis Jordan, Rita Ora and J. Cole.
- Multiple-Choice Past: Does his name come from the reason above, the slang term "Jazzy", or is it a Shout-Out to the "J" and "Z" trains that pass through Marcy Ave?
- Not Actually The Ultimate Question: "Who are you?" — Nardwuar just wanted him to say his name.
- Odd Friendship: Jay-Z and Beyonce often go on double dates with Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow.
- Pretty in Mink: Amil sang the chorus for "Jigga What, Jigga Who", and she appeared in the video wearing a white fox fur jacket.
- Rage Against the Mentor: After years of respect and even a few features on songs, Jay-Z and Jaz-O began a beef that has gone on for years with no signs of ever resolving. Almost anytime Jay mentions Jaz is to diss him.
- Rap Power Vacuum: Many cynical fans feel this is how Jay-Z rose to prominence.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jay-Z is the passionate life-loving boaster, while Nas is the quieter, angrier and darker rebel.
- Compared to collaborator Kanye West, Jay-Z is a dignified, well-adjusted elder statesman of rap while Kanye is an eccentric, goofy dynamo with a reputation for making a spectacle.
- Reformed Rake: Married to Beyonce Knowles.
- The Rival: To Nas for quite a while, though he expressed respect and they always seemed to treat each other as a Worthy Opponent. The two have now reconciled.
- Sassy Black Woman: Featured in "Girls Girls Girls". She don't care if you rap, you better R-E-S-P-E-C-T her.
- Sharp-Dressed Man/Badass in a Nice Suit: When not in Hawaiian Tees and depending on his Face or Heel status.
- Shout-Out: He has a tendency to quote his peers and rappers that inspired him. Though detractors claim this is simply a lack of creativity.
- Spell My Name Without A Hyphen: Dropped the "-" in early 2013. As you can tell from this page, "Jay Z" hasn't quite caught on..
- Stealth Pun: All over the place.
- Super Group: He and Kanye announced in 2011 that they were officially going to tour under the name "The Throne" to promote their album, Watch The Throne.
- Previously he was a member of "Murder Inc." with DMX and Ja Rule. Earlier than that he and Biggie formed a group called "The Commission" that included themselves, Charli Baltimore, Lil Cease and Puffy.
- 10-Minute Retirement: After The Black Album, though no one really expected it to last in the first place.
- Earlier than that he was supposed to retire after the release of Reasonable Doubt so basically his entire discography has been taking place during his "retirement". Jay-Z himself lampshaded this in the intro to his sophomore album:
- He also briefly talked about Kingdom Come being his last album, and then said he was retiring after Kingdom Come, which came out a year or two later. At this point nobody bats an eye when he says he's "retiring".
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Jay's ad-lib at the end of "Dirt off Your Shoulder/Lying from You" with Linkin Park.
- Other good examples of this are in the first verse of "Off That" and the third verse of "Say Hello"
- This is rap. It's all over the place, bitch.
- Verbal Tic: Especially when featured as a guest rapper, he'll often prefix his verse with his signature grunt (or by yelling "Young") as a way of saying "brace yourself, Jay-Z is about to go in"
- He's been sprinkling the grunt in a lot more lately too; cf. "Made In America" on Watch the Throne.
- Visual Pun: In the video for "On To The Next One" at the line "No I'm not a virgin, I use my Cojones" the picture changes to a pair of glass balls.
- Uptown Girl: Beyoncé for him in a class respect. Beyoncé's father Mathew Knowles was a salesman and later a successful businessman, and Beyoncé grew up distinctly upper-middle-class at a minumum. Jay-Z, on the other hand, grew up the Brooklyn projects. Of course, both were loaded when they met, so nobody was terribly shocked, but the divide is definitely there.
- Wham Line: "I was just fuckin' them girls; I was gon' get right back!" from "Song Cry." The song up to this point gives the vibe that Jay has no idea why the relationship he's talking about went bad. This line makes it clear that he's either in denial or genuinely didn't expect the girl to dump him after he cheated on her.
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: He's a rapper, businessman, and songwriter and gave up being a sports owner to become an agent.