JAY-Z is considered by many to be the greatest rapper alive. His accolades include 14 number one albums (most ever by a solo artist), 22 Grammys (most in hip-hop history), and first rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (2017).
Born Shawn Carter in Brooklyn, JAY-Z’s autobiographical approach to songwriting – a balance of braggadocious confidence and comfortable vulnerability – propelled his popularity. His earliest recordings date back to 1986, but it was his groundbreaking debut album Reasonable Doubt (1996) that turned heads when it was released on his independent label Roc-A-Fella Records. 2001’s The Blueprint earned the coveted Five-Mic review from The Source, as well as his first Top 10 single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” JAY-Z announced a short-lived retirement following the release of The Black Album (2003), which included the Rick Rubin-produced “99 Problems.” In 2004, he became president of Def Jam Records, where he signed Rihanna, Kanye West, and J. Cole. JAY-Z’s next few years included a mash-up album with Linkin Park, the Grammy-winning ode to New York City “Empire State of Mind,” and a chart-topping album with Kanye West. He proved that hip-hop could pack stadiums when his Magna Carta tour sold out in minutes. In 2018, he released a joint album with his wife and fellow megastar Beyoncé, Everything Is Love.
As JAY-Z puts it, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” His profound impact extends well beyond music, including fashion, sports ownership, and music streaming, and in 2019, he became hip-hop’s first billionaire. He’s hosted political fundraisers, performed at presidential inaugurations, and has been an outspoken advocate for civil rights. His 2017 song “The Story of O.J.” shined a spotlight on systemic racism and was nominated for three Grammys, including Record of the Year. Throughout it all, JAY-Z has maintained authenticity with hip-hop purists while still achieving incomparable commercial success. Many have tried, but no one has come close to knocking him off his throne.