All hail the hip-hop king - Jay-Z

  • Bang Showbiz
  • 11 April 2008

Whether it is his personal or his professional life Jay-Z can't seem to go 24 hours without doing something impressively news worthy. If recent reports are to be believed, the last week alone has seen the self-proclaimed king of hip-hop marry his long-term girlfriend Beyonce Knowles and thrash out a $150 million deal with the world's biggest promoter's Live Nation.

Mix in the various reports doing the rounds that he intends to pull the plug on his planned headlining performance at Somerset's legendary Glastonbury festival, and it becomes clear that this 38-year-old star has an uncanny knack for making the news. It has ever been the case.

Born Shawn Carter in the projects of Brooklyn in 1969, Jay-Z has engineered a remarkable rags to riches tail. If his own song lyrics are to be believed, having failed to graduate from Eli Whitney High School (which also boasts late rapper Notorious B.I.G and Busta Rhymes among its alumni), Jay-Z first made his fortune "hustlin'" as a drug dealer on the streets of New York. Regardless of the dubious morality inherent to his first choice of career, the street-wise attitude he displayed to first rake in the cash has clearly been of manifest importance to his later success.

Undeterred by being turned down by every major label in 1996, Jay-Z joined hip-hop mogul Damon Dash to create independent label Roc-A-Fella Records, before striking a deal with Priority Records to distribute his debut album ?Reasonable Doubt'. Although the LP only reached number 23 on the US Billboard charts, it was a big critical success, installing him firmly in the music industry. He has never looked back.

From 1996 to 2004 not a year went by without a new Jay-Z album. By the end of 1998 he was celebrating the eight million global sales of third album ?Vol. 2? Hard Knock Life', which also picked up a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. The key to Jay-Z's musical success lay in his ability to mix witty, clever fast-flowing rhymes with popular party anthems, but it has always been his unerring talent for marketing his own brand which has caught the eye.

In 1999, he and Dash set up urban clothing label Rocawear, which the pair turned into a hugely influential company boasting annual sales of $700 million. Anyone still questioning Jay-Z's business acumen might like to note that last year he sold the rights to the Rocawear brand for $204 million, while retaining his stake and role in the company.

Rocawear was just the beginning of Jay-Z's business ventures. Today he is the proud part owner of The New Nets basketball team and a string of 40/40 sports bars up and down the country, while he reportedly hopes to develop his own line of luxury hotels.

By 2004, having proved his indisputable longevity and influence in the world of hip-hop, Jay-Z took his most remarkable step yet when retired from the rap game and became the president of Def Jam Recordings, the sort of high-profile role in the music industry rarely filled by an African-American, and never before occupied by a rapper.

He proved a massive success, most notably signing Ne-Yo and Rihanna - ironically now the biggest rival to Beyonce in the R'n'B princess stakes - to the label.

Last year, he crowned his successful moulding of the Barbadian beauty's talents by lending his vocal dexterity to her track ?Umbrella', which installed itself at the top of the charts all over the globe.

In a time honoured rap tradition, his hip-hop retirement proved far from permanent. Two years after vowing never to produce another solo album, he returned with ?Kingdom Come'. It is a measure of his giant global stature that the LP survived a critical mauling and a raft of negative internet postings from disappointed fans to record sales in excess of 2.5 million copies in North America alone.

With many of the tracks pondering the difficulties of dealing with fame many felt ?Kingdom Come' represented an artist who had lost touch with his roots, last year saw what most diehard Jay-Z fans consider his real comeback album, ?American Gangster'.

Having watched Ridley Scott's epic gangster movie of the same name, which tells the story of a black chauffeur who works his way up to the top of New York mob scene, largely through the sale of heroin, Jay-Z was inspired to tell his own tale. Hence the album's story of a boy from the notoriously rough Marcy projects of Brooklyn who defied his situation in life to conquer all before him. The album displayed a rapper still determined to find new creative challenges.

Speaking about the LP, Jay-Z revealed the driving force behind his remarkable success, reasoning: "You gotta challenge yourself to do new things. I can't just sit back and say I've done it all. It's like winning blackjack every time - it'd drive you crazy. You have to challenge yourself in life to feel alive."

It is that mantra which appears to have led to his decision at the end of 2007 to quit his role with Def Jam Records and search out a new realm in which to wield his substantial influence. It seems that forum will most likely be offered by Live Nation, who recently announced bank-busting deals with Madonna and U2. It is thought they are in the final stages of thrashing out a deal which will see them give Jay-Z $25 million up front, an advance payment of around $10 million for at least three albums, $20 million for publishing and licensing rights, and a $50 million commitment to finance his investments and various ventures within the entertainment industry. Live Nation spokesman John Vlautin confirmed they are in "deep talks" with the star.

However, despite his business sense and prowess behind the mic, Jay-Z's biggest asset in maintaining the interest of the entertainment media has been his love life.

Since 2002 he has been in a relationship with Beyonce, one of the biggest-selling, most glamorous female recording artists on the planet. Jay-Z has not used their personal life to promote himself - the pair have made a point of not discussing their relationship and until recently avoided being pictured together - but it must be noted that two of his biggest hit singles have come from collaborations with the former Destiny's Child star, ?O3 Bonnie and Clyde' in 2003 and Beyonce's smash hit ?Crazy In Love', released the same year.

Despite having been one of the showbiz world's most celebrated couplings for more than five years, their relationship has remained shrouded in secrecy.

It has been widely reported in the last few days that the pair sealed their love by tying the knot the week before in front of a host of superstar guests, including married couple Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin and Beyonce's former Destiny's Child bandmates Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland. However, at the time of writing the couple have refused to issue any official confirmation.

They are said to have strictly enforced a ?no camera' rule at the ceremony, making evidence of the union hard to come by, but Beyonce has been seen sporting a huge diamond ring since the alleged nuptials.

The closest their has been to an official acknowledgement of their wedding came when Mary J.Blige - who is currently travelling the country with Jay-Z on their ?Heart of the City' tour - told their audience in Greensboro, North Carolina, "Congratulations to my man, Jay-Z and my girl B".

Jay-Z himself has pleaded ignorance when asked about his marital status, while Beyonce's sister Solange has coyly stated she cannot recall the events of April 4, the night they are said to have got hitched.

What is certain, however, is that everyone is interested. If there's one thing Jay-Z is the master at it is making sure the world wants to know exactly what he is up to both personally and professionally.

Some have inferred that his scheduled headlining of the Glastonbury Festival in June is responsible for a decline in the music festival's ticket sales. This misses the point. What is more notable is the choice of a hip-hop star to headline what is essentially renowned as a celebration of rock music. Should he attend the event in Somerset he will be the first rapper to take centre stage in Glastonbury's illustrious history - yet another barrier broken down by indisputably the most successful hip-hop star on earth.

Breaking down new barriers, after all, is what this star is all about. Rapping with Kanye West on his hit 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone', Jay-Z famously ryhmes: "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man!"

That is no idle boast from a man who was only beaten into second place by The Rolling Stones in a Forbes list of the highest earning musicians of 2007, after raking in a whopping $83 million.

Given his current sought-after status and proven track record, it would take a brave man to bet against the business that is Jay-Z flourishing for many years to come.

By Robbie McIntyre.

© BANG Media International


Mr Beyonce Knowles brings his superior hip-hop tour – The Magna Carter tour – to the UK.

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