Almost 20 years ago Shawn Corey Carter was an unsigned rapper who sold his mixtapes out of the trunk of his car. Today, Jay Z has released 12 platinum selling albums, he’s married the reigning queen of pop music Beyoncé and amassing a fortune estimated to be in the high nine figures. Not bad for a kid from New York’s infamous Marcy Projects.
After developing a small following because of his guest spots on Big Daddy Kane’s 1994 album "Daddy’s Home," Carter teamed up with his friends Damon Dash and Kareem Briggs to found Roc-A-Fella Records to release his first album, 1996’s seminal mob rap classic "Reasonable Doubt". The album was widely acclaimed by critics and hip-hop fans alike. In 1997, Carter and his partners made a distribution deal with Def Jam Records and Carter released his second record that same year, the decidedly more mainstream "In My Life, Vol. 1". Though some of Carter’s fans disliked the change, the album debuted at #3 U.S. Billboard 200.
Striking while the iron was hot, Carter released "Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life" in 1998 which contained his mainstream break though single, the Annie sampling “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)". The album sold 5 million copies and won the Grammy for Best Rap Album. Still hungry for success, Carter appeared on Mariah Carey’s 1999 megahit “Heartbreaker” and followed up that success with the refreshingly gritty "Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter". Carter’s career then hit a speed bump after he pleaded guilty to stabbing a music industry rival and his next record, 2000’s "The Dynasty: Roc La Familia", ended up being more of a scattershot Roc-A-Fella Records compilation than a proper solo album.
Fortunately, Carter rebounded with 2001’s vital and soulful "The Blueprint," which featured a number of hits crafted by then producer Kanye West. The album was a massive success and prompted Carter to record a sequel, 2002’s "The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse," a bloated double album that would sell over 3 million copies. Next, Carter did something unexpected: he released his staggeringly great 2003 record "The Black Album," and announced his retirement at the age of 34.
In 2004, Carter was named the President of Def Jam records and seemed content to pursue the corporate life. However, this was not to be as Carter released his comeback album, the uneven "Kingdom Come," in 2006. Carter continued to shake the rust off with 2007’s "American Gangster," married his longtime girlfriend Beyoncé, and left his position at Def Jam in 2008. Later Carter signed with Live Nation to create the Roc Nation imprint and released "The Blueprint 3," a thundering return to form that proved that Jay Z had indeed got his swagger back. Last year, Carter released the chart-topping "Magna Carta…Holy Grail," embarked on a massive tour, and founded sports management agency Roc Nation Sports, proving that some American lives do have second acts.