Embodying the rags-to-riches rap dream
Jay – Z
Embodying the rags-to-riches rap dream, Jay-Z pulled himself up by his bootstraps as a youth to eventually become the reigning rapper of New York City and, in turn, a major-label executive following his short-lived retirement from music-making. In the wake of his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z’s albums sold millions upon millions with each release, and his endless parade of hits made him omnipresent on urban radio and video television. He retained a strongly devoted fan base and challenged whatever rivals attempted to oust him from atop the rap game, sparring most memorably with Nas. Jay-Z and his Roc-a-Fella associates greatly influenced the industry and established many of the trends that pervaded during the late ’90s and early 2000s. He consistently worked with the hottest producers of the day (Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Teddy Riley, Trackmasters, Erick Sermon, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz), and if they weren’t hot at the time, they likely would be afterward (the Neptunes, Kanye West, Just Blaze, 9th Wonder). He similarly collaborated with the hottest rappers in the industry, everyone from East Coast contemporaries like the Notorious B.I.G. (“Brooklyn’s Finest”) and DMX (“Cash, Money, Hoes”), to the best rappers from the South (Ludacris,Missy Elliott) and the West Coast (Snoop Dogg, Too Short). After his self-declared retirement from rapping in 2003, he assumed the presidency of the seminal rap label Def Jam and, as an industry executive, embarked on another phase in his illustrious career.
In 2005, Jay-Z came out of retirement for the I Declare War concert in New York City. The ambitious show featured a parade of high-profile guest stars, including Diddy, T.I., Kanye West, and in a peacemaking move, Nas. With this longstanding beef squashed, Jay-Z announced he was coming out of retirement for good. He made it official when Kingdom Come hit the shelves in late 2006. Less than a year later, Jay-Z returned with another post-retirement album, American Gangster (2007), this one inspired by the concurrent film of the same name. Two years later, after he left Def Jam and established Roc Nation — a label, music publisher, and talent agency through Live Nation — he released a third installment in the Blueprint series,The Blueprint 3. Announced with the single “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” the album featured productions from Kanye West and Timbaland, plus guest features for West, Rihanna, Young Jeezy, and Alicia Keys. Proof of the MC’s enduring relevance, the album topped the Billboard 200. The Hits Collection, Vol. 1followed in 2010. At various points during 2010 and early 2011, Jay-Z worked on Watch the Throne with partner Kanye West and numerous producers and songwriters. After taking several shapes, the album was released in August 2011 and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
On January 7, 2012, Beyoncé gave birth to Blue Ivy Carter. Jay-Z quickly released “Glory,” featuring his daughter as B.I.C.; she became the youngest person to appear on a Billboard-charting single. High profile television ads in June 2013 announced Jay-Z’s 12th solo album, Magna Carta…Holy Grail. That July 4, the album was made available via an app downloadable through certain models of Samsung smartphones. Digital downloads, physical copies, and streams through other outlets followed days later. Most of its tracks featured production from Timbaland and partner Jerome “J. Roc” Harmon, while its lead song involved Justin Timberlake, with whom Jay-Z toured that summer.
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