Published Aug 23, 2009Despite the fact that he's Beyonce's husband, a former CEO of Def Jam Records and a part owner of the New Jersey Nets, the most valuable and core asset of the ubiquitous brand that is Jay-Z is his undeniable prowess as an MC. His rhyming ability comes seemingly effortlessly to him. After all, he does not write down any of his lyrics; instead, he often nods his head repeatedly to a beat, silently mouthing words to himself until he has created and memorized an entire song and then steps into a recording booth. It's an unorthodox process that explains Jay-Z's staggeringly prolific and rapid-fire creative output, but gives little insight into content. Indeed, the hustler-turned-MC has been routinely charged with catering to the lowest common denominator for capital gain and reifying problematic tropes into a bling-encrusted string of unavoidable hit singles. "I dumb down for my audience / And double my dollars," he admitted on his faux farewell, The Black Album. As compelling as this evidence may seem, it's hardly a slam-dunk case. Jay-Z's most critically acclaimed entry in his oeuvre, his seminal debut Reasonable Doubt, is tellingly among the least commercially successful of his albums and apparently his own personal favourite. Truth be told, Jay-Z's subsequent albums have always found plenty of room to indulge the lyrical complexity, shrewd wordplay and his underrated, yet vivid storytelling ability that made his first full-length so compelling in the first place. It's as if in his defence, Jay-Z is referring naysayers to The Blueprint's imperiously infamous query, "Do you fools listen to music, or do you just skim through it?"
1969 to 1988
Shawn Corey Carter is born to Gloria Carter and Adnes "AJ" Reeves on December 4, 1969 in Brooklyn. He first gains recognition in his neighbourhood for learning to ride a bike without training wheels at age four. Along with his two sisters and brother Eric, he moves with his family to the Marcy housing projects in Brooklyn at around the age of six. He looks up to his father, who would often challenge him to independently use his sense of direction to find his way home. He often plays basketball with friends during the day and at school. Shawn is studying at a grade 12 level in the sixth grade. He begins to practicing rapping, looking through dictionaries to expand his vocabulary and writing rhymes in a green notebook in an indecipherable style so that no one would be able to take his rhymes. He often stays up late at night banging on the table rhyming to himself; his mother responds by buying him a boom box. Shawn's father leaves when he's 12 years old, which has a devastating impact. He becomes more introverted, developing an outward air of indifference to shield him from emotional pain. Shawn becomes known as "Jazzy" in his neighbourhood because of his cool demeanour. Shawn shoots and injures his older brother Eric in the shoulder when he steals a two-finger piece of jewellery from him. Eventually he shortens his nickname to Jay-Z, reputedly after the J and Z train lines that run through his Brooklyn neighbourhood. His reputation as an MC with a rapid-fire tongue-twisting style begins to spread through his neighbourhood and reaches Jaz, an older respected neighbourhood MC who also lived in Marcy projects. Eventually the two meet and after rhyming for each other decide to join forces and write rhyme routines together, often hanging out for hours at a time at each other's apartments. Jaz records a song with Jay-Z and two other MCs under the name High Potent MCs and the four rhymers record a song entitled "HP Gets Busy," which garners minimal airplay and success. Jay-Z attends Westinghouse High School along with Christopher Wallace and Trevor Smith — later known as the Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes — and engages in a rhyme battle with the latter. After admiring a local drug dealer named Danny Dan, Jay-Z eventually drifts into selling drugs through Dehaven, a friend who also lived in Marcy Projects, as the crack epidemic begins to take hold on his neighbourhood. The murder of a local dealer who had his genitalia cut off makes him initially fearful of the world he's entering but he perseveres, eventually dropping out of high school. However, Jay-Z continues to rhyme and along with Jaz records a song at a friend's house with Big Daddy Kane and the positive feedback to his performance on the cassette recording that circulates locally encourages him to continue rhyming.
1988 to 1990
Jaz earns a record deal with EMI after they hear his demo. The label refuses to sign Jay-Z, but Jaz insists that Jay be included in his crew and that he appear on his album. The two have an agreement that Jay-Z will drop his hustling activities for any recording sessions or shows for Jaz's recording project. Jaz takes Jay and future industry figure Irv Gotti to London to record his album Word to the Jaz. The first single, "Hawaiian Sophie," is handled by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's producer and the innocuous romantic storytelling rhyme with its accompanying cheesy video, featuring Jay-Z in a minor backup, role bombs. Jay-Z sees how much money Jaz gets from his deal and the overall lack of success of the album. Disenchanted, he returned to hustling, expanding his activities to New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, yet the more successful he gets the more paranoid he becomes. Jay-Z appears on "The Originators," a song from Jaz's second album To Your Soul and gets to flaunt his tongue-twisting rhyme style and dances next to him in the video, but again the album is not a success and he concentrates on drug dealing after Jaz decides to basically quit hip-hop.
While he's out all day hustling, Jay's mind becomes filled with song ideas and he goes into corner stores to grab pens and scraps of paper to write down rhymes and copy them to his notebook later. But as he begins to accumulate numerous scraps of paper, he resorts to memorizing lyrics instead. Eventually, he would memorize entire songs in his head. He occasionally returns to New York and performs at parties where DJ Clark Kent often urges him to take rapping seriously. Meanwhile his drug dealing activities lead him to a few close calls, including being shot at a few times.
1991 to 1994
Yearning for security, he returns to New York with his girlfriend Stefanie. Producer Clark Kent, who works as A&R at Atlantic, records music with him and pitches him to labels. His long-term relationship with Stefanie dissolves as he begins to focus more on music. Jay-Z begins to appear as a guest rapper on R&B remixes. He starts hanging out with legendary Big Daddy Kane who lets Jay-Z open for him on tour and perform in between songs. Realizing his efforts to get Jay-Z signed are stalling, Clark Kent introduces Jay-Z to the boisterous and talkative Dame Dash from Harlem, who is managing a group called Original Flavor. Jay-Z continues to get good feedback from industry figures for performances at conventions yet still cannot get a record deal. He does continue to make guest appearances on Big Daddy Kane's "Show and Prove" posse cut which also features Ol' Dirty Bastard and Original Flavor's underground hit "Can I Get Open." Jay also continues to battle MCs to further his reputation, even facing off with DMX in a Bronx pool hall for over two hours in an event both camps deem to be a draw; a mutual respect is fostered between the artists. Jay-Z continues recording music and after shopping a demo to virtually every major label along with Dash and Kareem Biggs, a childhood friend of Dash's, the trio decides to form a record label called Roc-A-Fella records. They release a twelve-inch featuring the tracks "In My Lifetime" and "I Can't Get With That." They film a video for the latter in the Marcy projects for around $5,000 and his status as a local celebrity begins to grow. But Jay-Z is intent on achieving a much more visible profile. Spotting hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons at a party, he tells the Def Jam founder that he is aiming for his spot in hip-hop history.
Jay appears on albums by MCs Mic Geronimo, (alongside DMX) and Big L with whom he appears freestyling on the legendary Stretch and Bobbito radio show. Jay manages to get the attention of Payday Records, who release "In My Lifetime" as a single while Jaz produces a more mellow and reflective remix version. A video for the song is filmed off the coast of the island of St. Thomas. However, the song does not do as well as expected. Roc-A-Fella lands a distribution deal with Priority Records and work begins on an album. The first record to emerge from the sessions is the Nas-sampling "Dead Presidents," a reflective and melancholy track with a noticeably slower and more conversational rhyme style that sets the template for what is to come. But it's b-side "Ain't No N----" featuring 16-year-old MC Foxy Brown that becomes popular. Jay-Z convinces Irv Gotti to approach Hot 97's Funkmaster Flex to play the record and it starts to gain traction. Jay-Z and Dash approach Kevin Liles of Def Jam; he declines their money yet puts the song on the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy vehicle The Nutty Professor, which eventually goes platinum. Jay-Z now has a widespread profile. Work on his debut album continues, with producers being mainly paid in stacks of hard cash from shoeboxes. Jay-Z and Biggie decide to collaborate on a track on the set of the "Dead Presidents" video shoot and realize after they push a pad back and forth that neither of them actually write down their lyrics. After they record the song "Brooklyn's Finest" they head out to a Bernie Mac comedy concert and become friends, talking regularly and discuss the possibility of forming a super group called the Commission. Jay-Z also attempts to work with Nas on the album but the MC fails to show up for the recording sessions for "Can I Live," a song that eventually features Jaz and fellow Marcy projects MC Sauce Money, who will go on to pen Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You." Released in June, Reasonable Doubt goes gold by September and Jay-Z moves to New Jersey. Immediately after its release, Jay-Z begins to insist that it will be the only album he will be releasing.
Disappointed with the distribution deal with Priority, Roc-A-Fella partners with Def Jam Records, where they retain ownership of the label and work with friend Irv Gotti, who is an A&R rep at the label. But part of the deal requires Jay-Z record two new albums and he agrees. Additionally, the label's plans to sign and market acts such as Memphis Bleek, DJ Clue and R&B group Christion, plus expanding into films and a clothing line, require more money. The success of Reasonable Doubt provides Jay opportunities to write for many other successful artists. He pens five songs for Foxy Brown's Ill Na Na debut. He appears on friend Notorious B.I.G.'s sophomore album Life After Death; when Biggie is gunned down after a party in California, it hits Jay hard. After attending Biggie's funeral where he speaks to no one, Jay-Z takes a vacation in the Caribbean and returns to the recording studio, feeling pressure to take on the void left by the MC. In the wake of B.I.G's death, Jay-Z becomes closer friends with Bad Boy head Puff Daddy. Jay-Z's sophomore effort, In My Lifetime: Vol. 1, in contrast to Reasonable Doubt, overtly courts mainstream appeal. Lead single "Sunshine" featuring R&B singer Babyface and Foxy Brown isn't well received and reviews of the album are mixed, but the record still sells well. Jay-Z joins Puffy on his No Way Out tour, but problems soon arise. Not content with his opening act status, dressing room accommodations and shorter set time, he decides to leaves the tour before it ends. However, he does become infatuated with a beat played by DJ Capri at every show and the label pays former Flavor Unit producer DJ Mark the 45 King for the track, although he had apparently already promised it to another artist.
In reaction to the mixed reception of In My Lifetime Vol. 1, Roc-A-Fella releases Streets is Watching, a straight-to-video-film incorporating video vignettes of hardcore selections from Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime Vol. 1 and some new material to regain his underground appeal. The strategy is a success; video is bootlegged heavily and sells over 100,000 copies in just over a month, with the soundtrack going gold. New singles "Can I Get A…" featuring Ja Rule and "Money Ain't A Thing" with Jermaine Dupri are huge radio hits and "Hard Knock Life" — the Annie-sampling track Roc-A-Fella bought from DJ Mark the 45 King — pushes Jay-Z to mainstream recognition. Still with Jay-Z insisting in interviews it will be his final record, Vol 2…Hard Knock Life sells 300,000 copies in the first week, knocking Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill off the top Billboard slot. The album remains at #1 for five weeks and goes on to sell five million records in the U.S. alone. The hard-to-find Reasonable Doubt is reissued — Jay-Z himself apparently does not have a copy at the time. Retreating from his initial desire to retire again, he calls DJ Premier and floats the idea of doing a project free of any commercial aspirations called The Black Album to be produced entirely by the acclaimed producer. DJ Premier agrees but the duo do not collaborate on a full-length project together.
Jay-Z headlines the Hard Knock Life tour featuring Method Man, Redman, DMX as the marquee performers on a 52-date tour across North America and donate proceeds from their Denver date to victims of the Columbine disaster. Jay-Z is nominated for three Grammys, but irked by a perceived snub of DMX he releases a statement announcing that he will not be attending. Despite this, he wins a Grammy for Best Rap album. Vol 2…Hard Knock Life continues to be a success with a slew of singles being released from the album, including tracks like the DJ Premier-produced "A Million and One Questions (Remix)" where he dubs himself J-Hova and "Jigga What, Jigga Who" featuring his one-time mentor Jaz, now rhyming under the name Jaz-O. Big L, an acclaimed and well-respected MC with an underground following whom Roc-A-Fella was getting ready to sign, is shot dead. Talk of a collaborative group project featuring DMX and Ja Rule under the name Murder Inc surfaces, even garnering an XXL cover story, but the album collaboration never happens. However Jay-Z does work with Dr. Dre, co-writing the lyrics for his hit single "Still D.R.E." Jay-Z appears on Mariah Carey's number one single "Heartbreaker," as well as a number of singles for soundtracks and on Roc-A-Fella protégé Memphis Bleek's album before dropping "Do It Again" the first single from the album Vol 3: The Life and Times of Shawn Carter. Weeks ahead of the record's release bootleg copies are being sold. At a record release party for Q-Tip's Amplified, a scuffle breaks out and record industry executive, Lance "Un" Rivera, a pivotal figure in Notorious B.I.G's career and one of the producers on the new album, is stabbed. Jay-Z is charged with second-degree felony assault. The incident was allegedly sparked by a disagreement over the source of the circulation of bootleg copies of Vol 3.
Released in the last week of 1999, Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter tops the Billboard charts, selling almost half-a-million copies in the first week. Backstage, a DVD of the Hard Knock Life Tour is released. He also pleads not guilty to the charges of stabbing Rivera. "Big Pimpin'" produced by Timbaland becomes a huge hit single in part due to its Hype Williams-directed video filmed in Trinidad with a large yacht and scantily-clad women. The song also gives established Southern veterans UGK prominent exposure. The Hype Williams-directed video for "Hey Papi" from the Nutty Professor II soundtrack, continues in the same vein, shot in Malibu and featuring the Roc-A-Fella crew at the height of hedonism with Dame Dash grabbing some of the spotlight with his dancing and antics, and Pamela Anderson among the many ladies in the clip. However Dash is seen dating R&B singer Aaliyah, after rumours initially spread that she was dating Jay-Z. Jay-Z maintains an underground presence, appearing on fellow Marcy Projects MC Sauce Money's "Pre Game." Yet Roc-A-Fella attempts to focus for the most part on other projects. Roc-A-Fella protégé Beanie Sigel releases his debut album The Truth, with the title track being produced by a relatively unknown newcomer named Kanye West. Continuing to explore movies, Roc-A-Fella films Paid in Full, starring rapper Cam'ron and Mekhi Phifer, using Toronto as one of the locations. The career of Roc-A-Fella's lone female MC Amil ends abruptly after the release of her album, but her single "4 Da Fam" is noticeable for Jay-Z apparently revealing he was about to become a father, which is never confirmed. Work begins on a compilation album to promote Roc-A-Fella artists Amil, Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel and newcomer Freeway from Sigel's State Property crew, but by the end of the recording sessions it becomes another Jay-Z album entitled The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. The first single "I Just Wanna Love U (Give it 2 Me)" produced by the Neptunes is a huge hit single. The video, filmed just four days after the song is recorded, features Lil' Kim and upsets her rival and onetime friend Foxy Brown.
Jay-Z appears on R. Kelly's remix single "Fiesta." Jay-Z begins work on The Blueprint, recording seven songs in two days, invigorated by disses of Jay-Z and/or Roc-A-Fella from MCs like Prodigy and Jayo Felony. The album is largely produced by Kanye West and Just Blaze. Days before he is due to appear in court on the Rivera assault charges he is arrested when police allegedly find a gun on his bodyguard. A new single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" is premiered at the B.E.T. Awards. A couple of weeks later, he appears at the Hot 97 Summer Jam and brings out Michael Jackson to the crowd's disbelief, then performs the Kanye West-produced single, which samples the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." He would appear on the remix of Jackson's "You Rock My World" later in the year. Also at the Summer Jam show Jay-Z ridicules Prodigy of Mobb Deep who had targeted Roc-A-Fella on a song by projecting a picture of the rapper as a child apparently dressed as a ballerina in grandmother's dance school. He also ends the Prodigy diss verse with the line "Ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov!" presumably referring to alleged thinly-veiled back and forth between Nas and Memphis Bleek and other Roc-A-Fella cohorts that had been going on for a few years. Nas responds through dissing Jay-Z on a freestyle called "Stillmatic" on a mixtape. Jay-Z's summer jam freestyle appears as a song called "The Takeover" on The Blueprint, now with a scathing new verse being dedicated to Nas and his slipping career. Nas counters with "Ether" from his album Stillmatic, which charges Jay-Z, among other things, with hypocrisy, constantly using rhymes by Notorious B.I.G. and being by outshined by Eminem on The Blueprint's "Renegade." Jay-Z continues the beef returning with "Super Ugly" talking about the affair he had with the mother of Nas's daughter. Many Hot 97 listeners, where the record is premiered, are not impressed. After his own mother voices her displeasure, Jay-Z appears on the radio station to retract the song; many viewed this as a victory for Nas. Jay-Z releases another album before the end of the year. Unplugged is a live MTV album featuring the Roots as Jay-Z's band and is released on the same day as Nas's Stillmatic. Damon Dash's girlfriend Aaliyah dies in a plane crash along with eight others in the Bahamas after a video shoot. Jay-Z records a posthumous remix to her single "Miss You" as a tribute. The gun possession case against Jay-Z and his bodyguard is dropped. However, Jay-Z receives three years probation for the Lance "Un" Rivera stabbing after pleading guilty.
Roc-A-Fella continues to expand its empire acquiring the rights to distribute the Scottish vodka Aramadale in North America and continues making films with the release of State Property featuring Beanie Sigel's Philadelphia-based crew. After the success of appearing on the remix of R. Kelly's "Fiesta" single the previous year, Jay-Z and R. Kelly decide to work on a full-length album project entitled Best of Both Worlds. Yet as the album is set to drop, child pornography charges against R. Kelly are filed in the wake of a video of him allegedly having sex with an underage girl surface. Promotion for the record abruptly grinds to a halt. Fuelled by the success of the Just Blaze-produced single "Oh Boy," Cam'ron's Come Home With Me album is a hit for Roc-A-Fella, eventually going platinum. Returning from a summer vacation Jay-Z finds out much to his chagrin that Damon Dash has fired a number of Roc-A-Fella staffers and has installed rapper Cam'ron, whom Dash once used to manage, as vice-president of the label. Jay-Z vetoes the move and the incident changes their relationship. Meanwhile Nas, who is still engaged with a beef with Jay-Z is set to appear at Summer Jam as his rival did the year before. When word circulated he was planning a mock lynching of Jay-Z, his performance does not happen. The lead single for the album Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse is "'03 Bonnie and Clyde" with R&B singer Beyonce, fanning the already persistent rumours the two are a couple. Jay-Z was rumoured to be dating actress Rosario Dawson earlier in the year. The title track features him continuing his beef with Nas and also targets actress Rosie Perez for her comments in interviews about the beef. The double album featuring a high-profile guest list is released to a mixed critical reception. Meanwhile Jaz-O releases an album entitled Kingz Kounty featuring Jay-Z on a track entitled "Let's Go." However, Jay-Z apparently does not show up to a planned video shoot irking Jaz-O.
Jay-Z's mother Gloria Carter alerts him to the fact that his father Adnes Reeves does not have long to live; she is anxious for the two to reconcile. Jay-Z waits at his house in New Jersey for his father; he does not show up, disappointing him. However, his father does arrive at a second scheduled meeting. After Jay-Z reveals his feelings of abandonment to his father, they begin to speak and Jay-Z secures his father an apartment in Brooklyn close to a hospital where he is undergoing treatment. His father dies a few months later. Damon Dash announces the signing of Ol' Dirty Bastard to Roc-A-Fella on the day he is released from jail. An edited version of Blueprint 2 entitled Blueprint 2.1 is released in response to reaction to the original. Jay-Z also goes on tour with 50 Cent fresh off the success of Get Rich or Die Tryin' despite the fact the two had exchanged disses on record in the past. While overseas, Jay-Z hears Panjabi MC's four-year-old single "Mundian to Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys)." He's so enamoured with the track he cuts some verses over the track and releases it as a single and it becomes an unexpected hit. Jay-Z begins to expand his brand, striking a deal with shoe company Reebok to become the first MC to have a signature sneaker line and produces the S. Carter Collection mixtape featuring a number of his freestyles to promote the shoe. It becomes the fastest seller in Reebok's history. Additionally he opens a sports bar called 40/40 in New York. Meanwhile Roc-A-Fella screens the Damon Dash-directed satire of the hip-hop music industry Death of A Dynasty at the Tribeca Film Festival. Jay-Z makes more cameo appearances, notably on Pharrell's "Frontin'" and Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." Word begins to circulate that Jay-Z is planning to retire after recording one more record, entitled The Black Album, where it is initially speculated that he will make 12 tracks with 12 different producers, but this is not what eventually surfaces. Industry figures are interested in his post-retirement moves. Jay-Z meets with Doug Morris, CEO of Universal and also meets with Interscope head Jimmy Iovine on his yacht and at Bono's home in the south of France as rumours speculate about his future with Roc-A-Fella and a rift with Damon Dash. The first track from The Black Album, "What More Can I Say," is aimed squarely at an underground audience addressing his use of Biggie lyrics and his own achievements. The line "And I don't wear jerseys I'm 30 plus / give me a crisp pair of jeans, button-ups" ends the wave of hip-hop aficionados wearing throwback football jerseys virtually overnight. The Black Album is released to commercial and critical acclaim and Jay-Z celebrates with a star-studded farewell concert at Madison Square Garden, a venue where rap headliners are rarely booked at a show that sells out almost immediately. The concert features many surprises, including a reunion with Foxy Brown and a mini-set with R. Kelly. Meanwhile mash-up versions of The Black Album begin to proliferate online, and in response Roc-A-Fella decides to issue a cappella versions of the album. The most prominent of remixed versions is The Grey Album, produced by Danger Mouse, who casts Jay-Z's lyrics from the album over unauthorized samples of The White Album by the Beatles.
A controversial video for the Rick Rubin-produced "99 Problems" — where the MC is riddled with bullets — punctuates the fact that Jay-Z is indeed retiring. A DVD of the Madison Square Garden concert, entitled Fade to Black, is released. Yet while he continues to expand outside of music, acquiring an ownership stake in NBA team the New Jersey Nets and investing in an NY restaurant called the Spotted Pig, he announces he will be releasing Collision Course, an album project with Linkin Park consisting of reworkings of his songs with the band's music. Additionally an album entitled Unfinished Business, a follow-up to his ill-fated initial album collaboration with R. Kelly comprised mainly of unreleased recording sessions, is announced. The duo go on tour, but the show is plagued with problems. At one show Kelly stops the show claiming he saw audience members brandishing guns and leaves the stage. He is allegedly hit with pepper spray backstage by a member of Jay-Z's entourage. Jay-Z completes the show with some of his famous friends in the audience and continues the tour under the banner Jay-Z and Friends. Kelly retaliates by filing a $75 million lawsuit against Jay-Z. Roc-A-Fella co-founders Kareem Biggs and Damon Dash sell their remaining interest in Roc-A-Fella to Def Jam and start the Damon Dash Music Group. Jay-Z's executive career comes down to two options: he is offered a job with friend Chairman and CEO Warner Music Lyor Cohen at Warner, but goes with a three-year deal to become Def Jam president, with part ownership of Roc-A-Fella, retaining the label's name and giving him ownership of his Roc-A-Fella album masters. Jay-Z had offered Dash his percentage of Roc-A-Fella in return for masters of Reasonable Doubt, but it did not work out and Dash and Biggs are disappointed by Jay-Z's move.
Jay-Z begins work as president and CEO of Def Jam, signing Foxy Brown and later the Roots and Lady Sovereign. He also oversees and/or signs Young Jeezy and R&B singers Rihanna and Ne-Yo. He announces the formation of labels Roc La Familia to promote reggaeton artists and plans for Def Jam Left, a label to nurture the growth of underground artists by giving them lower advances and to divert focus from first week sales. Jay-Z's nephew dies in a car accident in Pennsylvania in a vehicle Jay-Z bought for him. Having treated his nephews as sons, the loss is particular devastating for him (he would later write a verse about the incident on "Lost One"). An autobiography called The Black Book is completed, but concerned about the private details about his life it reveals, Jay-Z backs away from the project and the book remains unpublished. Memphis Bleek's fourth album 534 is released and includes "Dear Summer," a track by Jay-Z, further fuelling speculation he would eventually make a ful-fledged return. Indeed, Jay-Z makes a number of cameo appearances despite being the CEO of Def Jam, appearing on records by Def Jam signees Young Jeezy and Kanye West, rapping "I'm not a businessman / I'm a business, man" on Kanye West's "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" remix. Jay-Z comes to Toronto to promote new signings Rihanna and Teairra Mairi along with Kanye West and performs a surprise parking lot performance with Kardinal Offishall. Damon Dash sells his stake in the Rocawear clothing line for over $20 million and officially cuts business ties with Jay-Z. Jay-Z's own net worth is now somewhere around $320 million. Meanwhile Jay-Z is being increasingly criticized by Cam'ron's crew the Diplomats among others, and when he announces a concert billed I Declare War, anticipation builds that Jay-Z will finally respond to the crew. Instead, the show shocks the crowd when Jay-Z brings out Nas to perform "Dead Presidents" — a song that samples Nas on the chorus hook — officially ending their beef.
Jay-Z officially signs Nas to Def Jam. Meanwhile Cam'ron, who leaves Def Jam almost immediately after Jay-Z takes over the label, disses him on a song called "You Gotta Love It," referring to the fact that Beyonce's group Destiny's Child appeared on his second album singing about crime. Cam'ron appears on New York hip-hop station Hot 97 claiming Damon Dash had given him the scoop that Jay was digging up dirt on him. Dash disputes this. Meanwhile, artists on Def Jam step forward to voice their disgruntlement with Jay-Z's handling of their projects. Jay-Z announces plans to finally come back and release an album entitled Kingdom Come. For some, this announcement exacerbates an already strained relationship with him as their boss. DMX eventually leaves the label and disses Jay-Z in the holiday pictures that surface of him vacationing with Beyonce. "The flip-flops — he's just not the same," DMX told Vibe magazine. "It's Beyoncé. He's a sucker for love." Jay-Z and Beyonce collaborate again on "Déjà Vu," the lead single to her sophomore record B-Day. Another B-Day single "Ring the Alarm" was speculated to be directed at Rihanna as rumours began to circulate about the proximity of his relationship to the singer. Jay-Z also celebrates the tenth anniversary of Reasonable Doubt at Radio City Music Hall in New York, performing album in reverse order with a band led by ?uestlove of the Roots. Jim Jones of the Diplomats disses Jay-Z on mixtapes, at a live show Jay-Z responds by rapping over a Jim Jones track yelling "Brooklyn" instead of the original hook "Ballin'." Kingdom Come is released, featuring an appearance from Coldplay's Chris Martin and although it initially sells well it receives a mixed critical reception. Jay-Z tours Africa to raise awareness of the global water crisis. In reaction to comments from the managing director of the company that makes Cristal champagne, a brand Jay-Z helped to popularize in his rhymes, Jay-Z announces a boycott of the drink. Apparently, when asked if attention to the brand from hip-hop artists was detrimental to the brand, Frederic Rouzaud tells The Economist. "What can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." In a statement, Jay-Z responded: "It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frederic Rouzaud, views the 'hip-hop' culture as unwelcome attention. I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands including the 40/40 Club nor in my personal life." Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas's daughter and one of the central figures of Jay-Z's "Super Ugly" diss song releases her autobiography, detailing her romantic relationships with both Jay-Z and Nas. The two MCs finally record a song together. "Black Republican" appears on Nas's Hip Hop is Dead album released at the end of the year.
Jay-Z records a seemingly unofficial remix to Amy Winehouse's ubiquitous "Rehab." He collaborates with General Motors to produce a colour called 'Jay-Z blue' for a limited run of GMC Yukon Denalis. Online videos from Dehaven, one of Jay-Z childhood friends, surface claiming to expose Jay-Z as someone who turned his back on long-time friends. In response to the persistent rumours that Jay-Z fathered a child with a woman who was on the "Big Pimpin'" video shoot continue to persist leading to a rep for the rapper reportedly telling Allhiphop.com, "There is no truth to these ridiculous rumours." After seeing an advance screening of the movie American Gangster starring Denzel Washington, the film reminds him of his own past and he begins to construct a narrative arc for an album melding elements of his pre-recording career success and the life of Frank Lucas, the drug dealer depicted in the film. Coincidentally, Diddy is working with a team of producers making beats evoking '70s soul and Jay-Z decides to work with the mogul as the executive producer of the album and also collaborates again with Nas on the No I.D. co-produced track "Success." Jay-Z's album is not the official soundtrack to the film yet it arrives in music stores around the same time as the movie does in theatres, to widespread acclaim. Jay-Z decides that he does not want the American Gangster album tracks to be sold individually on iTunes, saying in a statement, "As movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles." Entering the Billboard charts at number one, American Gangster moves Jay-Z into a second place tie with Elvis Presley for the most number one albums ever on the chart. Only the Beatles are on record with more Billboard number one albums. Jay-Z announces he will be stepping down as president and CEO of Def Jam.
Jay-Z goes on a North American tour with Mary J. Blige (who first collaborated with him on Reasonable Doubt's "Can't Knock the Hustle") on The Heart of the City tour. On stage he often disses President Bush while endorsing Barack Obama. After years of dating and barely acknowledging publicly that they are a couple, Beyonce and Jay-Z marry in New York. Jay-Z signs a ten-year, $150 million deal with the concert promotion giant Live Nation that includes touring, publishing and recording. He appears in a video coaching Microsoft founder Bill Gates how to rap as he gets ready for retirement. He also strikes a deal to start a chain of hotels called J Hotels. During a U.S. election campaign stop in North Carolina, Barack Obama proves the cultural resonance of Jay-Z by wordlessly referring to the rapper's hit "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" when discussing his own critics in what analysts call a "dog whistle moment." Jay-Z also appears on Lil' Wayne's album Tha Carter III, refering to his collaborator as "my heir." He performs a new song called "Jockin' Jay-Z" on Kanye West's Glow in the Dark tour in New York and announces a new album will be called The Blueprint 3. Jay-Z is announced as a headliner for the Glastonbury Festival in England and Noel Gallagher of Oasis voices his displeasure indicating the billing should be reserved for rock acts. When Jay-Z performs at the show he mockingly begins the show with a band singing Oasis's "Wonderwall" before proving the critics wrong with a well-received performance. Jay-Z is on better terms with another English band Coldplay, however and appears on a remix to their single "Lost." He releases "Brooklyn We Go Hard" featuring Santogold from the soundtrack of Biggie biopic Notorious. Jaz responds with another Jay-Z diss over the same track entitled "Go Harder" in response to Jay-Z dissing Jaz-O on Ludacris' Theater of the Mind album, continuing a lyrical back and forth between the two that has been ongoing for years. Jay-Z also appears o the remix of Young Jeezy's "My President."
Jay-Z performs the song "History" at the Neighborhood Ball after the inauguration of Barack Obama. He parts ways with long-time label Def Jam, at the cost of $5 million, but gains control of his future master recordings. Jay-Z performs "Swagga Like Us" at the Grammy Awards with Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I. and M.I.A. Chris Brown is charged with assaulting Rihanna on the same night as the awards ceremony and Jay-Z is reportedly upset with Brown. It is speculated that he blocks a performance by Brown at the BET Awards to honour Michael Jackson in the wake of his death months later, a charge he denies. He signs a deal with Atlantic to distribute The Blueprint 3 and then signs a deal with Sony for a new imprint called Roc Nation. Gwyneth Paltrow appears on Conan O'Brien's late night talk show and mentions that her son calls him "uncle Jay." A book called Decoded, where Jay-Z will discuss the inspiration behind his lyrics, is announced. Forbes releases a list of hip-hop's highest earners and Jay-Z is at the top, pegging his earnings between 2008 and 2009 at $35 million. Jay-Z releases the single "D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)" aiming criticism at the overuse of the Auto-Tune technology on R&B and hip-hop records, sparking debate. Responding to his name being mentioned a Blueprint 3 freestyle verse, The Game has become the latest rapper to diss Jay-Z. When the Beastie Boys pull out of the All Points West Music Festival due to a cancer diagnosis for group member Adam Yauch, Jay-Z takes their place and opens his show with a performance of "No Sleep Til Brooklyn." Jay-Z meets with Oprah Winfrey for an interview and the talk show host visits the Marcy Projects with the MC. Another new single entitled "Run This Town" surfaces, featuring Kanye West and Rihanna. While there were rumours of Jay-Z working with MGMT and Timbaland, the confirmed track listing for The Blueprint 3 includes Toronto rapper Drake, Kid Cudi and Alicia Keys among others. The Blueprint 3 is scheduled to be released on September 11, 2009, exactly eight years after Jay-Z released The Blueprint.