People love a success story, especially when the person succeeding overcomes incredible odds on the way to wealth and fame. And there is hardly a more “rags to riches” story in America today, that that of one Shawn Corey Carter. Carter, now known as Jay Z, grew up in a broken home the ghetto, earned money as a teen by selling drugs, and had scrapes with the law both minor and not so minor. He overcame all that and now has a net worth of over half a billion dollars.
Shawn Carter was born in Brooklyn, NY, the youngest of four children. His family lived in the Mercy Projects of the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, which was then in the throes of racial unrest. Growing up in a Bed-Stuy project of the 1970s was certainly not the most pleasant of experiences. Poverty was rampant – not only in the projects, but throughout the neighborhood – and it must have seemed to a young person that it was truly a dead end and forgotten place. And then, when Shawn was 11 years old, his father walked out on the family.
It’s really no surprise that young Jazzy, as he had become known, flirted with the darker elements of society. To an adolescent, the risks of selling drugs, which Jazzy did, must have seemed insignificant compared to the easy money to be made. While he did well in school, he didn’t see a benefit to attending, and eventually dropped out without graduating. He did get to know some people while in school that would later be beneficial to his life – namely, Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes.
The rap scene was burgeoning during Jazzy’s adolescence, and he quickly realized that his natural talent for rhythm and rhyme could be his ticket out of the ghetto. This led to his recording debut at age 20, backing up his rap mentor Jay-O. By this time, “Jazzy” had become “Jay-Z”, possibly (there are conflicting accounts) in part as tribute to his mentor. Jay-Z had more and more recording and live performance opportunities, slowly moving from backup to backing to filling to featured artist, and he earned extra money by selling his CDs out of the trunk of his car.
Then, in 1995, he partnered with two other artists to form the Roc-A-Fella recording label. Now that he had his own label, he was able to negotiate a distribution deal which led to the release of his debut solo album in 1996. It was a success with the critics and the public alike, making it all the way to #23 on the Billboard charts.
Jay-Z, along with one of his recording label partners, parleyed their successes into the launching of a subsidiary clothing line, Rocawear. He eventually bought his Rocawear partner, and then later sold the company for more than $200 million. At the same time, his recording career was becoming more and more lucrative.
For more on Jay Z’s incredible life, visit jayzsnetworth.