How Jay-Z Went From Music Mogul to Sports Agent
A timeline of the life and career of Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter, who transformed himself into a $450-million brand.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Jay-Z. Jay-Hova. Jiggaman. Shawn Carter, known for the better part of two decades by these stage names, first earned fame as a rapper in the mid-1990s and has since built a business empire that has included a record label, a clothing line and a minority stake in the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, on top of his own record sales and concert performances. At 43, he remains one of the premier hip-hop artists in the world. Twelve of his albums have hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 list, more than any other solo artist.
Jay-Z's latest venture is sports agency Roc Nation Sports, a division of his entertainment company Roc Nation. His first client: top New York Yankees player Robinson Cano. Ahead of a contract negotiation that could command as much as $200 million over the next several years, Cano announced on Tuesday he was dropping legendary sports agent Scott Boras to sign with Jay-Z. With friends like baseball star Alex Rodriguez and basketball king LeBron James, Jay-Z is well positioned to enter the world of sports.
Long before he was a diversified entertainment mogul worth an estimated $450 million, Jay-Z was a high-school dropout trying to make a name for himself freestyle rapping. Some highlights from his remarkable rags-to-riches story follow.
1969: Shawn Carter is born in a housing project in the notorious Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. His formative experiences here and in the three high schools he attended -- one of which he shared with future rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes -- would form the autobiographical basis of many future lyrics. He never finishes high school, and for a time he deals drugs while simultaneously trying to break into the rap game.
Related: John McAfee, From Tech Pioneer to Murder Suspect
1989: Carter's street nickname, Jazzy, evolves into his stage name, Jay-Z. The name is partly in homage to his hip-hop mentor, Jaz-O, and partly a reference to the J/Z subway lines that stop near his home in the Marcy Projects.
1995: Unable to get a major label interested in his music, Jay-Z -- who by now has begun to make a name for himself by freestyle rapping -- forms record label Roc-A-Fella with friends Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke. It will later become one of the most legendary labels in hip-hop.
1996: Jay-Z releases his first rap album, Reasonable Doubt, at age 26. "[It] had all these emotions and complexities and layers that a typical hip-hop album wouldn't have if you were making it at 16 [or] 17 years old," he said. "That isn't enough wealth of experience to share with the world." It reaches No. 23 on the Billboard chart.
1997: Island Def Jam acquires a 50 percent stake in Roc-A-Fella for $1.5 million.
1999: With Roc-A-Fella partner Dash, Jay-Z creates clothing brand Rocawear. Eventually it will offer multiple lines of apparel and accessories. "My brands are an extension of me," Jay-Z later tells Men's Health. "They're close to me. It's not like running GM, where there's no emotional attachment."
2001: Days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Jay-Z releases his sixth album, The Blueprint. It is now considered a classic of the genre, and in 2012 Rolling Stone ranked it No. 252 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
2003: Jay-Z releases The Black Album, ostensibly his final record before retirement. However, in one track, "Encore," he hints at a future comeback. The line "when I come back like Jordan wearing the four-five" references Michael Jordan's return to basketball, when he initially wore a No. 45 jersey.
Related: Shaquille O'Neal on What Inspires His Business Decisions
2004: After his retirement from making solo records, Jay-Z collaborates with other entertainers and becomes involved in philanthropy. In December, news breaks that he and his partners have sold their remaining stakes in Roc-A-Fella to parent label Def Jam for $10 million. Jay-Z is tapped as president and CEO of Def Jam Records.
2007: Jay-Z sells the rights to the Rocawear brand -- but not his equity stake -- to Iconix Brand Group for $204 million in cash. At this point, Rocawear is doing more than $700 million in annual retail sales. He continues to oversee marketing and product development.
2008: In January, Jay-Z steps down from Def Jam to launch new venture Roc Nation, a diversified entertainment company that today represents artists like Rihanna and Shakira. Months later, he marries longtime girlfriend Beyonce Knowles, forming one of the music industry's ultimate power couples. Jay-Z is featured on her songs "Crazy in Love" and "That's How You Like It" from her solo album Dangerously in Love.
2010: Jay-Z publishes his memoir, Decoded. In the book, he reflects on his childhood, his success and the significance of rap music. He also discusses what he sees as the special contributions he and his fellow hip-hop artists can make to the larger culture. "Artists can have greater access to reality; they can see patterns and details and connections that other people, distracted by the blur of life, might miss," he writes. "Just sharing that truth can be a very powerful thing."
2012: Daughter Blue Ivy Carter is born to Beyonce and Jay-Z in January, and he dedicates the song "Glory" to her. Later that year, Forbes staff writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg publishes his Jay-Z biography, Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office, charting his rise from a teenage drug dealer to a successful businessman. Forbes pegs Jay-Z's net worth at more than $450 million, making him one of the wealthiest men in hip-hop.
2013: Jay-Z announces his new sports agency, Roc Nation Sports, and its first client, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.
Related: The Secrets of 7 Badass Brands