Jay Z: from the projects to prosperity


Jay Z is one of the phenomenal success stories that have emerged from the hip-hop genre. This genre is more than a musical category, and although initially created as a subculture, it has morphed into mainstream culture and its influence is pervasive across the globe.

The 4 main pillars that often identify the culture are: 1. MCing (rapping), 2. DJing (playing music), 3. Graffiti (visual art), 4. B-boying (breakdancing). Other elements are often added, however the main four provide the foundation for the culture.

The origins of hip-hop are located in areas that are known as projects, and this is public housing for families and communities with a low-income. Often the people in these communities are left to survive in the most testing circumstances and many turn to crime, prostitution, hustling and other ways to pay for their lives.

Jay Z whose real name is Shawn Carter was born in 1969 into this environment in Brooklyn, New York. The specific area was called Marcy Projects, named after the 18th century statesman William Marcy. Jay Z was raised by his mother and she loved music and he received a musical education from a young age in the funk and jazz genres of music while being influenced by artists such as Stevie Wonder and James Brown.

He had troubled experiences as a youngster and turned to selling crack-cocaine, which was one of the most lethal drugs that ravaged the communities of low-income people, it is said to be highly addictive and this leads to an incredibly high demand for the product. During the 1980s a ‘crack epidemic’ hit the streets of impoverished neighbourhoods ‘hoods’ of cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami which meant that many communities became places of terror.

The environment around him influenced his lyrical content and would enable him to connect with the street communities of other places. Jay Z would interact with artists such as LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane and others as he developed his style. He used his drive to try and get a record deal but the doors of record companies were closed to him.

‘I was forced to be an artist and a CEO from the beginning, so I was forced to be like a businessman because when I was trying to get a record deal, it was so hard to get a record deal on my own that it was either give up or create my own company.’ – Jay-Z

He hustled and sold CDs out of his car to get his music heard, then in 1995 he team up with Damon ‘Dame’ Dash and Kareem Biggs to create Roc-A-Fella Records and released his first album entitled ‘Reasonable Doubt’ which he released in 1996.

Jay Z speaks about the conflict of having an initial album that comes from his heart and does not sell a huge amount, and trying to sell an album to the masses by making music that he isn’t passionate about.

In this documentary it illuminates the rise of Jay Z with the additional commentary with Oprah Winfrey and others around him at the time.

Jay Z has an estimated net worth in excess of $600 million and it is growing at a steady rate. His work ethic is admirable and he has overcome tremendous odds to achieve his success, and he is not finished yet. Now as half of one of the most influential marriages with Beyonce Knowles, that puts their estimated net worth at around $1 billion.

Jay Z has received a great deal of criticism from a number of angles and a great deal of controversy has surrounded his fortune and his ties to powerful networks and corporations. Another source of criticism has come from a number of people that says that he does not do enough for the Black community or the impoverished neighbourhoods where he came from.

There is more to be said, and the pages of this story are still being written as we speak, so time will tell what the real legacy will be.


Jay Z: The Rise to Success

Entrepreneur: Jay Z

Channel: Vybo

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