According to his mother Gloria Carter, a young Jay-Z used to wake his siblings up at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. Eventually, she bought him a boom box for his birthday and thus sparked his interest in music. He began freestyling, writing rhymes, and followed the music of many artists popular at the time. It is stated that he beat Busta Rhymes in a rap battle, but also has lost to DMX. On top of that, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member Bizzy Bone was snatched by his employer and taken to New York to battle Jay-Z; Bizzy reportedly was victorious in the battle.
In his neighborhood, Carter was known as "Jazzy", a nickname that eventually developed into his stage name, "Jay-Z". The moniker is also an homage to his musical mentor, Jaz-O (a.k.a. Jaz, Big Jaz), as well as to the J/Z subway lines that have a stop at Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jay-Z can be heard on several of Jaz-O's early recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie". He also collaborated with Inglewood, California producer Three-1-Zero. His career had a jump start when he battled a rapper by the name of Zai. The battle caught the eye of many record labels, as Jay-Z was able to hold his own against Zai. He also made an appearance on a popular song by Big L, "Da Graveyard", and on Mic Geronimo's "Time to Build", which also featured early appearances by DMX, Q-Man, Ja Rule and Shazim Hasan in 1995. His first official rap single was called "I Can't Get With That", for which he also released a music video.
Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Main article: Reasonable Doubt
From the beginning of his professional recording career, when no major label gave him a record deal, Dame Dash, Jay-Z, and Kareem Biggs created Roc-A-Fella Records as their own independent label. After striking a deal with Priority to distribute his material, Jay-Z released his 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt with beats from acclaimed producers such as DJ Premier and Clark Kent and a notable appearance by The Notorious B.I.G. Despite reaching only #23 on the Billboard 200, the album was a critical success.
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997)
Main article: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
After reaching a new distribution deal with Def Jam in 1997, Jay-Z released his follow-up In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Executive produced by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, it sold better than his previous effort. Jay-Z later explained that the album was made during one of the worst periods of his life. He was reeling from the death of his close friend The Notorious B.I.G. The album was a personal revelation for Jay-Z as he spun the tale of his hard knock upbringing. The album's glossy production stood as a contrast to his first release, and some dedicated fans felt he had "sold out". However, the album did feature some beats from producers who had worked with him on Reasonable Doubt, namely DJ Premier and Ski. Jay-Z mentioned on the YES Network's CenterStage show that if he could do one thing in his career over, it would be Vol. 1, claiming that "it [the cd] was this close to being a classic, but I put like, a few songs on there that ruined it." Two examples of what he was referring to are "I Know What Girls Like" and "(Always Be...