Embodying the rags-to-riches rap dream, Jay-Z pulled himself up by his bootstraps as a youth to eventually become the reigning rapper of New York City and, in turn, a major-label executive following his short-lived retirement from music-making. In the wake of his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z's albums sold millions upon millions with each release, and his endless parade of hits made him omnipresent on urban radio and video television. He retained a strongly devoted fan base and challenged whatever rivals attempted to oust him from atop the rap game, sparring most memorably with Nas. Jay-Z and his Roc-a-Fella associates greatly influenced the industry and established many of the trends that pervaded during the late '90s and early 2000s. He consistently worked with the hottest producers of the day (Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Teddy Riley, Trackmasters, Erick Sermon, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz), and if they weren't hot at the time, they likely would be afterward (the Neptunes, Kanye West, Just Blaze, 9th Wonder). He similarly collaborated with the hottest rappers in the industry, everyone from East Coast contemporaries like the Notorious B.I.G. ("Brooklyn's Finest") and DMX ("Cash, Money, Hoes"), to the best rappers from the South (Ludacris, Missy Elliott) and the West Coast (Snoop Dogg, Too Short). After his self-declared retirement from rapping in 2003, he assumed the presidency of the seminal rap label Def Jam and, as an industry executive, embarked on another phase in his illustrious career.
Born in 1969 and raised in the rough Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, New York, Jay-Z underwent some tough times after his father left his mother before the young rapper was even a teen. Without a man in the house, he became a self-supportive youth, turning to the streets, where he soon made a name for himself as a fledging rapper. Known as "Jazzy" in his neighborhood, he soon shortened his nickname to Jay-Z and did all he could to break into the rap game. As he vividly discusses