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Jay-Z is officially the richest man in hip-hop. Forbes Magazine has put him ahead of his contemporaries like P Diddy and 50 Cent. This is the story of how a young, enterprising drug peddler became rap royalty.

I would love to be Jay-Z for a day. In, fact I’m not so sure about what I would not give to be in his shoes for as little as a day. And now I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, the charm of being considered by most to be a legendary rapper and poet is something that I could easily get used to. Secondly, I would have loved to set up my own successful record label (Roc-A-Fella Records) only to then sell it to the most powerful hip-hop label in history, Def Jam Recordings. Following the sale, it would be an honor to accept their offer of heading the label as CEO and president. And having by now already racked up a good few million in cash, I would be compelled to continue.

I would then proceed to establish myself as a hardnosed businessman ~ having already given that a shot early in my life, but more of that later ~ by buying a stake in the professional basketball team the New Jersey Nets and purchasing posh properties that cost the heavens and earth put together. I would enthusiastically explore the nightclub business by opening some of my own and start my own designer clothing line only to, once again, sell it and this time not just for a few million but a few hundred million.

And all the while, hard work would be my key to the world and help me in raking in a lion’s share of my income through the release of my brilliant and successful multi-million selling albums and sell out live concerts. I would not stop and could not stop, until I was considered the most successful and richest hip-hop artist and entrepreneur in history. The world would look at my sophisticated transformation with a newfound respect. Publications would name me man of the year and my super successful goddess of a girlfriend and myself would be named among the 100 most influential people in the world. There would be a room in my mansion, only for my awards. I would have truly arrived and arrived in style.

Over the last decade, this is the world that Jay-Z has inhabited.

Rap Rags-to-Riches
He may now have ascended to the top rung of American nobility, but Jay-Z’s story plays out no differently from other hip-hop artists that you might be familiar with. He grew up in the less than privileged environment of Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects in New York where his father left when he was 12 and his mother was left to single-handedly bring him up with his three siblings. It was in high school that Jay-Z found, as he calls it, his “God-given talent” of being able to rap and rhyme. However, unlike most other rappers who start out at about the age of seventeen, Jay-Z would be a man of twenty-six before he would release his first album.

In the meanwhile, he let the leech of a stereotype that sticks to so many other African American kids growing up in similar circumstances stick to him. He quit high school to take to the streets and turn into an enterprising young drug dealer. His adventures and learning from this street life are often referred to in his songs. An interesting rap from the song No Hook from his latest album American Gangster goes, “Stay outta trouble, momma said, as momma sighed. Her fear her youngest son be a victim of homicide. But I gotta get you outta here momma, or I'mma die...inside.”

But while most of this decision to ‘deal’ was determined based on the impulsive get rich or die trying ethic, there was one positive outcome of his business dealings, the acquired skill of being street smart. This is a skill that would inform his every decision in the future. Right from recording his first album, to starting his own record label to release it to possibly buying a stake in the Nets. As it turns out, his street career in dealing drugs was his MBA degree.

His life might have been very different though, had he stuck to the game of dealing drugs and as he put it, it was like “playing Russian roulette” with your life, where you are bound to “crap out” at some point ~ which simply translates into, gambling with your life in a game that would eventually kill you. But Jay-Z was one of the lucky few. He was lucky to still be alive after dealing for as long as he had and he was lucky to be able to break into music at the age that he did. But he was not lucky when it came to his talent for rapping and poetry. There he was quite obviously gifted.

Over the course of his last fifteen album releases, ten of these being his own albums, Jay-Z has, time and again, conquered the awe and inspiration from audiences in every corner of the globe. He’s done this not only through his un-paralleled musical brilliance, but more so with his talent for rapping and rhyming which has earned him the accolades and the titles bestowed on a profound and renowned street poet.

American Gangster
This is exactly what his latest album and critically acclaimed masterpiece American Gangster showcases. His 10th solo album, and his first concept album, has been inspired by the film of the same name directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe. The film is based on the real life character of the 70’s drug lord Frank Lucas whose life story ran the entire gamut of street life as Jay-Z knew it. It focuses on the rise and fall of the Mafioso-type gangster, who eventually turned informer and ratted out his associates to help reduce his sentence. Lucas is 77 years old now and legend has it that, at the height of his career he was more powerful than the mafia and has been known to say that he could earn up to a $1 million a day selling drugs.
With, American Gangster he returns to what he does best i.e. making classic rap music. It’s a classic album to the say the least and has critics claiming it to be as great as, Reasonable Doubt.

You can read the rest of our feature on Jay-Z in the December 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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