Widely regarded as one the greatest rappers of all time, Jay-Z (born Shawn Carter) is one of Hip Hop's most successful entrepreneurs as well as one of its most innovative and influential artists. Such landmark Jay-Z albums as 1999's Reasonable Doubt, 2001's The Blueprint, and 2003's The Black Album — all included in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time — are widely regarded as landmarks of the genre.
The 17-time Grammy winner is one of the best-selling artists in any genre, with more than 75 million records sold. He holds the record for most No. 1 albums by a solo artist, having topped the Billboard chart with 13 successive releases. A co-founder of the seminal Roc-A-Fella label, he also served a four-year stint as president of Def Jam Recordings. Jay-Z's stature as musical royalty is underlined by his marriage to fellow superstar Beyonce.
Growing up in a fatherless family in a housing project in Brooklyn, New York, Carter attended high school with fellow future rappers the Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes. According to his own rhymes, he was involved in selling crack and was shot three times. His budding interest in music was sparked after his mother gave him a boombox for his birthday. He guested on releases by Big Daddy Kane, Big L, and Mic Geronimo before making his solo debut with the 1995 single "In My Lifetime." Unable to get a record deal, Jay-Z initially sold records out of his car, before launching the independent Roc-A-Fella Records with Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs in 1995.
Jay-Z's first album, 1996's Reasonable Doubt, became a hit, winning him a deal with Def Jam. The 1997 followup In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 became his first platinum seller. The following year's Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life was an even bigger hit, selling five million copies, spotlighting the artist's increasingly sophisticated verbiage, and spawning a major hit in "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)."
More multiplatinum releases — The Dynasty: Roc La Familia,The Blueprint ,The Blueprint2: The Gift & the Curse, The Black Album, and the Jay-Z/R. Kelly collaboration The Best of Both Worlds — followed before Jay-Z's 2003 announcement that he was retiring from making albums. He celebrated his ostensible retirement with a star-studded Madison Square Garden charity concert that became the focus of his feature film Fade to Black.
Retirement or not, Fade to Black was followed by various one-offs and side projects, as well as Unfinished Business, his second collaborative album with R. Kelly. In 2004, Jay-Z collaborated with the Rock band Linkin Park on the million-selling remix/mashup EP Collision Course, which featured mashups of both artists' songs. In 2004, Jay-Z was named president of Def Jam Records, as well as taking complete control of Roc-A-Fella.
In November 2006, Jay-Z released the comeback album Kingdom Come, which returned him to multiplatinum sales status, followed a year later by the ambitious and partially autobiographical concept album American Gangster. In January 2008, he stepped down as Def Jam president; the following year, he stopped recording for the label to move to his own newly-formed StarRoc imprint. In 2010, Jay-Z and Kanye West released the collaborative Watch the Throne, which broke iTunes' record for most albums sold in one week. Jay-Z's twelfth studio album, Magna Carta… Holy Grail, arrived in 2013, featuring collaborations with Nas, Drake, and Justin Timberlake.