JAY-Z, Shawn Carter, Hova, Jigga — however you know him as — just hit the 50-year milestone and what a life he’s had.
To celebrate, we over here at HipHopDX compiled 50 of his most memorable moments (and of the culture, truthfully).
1st Official Single “In My Lifetime” Drops In ‘95
These days, Hov is known for his luxurious tastes and overall pursuit of wealth, but back in 1995, Shawn Carter was just a young man from the hard streets of Brooklyn selling CDs with his friend Dame Dash. His first studio single, “In My Lifetime” shows off the wordplay and candid street knowledge that would be refined and harnessed when he dropped his debut album Reasonable Doubt a year later.
MSG “Retirement Concert”
JAY-Z held a 2003 retirement concert in New York City’s Madison Square Garden after The Black Album was billed as his last album (it wasn’t). The star-studded event featured performances by notable artists like Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé and more.
In June 2019, Jay-Z became Hip Hop’s first (actual) billionaire (and the richest music artist). That is all.
Water For Life
Teaming up with MTV and the United Nations in 2006, Jigga visited a few developing countries to interact with young individuals who lack access to safe water. After experiencing the six-plus miles needed to get clean water, he decided to fund a pipeline, which supplies three different villages today.
Photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images for Universal Music
Bringing Out Michael Jackson At 2001 Summer Jam
Sadly not caught on a modern camera, Hot 97’s 2001 Summer Jam was — by all accounts — the most epic in the festival’s history. For starters, JAY debuted “Takeover,” kicking off his Nas feud. However, he took things to another level when, after performing “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” which famously samples a young Michael Jackson, he went backstage and emerged with the King of Pop himself.
The Iconic Diss Track “Takeover”
The feud between JAY-Z and fellow New York MC Nas will go down as one of the most-storied beefs in rap history with a pivotal moment coming via the brutal “Takeover.” Originally, it was mostly a shot at Mobb Deep’s Prodigy with a short dig at Nas, but then Jay added a full verse to hit Nas Escobar where it hurts, thus re-energizing the Illmatic rapper to drop his own iconic response and making for a major moment in Hip Hop beef history.
JAY & Nas Squash Beef & Perform Together
It had taken years, but finally, in 2005, at Power 105.1’s Powerhouse concert, the beef between two of the greatest MCs to ever pick up the mic came to an end. Fans in attendance were shocked when Nas came down to the stage, shaking hands with Jigga and performing “Dead Presidents” together, officially ending one of Hip Hop’s most publicized feuds ever.
In the late 90s, Hip Hop fashion hit a new peak when rappers began unleashing their own clothing lines to the masses. Hov and Damon Dash dipped their feet into the fashion game when they released the Rocawear clothing line. The venture proved to be lucrative; Hov sold off the brand in 2007 for over $200 million (and recently settled a related lawsuit).
Partnering with Budweiser
If you’re going to come out of retirement, you have to do it with a bang — or bud. To commemorate the release of Kingdom Come, Jay became Anheuser-Busch’s first celebrity endorser when he was named co-brand director.
Owning The Dynasty Sign
Neither Delta Sigma Theta Sorority or Diamond Dallas Page could obtain the reach Hov and Roc-A-Fella Records achieved by telling the world to get their Merkel-Raute on.
Elite 8 At Barclays Center
There was no way JAY-Z was going to miss being apart of the grand opening of the Barclays Center in 2013. The legend opened the venue’s doors with eight sold-out solo shows in eight nights.
King Hov Marries His Queen
The definition of power couple should just be changed to JAY-Z and Beyoncé. Two titans of music, culture and business tied the knot after keeping their relationship mostly hidden from the public eye, despite some rumors. As the years go on, it seems only fitting that the two superstars would end up together with April 2020 marking the 13-year anniversary of matrimony.
“Grammy Family Freestyle”
As the president of Def Jam, JAY-Z was criticized for the mismanagement of artists on the label. He stopped by Funkmaster Flex’s show on Hot 97 in 2006 to clear the air and later unleashed one of the best freestyles in his celebrated career.
Photo: Larry Busacca/PW/WireImage
Rocking The U.K.
JAY-Z does what he wants and no one can tell him what to do. This was made apparent when he served as the headliner for the 2008 Glastonbury Festival. He opened his set — with a guitar in tow — performing a rendition of the Oasis hit “Wonderwall.” The move angered the band’s frontman Noel Gallagher, who felt Hip Hop had no place at the festival.
Co-Owning NBA’s Nets
In 2004, JAY-Z, Bruce Ratner and a group of prominent rich guys bought the New Jersey Nets, eventually moving the franchise to Brooklyn. J-Hova ended up selling his shares in 2013, but his initial involvement changed the NBA landscape forever.
The S. Carter Collection
Believe it or not, JAY-Z dropped his first mixtape seven years after his debut album Reasonable Doubt. Serving as the warm-up to The Black Album, The S. Carter Collection was a lyrical exercise for Hov who rapped all over instrumentals from 50 Cent, Joe Budden, Pharrell and more and is one of the best freebies of all-time.
Schooling — & Funding — The Youth
JAY-Z’s philanthropic efforts shined bright in November 2019 when he held his first Shawn Carter Foundation Gala geared towards helping college students. The star-studded event raised a total of $6 million dollars, which will contribute to study abroad programs, scholarships, college prep workshops and more.
Throughout the 90s, Cristal was Hip Hop’s sophisticated drink of choice until the company’s manager Frederic Rouzad scoffed at the rappers who guzzled it up. And then Jay happened; single-handedly telling the world to down Ace of Spades champagne while rubbing out Cristal in the process.
Squashing Jaz-O Beef At 4:44 Concert
Jaz-O once served as a mentor to JAY-Z, but when the student eventually became the teacher (more specifically when Jaz refused to sign to Roc-A-Fella Records for $300,000), a long-standing war of words ensued. But time heals all wounds, and the two reconnected during a 2017 4:44 Tour stop. Later that year, Jaz confirmed he signed a distribution deal with Roc Nation for his Kingz Kounty Media Group.
In 2005, JAY-Z (along with Diddy) showed his support for victims of Hurricane Katrina by making a generous donation of $1 million dollars to the American Red Cross.
Photo: George Pimentel/WireImage
Hov & Ye Combine For Watch The Throne
When Watch The Throne dropped back in 2011, it wasn’t merely just another record added to Jigga’s discography, it was a moment. There have been some crazy crossovers this decade, but none like JAY-Z and Kanye West, two legends of Hip Hop coming together and delivering a project that lived up to expectations.
Linking With Linkin Park
Hip Hop has always had a soft spot for rock music and JAY-Z made that connection clearer when he dropped a collaborative EP with Linkin Park in 2004. Collision Course topped the Billboard 200 and produced only one single in “Numb/Encore” which won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
Dodging 15-Year Bid For Stabbing Lance “Un” Rivera
During the 1999 album release party for Q-Tip’s Amplified, JAY nearly ended his career after an altercation with Lance “Un” Rivera (which stemmed from allegations that Un had leaked Vol. 3… Life And Times Of S. Carter) ended in the mogul getting stabbed. The rapper turned himself in days later and was facing 15 years; however thanks to defense lawyer Murray Richman (who also worked the Shyne case), he took a plea deal and was sentenced to three years probation. Teflon Hov!
The Triple Entendre
Ever the insightful lyricist, Jay ensured Drake knew he wasn’t a slouch when he spit, “Oww/hoes turn they heads like owls/ I’m the man of the hour” on their 2010 cut, “Light Up.” While not the strongest of punchlines, you gotta appreciate the effort.
Shawn Carter never suited up in a professional sports team uniform but in 2003, Reebok still deemed it appropriate he have his own shoe — the S. Carter. They were right with their assumptions; 10,000 pairs were reportedly sold within the first few hours.
In February 2019, JAY-Z won his 22nd Grammy, padding his total for the most of any rapper.
The Famous Subway Ride
As part of his documentary Where I’m From, the billionaire superstar decided to take the subway in Brooklyn garnering mass attention on the New York transit. But once on the train, Jigga sat next to an elderly woman named Ellen Grossman who wasn’t as familiar with his fame, leading to a wholesome viral moment.
Launch Of Streaming Service TIDAL
Shawn Carter had already invested in a bevy of industries from professional sports to fashion, but the billionaire’s next conquest ended up being the streaming game. TIDAL’s goal was to put the power and revenue back in the artist’s hands while also delivering a high-definition listening experience, leading to snagging exclusive content like Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo and Rihanna’s ANTI upon their release. Today, the service doesn’t hold as many exclusives but continues operation focusing on music, video and podcast streaming.
Expanding To Roc Nation Sports
In 2013, to accompany the burgeoning Roc Nation label, Hov expanded his empire to sports management, making it official by signing New York Yankees All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano. To date, he has supreme clientele in the NBA, NFL and MLB.
Photo: Jon Super/Redferns
Battling DMX In The Bronx
During a rap battle that has since gone the way of urban folklore, a young JAY-Z and DMX duked it out in a Bronx pool hall during the early 90s. It resulted in a split decision, depending on who you ask, but it was one of the first instances where Hov’s hunger gained credibility.
Despite a myriad of criticism, Jigga and Roc Nation partnered with the NFL in August 2019 for their music and social justice program. His vision is longer than 50 football fields.
Hov Meets Nardwuar
It took over 10 years but after The Human Serviette famously impressed the hell out of Pharrell Williams, Nardwuar landed an interview with JAY-Z. The interview was stilted and short, but the mere fact that these two finally got together makes for a notable crossover in the free world.
Fighting The People’s Battles
When an Arizona family was held at gunpoint by overzealous police officers over a “stolen” toy, JAY enlisted the services of an attorney to represent the family and their right to justice. Humanitarians care about humanity, b.
Hard Knock Life Tour
Ten years after the last joint Hip Hop tour, Jigga defied the odds and brought along DMX, Ja Rule, Method Man, Redman, and more for one of the genre’s biggest tours at the time: 1999’s Hard Knock Life Tour. The tour ranked in $18 million at a time where critics felt there was no room for an all-out Hip Hop concert.
Tweeting Hip Hop Greatness
It’s no secret that JAY-Z isn’t big on social media so when he hopped on Twitter the night he was inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame it was a moment to be remembered. In a series of tweets, Jay thanked over 90 rappers past and present for their contributions and influences on him including Big Daddy Kane, Kanye West, Drake, Playboi Carti and more.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Magna Carta, Holy Grail may arguably be Jay’s worst album but may also have the most grandiose rollout. Before streaming was a common occurrence, Jay partnered with Samsung to release the album for its users, essentially laying waste to the album release cycle as we know it. (Wifey Beyoncé finished it off with her surprise self-titled release later that year.)
Although Hov’s stint as Def Jam President was far from perfect, he did manage to groom the celebrity of a singer named Rihanna. Perhaps you heard of her?
Back when Jigga was still earning his stripes, he had a nice, nifty freestyle he used to kick at his shows — and then it went viral at Maria Davis’ Mad Wednesdays event before going viral was even a thing. For you smart, dumb individuals out there, he mentions the number two or “too” twenty-two times in the song.
Dissing George Zimmerman
As a tenured street pharmacist, JAY-Z told us first hand how the streets stay watching and talking. But when XXXTENTACION was murdered at the age of 20, Hov did some deducting reasoning and deemed the streets were no more on Drake’s 2018 track “Talk Up” when he spit, “Y’all killed X, let Zimmerman live, streets is done.”
Photo: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Spearheading Meek Mill’s Prison Release
After Meek Mill was sentenced to serve prison time for probation violation in November 2017, JAY became his most outspoken supporter — using his case to point a much-needed spotlight on unfair sentencing as well as borderline oppressive probationary practices in the United States. The two have since joined the REFORM Alliance, which has a mandate to free one million prisoners in five years.
JAY-Z has the most Billboard 200 chart-topping solo albums with 14. That is all.
JAY-Z’s business ventures didn’t stop at Rocawear, Roc Nation, or Roc Nation Sports. Like his fellow contemporaries Diddy and 50 Cent, he too expanded his enterprise through alcohol with D’usse cognac — served a bar near you.
Blue Ivy’s Birth
Fatherhood is always a big deal in life and for JAY-Z the birth of his first daughter Blue Ivy changed the man known for rapping about cash, money, hoes. To welcome her to the world, Hov had the Empire State Building lit up blue and even put her on a track at two days old. He and his wife, Queen B Beyonce grew to a family of five in 2017 when she gave birth to twins daughter, Rumi and son, Sir.
Securing His Masters
Being the brilliant mind he is, JAY-Z was able to negotiate the return of all his masters (which generate roughly $5 million a year) when he signed on for his stint at the president of Def Jam. That, of course, was on top of his eight-figure salary.
Reuniting With Beanie Sigel
After a falling out that Beanie Sigel told Forbez DVD stemmed from an altercation with one of JAY’s bodyguards, the two were engaged in a fairly one-sided beef, with Mack spitting some insanely vicious diss records towards his former friend. With water under the bridge, JAY reunited with Beans to perform some classics during his B-Sides concert much to the excitement of a New York City audience.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Everything Is Love
Though JAY and Beyonce had hit collaborations, it always seemed like a missed opportunity that one of the genre’s most powerful couples never released a full-length body of work. Well, that all ended in June of 2018 when they blindsided the world with 2018’s Everything Is Love, an album that was, is and always will be one of the greatest family affairs in Hip Hop.
Keeping Prince’s Music Streaming
JAY’s relationship with Prince carried well into The Purple One’s death. TIDAL was the first to obtain the late musician’s music and they still hold the rights to a few exclusive works of art as well.
Signing Westside Gunn & Benny To Roc Nation
JAY is known to put his chips on the right horses. He recently continued that streak when he signed Benny The Butcher and Westside Gunn to a management deal with Roc Nation. The move not only puts Griselda on a new playing field but proves that JAY’s ear and ability to see the bigger picture is as sharp as ever.
Jet Ski JAY-Z
No rapper is too cool for the internet’s wrath and JAY-Z learned that firsthand in 2018 when a photo of jet skiing during a family vacation got memed to death. It was all in social media jest.
“Empire State Of Mind” Becomes JAY-Z’s 1st No. 1 Single
Despite all of Mr. Carter’s success, there was one accomplishment he hadn’t yet reached, a Billboard Hot 100 #1 single. That changed in 2009 with the Alicia Keys- backed Big Apple ode “Empire State of Mind,” which spent five consecutive weeks in the number one spot.
Sound off with your favorite JAY-Z moment!
Contributors: Trent Clark, Amber Corrine, Mark Elibert, Josh Svetz, Riley Wallace