Jay wanted to bring a NASA space shuttle with him on his 2011 ‘Watch the Throne’ world tour with Kanye West as a stage prop. Plans were scuppered when his management discovered the cost of buying and transporting the shuttle, not to mention the small fact that, at 180 feet tall, it wouldn’t fit into a single venue on the tour. D’oh.
The 560 State Street address in Harlem that Jay used to deal from has become an unlikely tourist hotspot after referencing the location in his 2010 single, ‘Empire State of Mind’ . Those shady wrong-doings didn’t get in the way of the aspiring rapper’s manners though. “He would nod his head to you in the hallway. He’d open the door for you,” remembers neighbour Nathan Dudley.
Jay incurred the wrath of Occupy Wall Street protestors in 2011 when, weeks after appearing to support the movement, his Rocawear clothing company started selling $22 t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Occupy All Streets’, pocketing the proceeds for themselves. “Occupy All Streets is our way of reminding people that there is change to be made everywhere, not just on Wall Street,” Rocawear said.
He went to the same school as Notorious B.I.G and Busta Rhymes at Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn, New York.
Jay maintained a close friendship with B.I.G and spoke on the phone with the rap icon the night he was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1997.
It was at Westinghouse he lost a rap contest judged by LL Cool J aged 15. He got his revenge years later, however, beating Cool J in a rap battle
Jay was something of a child prodigy. By the sixth grade, he was testing at a twelfth grade level, according to a former teacher.
In 2011, Georgetown University began a course entitled “Sociology of Hip-Hop — Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z.” But it’s no walk in the park, says course convenor Michael Eric Dyson. “This is not a class meant to sit around and go, ‘Oh man, those lyrics were dope.’
Jay never writes his raps down, writing them in his head and memorising them before entering the recording studio.
For his 1996 album ‘Reasonable Doubt’, he practiced saying the word “opium” for an hour to perfect his delivery on ‘Regrets’
When The Roots were unable to get a Radiohead sample cleared for their 2006 album ‘Game Theory’, threatening to delay the record’s release, friend of the hip-hop group and former label boss Hova spoke to Thom Yorke directly, taking just five minutes to resolve the matter. “I had to use Jay-Z and the bat signal,” drummer ?uestlove recalls. “Jay-Z is like Mr. Wolf in Pulp Fiction.”
Maybe while on the phone, Jay and Thom had a chance to discuss ‘Jaydiohead’, a 2009 mash-up album created in the two acts’ honour by New York producer Max Tannone, formerly known as Minty Fresh Beats.
That’s not the only Jay-Z mash-up album – Danger Mouse’s ‘The Grey Album’, colliding Jay’s ‘Black Album’ with the Beatles’ ‘The White Album’, is crediting with boosting mash-up culture into the mainstream.
During his days as a street hustler, Jay carried a gun in a VHS box.
You know you’re doing alright when the leader of the free world has your albums blaring in the Oval Office. US President Barack Obama is a known fan of Jay, even imitating the rapper’s ‘Dirt off your Shoulder’ moves at a 2008 rally. The feeling’s more than mutual, with Jay reworking ’99 Problems’ as a Mitt Romney diss track to help with Obama’s 2012 campaign for re-election.
Barack’s not Jay’s only friend in high places – he’s also tight with former President Bill Clinton, who from time to time eats in his New York eatery, the Spotted Pig. It can only be a matter of time till the former President breaks out his famous saxophone skills on one of Jay’s tracks, right?
Not everyone knows who he is, however. Watch him explain his fame to an elderly lady.
Jay had a close relationship with Michael Jackson, guesting on the ‘Bad’ singer’s 2001 track, ‘You Rock My World’. Jackson later returned the favour, lending uncredited vocals to ‘Girls Girls Girls’ from ‘The Blueprint’ before his death in 2009. The rapper and wife Beyonce are currently said to be weighing up buying Jackson’s abandoned Neverland estate.
Label executives expected ‘The Blueprint’ to flop after its release on September 11, 2001 coincided with the 9/11 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks. Instead, it sold 420,000 copies in its first week, and become lauded as “escape and solace” for New Yorkers following the attacks.
New Yorker Jay was in LA shooting the video for ‘Girls Girls Girls’ when the 9/11 attacks took place. “I just remember waking up in LA and thinking everybody was playing, like ‘That can’t be,’ then turning on the TV and it looked like something from one of those apocalyptic movies,” he remembers.
According to Forbes, Jay is the second wealthiest rap artist on the planet, with a net worth of $475 million. He’s beaten only by Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, whose net worth rose to $550 million in 2012 after a 122% spike in sales of his Ciroc vodka.
Jay has only tweeted 46 times, but that hasn’t stopped him amassing almost 2,500,000 followers on the social media platform – that’s 56,461 followers he’s accumulated for every tweet.
Jay decided to open his 2008 Glastonbury set with a cover of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’ only an hour before going onstage. Noel Gallagher, who had previously called the rapper “wrong” for the festival, described the cover as “pretty funny”.
One of the rapper’s biggest influences is not musical, but Greek literary epic Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, which he describes as having a “beautiful rhythm”.
His favourite movie, meanwhile, is a toss-up between ‘The Godfather’ and ‘True Romance’.
Jay rush-released his 2006 comeback album ‘Kingdom Come’, after an attempt to retire a year previous, to save infamous hip-hop label Def Jam. The one-time Def Jam president was made to record the album after shows on a world tour in Africa and Australia when sales dwindled so badly for the imprint it faced closure. The record was a financial success, but is accepted as his worst in quality.
Only 20 fans turned up to one of his first shows away from the East Coast in 1996, in a 100-capacity Las Vegas theatre.
Jay once guested on a track by ’90s Brit garage crooners Another Level, ‘Be Alone No More’.
Jay-Z can travel through time. Or is a vampire. Or something.
The name ‘Jay-Z’ is a contraction of the word “jazzy”, although many claim it also references the J/Z subway line he would ride to his spot selling drugs in his hustling days.
Aged 12, Jay shot his younger brother in an argument over a ring. “I thought my life was over. I thought I’d go to jail for ever,” the rapper remembers. His brother, addicted to crack at the time of the shooting, did not press charges and apologised to his little brother for his addiction when the future star visited him in hospital.
He caused U2 to delay the release of ‘Songs of Ascent’. “One night I ran into Bono and he told me he read an interview I’d done,” he says. “The writer had asked me about a U2 record that had just been released and I said something about the pressure a group like that must be under just to meet their own standards. He said that the quote had really gotten to him.”
To clear the ‘Annie’ sample on his ’98 track ‘Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)’, Jay lied to composer Charles Strouse, telling him that he’d seen the musical on Broadway as a child and written a competition-winning essay on it at school.
The rapper is consistently linked to the Illuminati, with numerous websites online dedicated to the study of alleged references to the shadowy cult group in Jay’s rhymes, videos and album covers.
Among musical discoveries signed to Jay’s Roc Nation label are Rihanna, Rita Ora and, err, the Ting Tings.
In 2013, Jay began expanding his Roc Nation empire into sports, establishing an agency for players from the world of NBA and beyond. His current target, according to newspaper reports, is Brazilian football superstar Neymar, recently signed to Barcelona.
Jay’s feud with fellow Nas, one of the most infamous rap rivalries, was so fierce, Nas once attempted to hang a specially-created silicone effigy of the ‘Blueprint’ man at a 2002 show.
Few co-headline tours in history have been as catastrophically as Jay’s 2004 jaunt with R. Kelly, in promotion of their joint LP ‘Best of Both Worlds’. After Kelly’s behaviour grew ever more erratic, the R&B crooner was bumped from the tour, and was pepper-sprayed by a member of Jay-Z’s entourage trying to climb onstage at a later show.
Both Jay and R. Kelly were tricked into making that album in the first place by Samuel ‘Tone’ Barnes of long-time collaborators Trackmasters, who told him that R. Kelly wanted to make an album, and at the same time, told R. Kelly that Jay wanted to make an album.
Jay’s relationship with Trackmasters, who produced early cuts including ‘Jigga That Nigga’ and ‘Wishing on a Star’, began after betting he could beat the pair at NFL computer game ‘Madden’.
“I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one,” rapped the superstar on his smash single ’99 Problems’ – but, contrary to popular belief and complaints from women’s rights groups, the “bitch” is a reference to a police sniffer dog.
At one stage early in his career Jay had his own dedicated police tail, who would follow the rapper as part of an operation by the New York Gang Intelligence Unit.
Paul McCartney knighted Jay “Sir Hova of Brooklyn” during a performance together at the 2006 Grammys – but their collaboration almost didn’t happen after the rapper was struck by stage fright, according to the Beatle.
Jay is the third best-selling rap artist of all time, with more than 28m sales worldwide, beaten only by Eminem and Tupac. His ‘Vol 2: Hard Knock Life’ LP has sold more than 5.4m in the US alone, making it one of the biggest rap records ever.
That album won a Grammy award, but Jay wasn’t there to collect it – he’d boycotted the event after DMX wasn’t nominated for a single award.
‘Empire State of Mind’, Jay’s biggest single with 3 Grammy nominations and platinum sales across the world, staying at Number 1 in the US Billboard chart for five consecutive weeks, was written by industry songwriters Jane’t “Jnay” Sewell-Ulepi and Angela Hunte, who coincidently grew up in the same building Jay-Z once lived in.
It was Kanye West who told Jay to write a song rebelling against auto-tune – despite using it liberally on his own ‘808s and Heartbreak’ album. “Kanye was like, ‘No, Jay, you’re 40-something, you need to be the anti to all this other shit that’s going on. You need to be like, ‘No, fuck Auto-Tune and all of that,’” says ‘Blueprint 3’ producer Young Guru.
Jay’s father died on the opening night of his first ‘40/40’ nightclub on 25th Street, New York. He had struggled with alcoholism.
Hova has his own colour. The rapper recruited designers to create a new hue especially for him in 2005, for use with a new range of branded products including jeeps and motorboats. It’s a silverfish colour, with tiny flecks of platinum.
In 2012, Jigga released a Facebook game based on his own life. ‘Empire’ lets you “go from hustler, to entrepreneur, to business mogul” with a few clicks of your mouse button.