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 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.
Jay was something of a child prodigy. By the sixth grade, he was testing at a twelfth grade level, according to a former teacher.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.