Photo: Flickr/mylifeisademo
Photo: Flickr/mylifeisademo

Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is everywhere. New York, L.A., Las Vegas, Atlantic City and even a jaunt to Communist Cuba. Everywhere I turn lately I see another facet of society bearing the Jay-Z brand.  Turn on the radio. There’s Jay-Z. Go shopping. You’ll come across pieces from his former clothing line. Wanna catch a concert this summer? Don’t fret. He and Justin Timberlake are invading your city soon. Go to the movies and you can hear him on The Great Gastby soundtrack. He’s also all over the newstands, most notably when Time Magazine put him on the cover of their “100 Most Influential People in the World” issue this April.

He’s the quintessential rags-to-riches story. Raised in the Macy Street Projects in Brooklyn, Shawn Carter fought his way to the top. At nine years old, Carter witnessed the murder of a close family friend. At 11, his father, whom he says he looked up to and strived to become, left him and his family behind. By the time he was 13, Carter was headed down the dangerous path of a drug dealer. He started dealing crack on local streets, often dodging bullets from gang members and other dealers in the area. But that all changed when he started Roc-a Fella Records in 1996 and blew up from there.

And if his latest album, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” and his six-hour performance art piece are any indication, Jay-Z isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.

How do you define success? Is it your net worth? Professional achievements? Let’s explore some of the things that make Jay-Z one of the greatest, cultural icons today. In no particular order.

1. His Music

Even though he has his hand in many different cookie jars, what started it all was his music. He’s released over 12 studio albums. Collectively, he’s sold over 50 million albums world-wide. All of Jay’s solo studio albums released since 1999 have debuted with more than 400,000, according to Billboard Magazine. Enough said.

2. Roc-a-Fella Records

Why simply make music, when you can make your own record label? In 1994, he formed the music label with Damon Dash, and Kareem Burkewhich. It’s now a subsidiary of Universal Music and has become one of the most successful hip-hop record labels in history boasting the talents of Kayne West and Beanie Sigel.

3. Rocawear Clothing

Appealing to the big pimpin’ sports gear-wearing crowd (baggy pants, long, over-sized shirts and plenty of hi-tops sneakers), Jay Z has begun to bridge the gap between the runway and the streets of Brooklyn. He started the business in 1999 with fellow Roc-A-Fella Records co-founders Damon Dash and earned annual sales of $700 million before selling it in 2007 for a reported $204 million. Not bad for a guy who didn’t exactly know how to use a sewing machine when he entered into this venture.

4. The Great Gatsby Movie Soundtrack

Produced by Jay, the soundtrack carries the honor of the largest single week of digital sales for any record of its kind. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is a self-made man who started out with no money — only a plan for achieving his dream. He is so blinded by his luxurious possessions that he does not see that money cannot buy love or happiness. F Scott Fitzgerald demonstrated how a dream can become corrupted by one’s focus on acquiring wealth, power, and expensive things. Will Jay-Z’s career follow suit? Is this some type of eerie foreshadowing?

5. 40/40 Club

He also co-owns the 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar based in New York City. Wanna join the exclusive Gold Club? It’ll set you back a mere $2500 annually. How’s that for a cover charge? At least you won’t have to stand in line with the common folk.

6. Endorsements Galore

Not sure what brand of beer to drink? Fear not, weary-bar hopper. Jay-Z shall guide your way to the cold, refreshing Budweiser. Or, if you prefer cocktails, why not try Armadale Vodka. He’s also endorsed Hewlett Packard, among other big name brands.

7.“Legends of the Sun” Tour

Back in 2003, when he wasn’t as famous, Jay Z toured with Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent for a reported $100,000 a concert — an amount most of us will not see in our lifetimes no matter how hard we work an 8-hour day or 40+ hour work week. Well, things have changed since ’03. Mr. Carter now commands a game-changing $150 million Live Nation concert deal — that’s 10 times as much as the 2003 deal. Guess it’s not a hard-knock life for Mr. Carter anymore. You can spend some of your hard-earned cash on a ticket. They are headed to Candlestick Park July 26th. Tickets range from $52 nosebleed seats to $276.

8. Brooklyn Nets

He also bought part of a basketball team and turned the franchise around. Jay-Z was instrumental in the team’s move from Newark, N.J. across the river to Brooklyn, as well as rebranding the team with new colors and logos. He then divested himself of his share of the team — about 1 percent and moved onto other sports-related endeavors.

9. Roc Nation Sports

He’s also a sports agent. Really, is there anything he can’t do? On his website, he states: “Our newest endeavor is committed to building the brands of professional athletes as we have done for some of today’s top music artists.” Looks like Jay-Z will be leaving his mark here, too. He’s already signed New York Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano.

10. Hangin’ with President Obama

Add President Obama to Jay-Z’s inner circle. The pair first met in person in 2008 and Jay-Z soon joined the presidential hopeful’s campaign effort, lending an almost universally recognized face to Obama’s bid for presidency. He headlined numerous rallies before the November election, recruiting artists like his wife, Beyoncé, to raise event turnouts. As a result, crowds thronged to see the exciting candidate and the celebrities that typically stood by his side. The President has remained close with Jay-Z. They even poke fun at one another. At a recent White House Correpedents Dinner, the president joked, “Some things are beyond my control. For example, this whole controversy about Jay-Z going to Cuba — it’s unbelievable. I’ve got 99 problems and now Jay-Z is one,” Obama said, borrowing a phrase from Jay-Z’s hit 2004 song.

Maybe Jay-Z’s next venture should be running for the office? President Shawn Carter. That has a nice ring to it. He could rebrand the White House, move the oval office to Atlantic City and make a dime off it.

  • Vishal

    A very well written piece as usual, Ms. Scialabba.

Author

Gina Scialabba

Gina Scialabba is a journalist and practicing attorney based in San Francisco. She's a regular contributor to KQED Pop and now Bay Area Bites. When she's not reading a novel, newspaper or watching Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy or Anthony Bourdain, she's taking advantage of the richness and diversity of Bay Area culinary life. She also loves to travel. Next Stop: Vietnam, Thailand and Korea.

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