With 50 million albums sold, 10 Grammys, and a multimillion-dollar business under his belt, Jay-Z is no doubt one of the biggest rappers to have ever graced the hip-hop industry and the music industry as a whole.
Jay-Z, real name Shawn Corey Carter, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City. He, his mother, and his three siblings lived in the Marcy Houses, which were housing projects in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
Continue reading to explore more about Jay-Z’s life before he was famous, as well as his early career.
Rough Times in Brooklyn
Entering the world on the 4th of December 1969, Shawn Corey Carter was the last of four children in total to mother Gloria Carter and father Adnis Reeves.
When he was just 11 or 12 years old, his father left him and the rest of his family, so Gloria was his primary caretaker for the rest of his preteen and teenage years.
In a 2014 interview, Carter recounted his life in the projects and the dangers of the “crack epidemic” that were happening in the ‘80s while he was growing up.
“Marcy Projects in Brooklyn is a really tough neighborhood and that was like, for the first time we had, our whole neighborhood got hit with a big crack epidemic. No one had ever seen anything like this, and so I grew up in the middle of the time when there were young guys, 15 or 16 years old, with Uzi machine guns in the projects.”
He continued, “So imagine this: a normal day, kids outside playing double Dutch and an ice cream truck goin’ by, and then guys come runnin’ by shootin’, like that would happen in my projects. So it forces you to grow up really fast, and it’s kinda’ sad because it robs you of your innocence.”
Amongst the highly prevalent gun culture, Carter found himself mixed up in the drug epidemic that was sweeping the area. He began selling drugs at a young age and came into the possession of guns in the process.
When asked whether he recognized that dealing drugs was dangerous, he responded:
“No, it was normal. It was just, it was everywhere, it was like an epidemic,” adding, “I was right in it, you know, so it was really normal. There were dealers and fiends in the hallway and it just consumed every part of the place I lived, and there was no policing.”
“It was lawless, like outlaws, it was a forgotten area.”
Watch the full interview here:
Good and Bad Memories
Back in 2005, during one of the peaks in his career, Carter was asked again about what it was like growing up in the projects. He compared the situation to “like crabs in a barrel”, stating:
“You’ve seen crabs trying to get out of the barrel? They pull each other down, trying to get up. They just grabbing at whatever they can. People are at the point where they’re ready to do anything so it’s very dangerous. And you’re living in close quarters so you have to deal with danger every day, from every angle.”
In a shocking turn of events, 12-year-old Carter shot his brother in the shoulder after he thought he had stolen a piece of his jewelry.
His brother ended up forgiving him, and he said, “I saw my brother the other day and we were able to get past it. He was able to get past his addiction and I was able to get past my stupidity. Now we’re a family.”
Speaking to Oprah Winfrey about growing up, Jay-Z managed to think of some fonder memories, despite all the violence.
“Outside in front is where I learned to ride a bike. I learned to ride a ten-speed when I was 4 or 5. My uncle gave me the bike, hand-me-down, and everyone used to stare at me riding up and down this block.”
Another fond memory he had included:
“The boat. For some reason there was an abandoned boat on this block. We used to play on it all the time, every day.”
In terms of his rap career, Carter started rapping at 9 years old.
“I started messing with my parents’ record player, I guess like all kids that got into hip-hop,” he once said, adding, “It was a gift. I guess in the beginning I really took it for granted, it came so easy.”