“Shawn Carter was born on December 4…”
If you’ve ever heard the intro to Jay Z’s Black Album, aptly titled December 4th, then you’d know that it’s Jay Z’s birthday. Yes, on this fine December day, we celebrate the birth of a legendary artist—not just in rap but in music as a whole.
Today, Jay Z is known for his smooth flow and remarkable ability to freestyle songs and turn them into hits. But back in the early 90s, he was an impoverished artist, struggling to be heard—until 1996, when he exploded onto the rap scene with Reasonable Doubt. The album has since become a hip-hop classic and is often considered his best work. Reasonable Doubt established Jay as a notable MC in the rap stratosphere, but it wasn’t until 2001’s The Blueprint that he truly crossed over into the mainstream and became a household name. Hits like Izzo were all over the radio, and songs like Takeover, Song Cry, Blueprint, and Renegade added further credibility to the rapper’s lyrical prowess and musical talent. He faked us all out in 2003 when he claimed to be retiring and dropped The Black Album, which, in my eyes, is Jay’s true masterpiece. It features so many different producers, and yet each song comes together to make a brilliantly cohesive body of work. After three years of “retirement,” Jay returned to the limelight with the very forgettable Kingdom Come and has been on the radio ever since.
Although I find his last great album to be Blueprint 3, there’s no denying Jay Z’s extraordinary career. Ambitious and driven, he went from Brooklyn’s rough, impoverished streets to pop-culture super stardom, from drug dealing to make money to being worth over $500 million (damn). Over the course of his 20+ year career, Jay has made a whopping twelve albums—and that’s just his solo work. He also has five collaborative albums, most notably the rap-rock infused Collision Course with Linkin Park and Watch the Throne with Kanye West (both incredible works). Thirteen of them have reached the top spot on Billboard, giving Jay the record for most number one albums by a solo artist. Add these sales all together, and he’s pushed over 50 million albums worldwide. But perhaps Jay Z’s greatest accomplishment is his hip-hop legacy. He’s often hailed as one of the top four greatest MCs, typically joined by late best friend The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, and his former rival Nas.
So today, we celebrate the life and times of Shawn Carter and wish him a very happy 44th birthday.
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