Formerly known as JAY-Z, Shawn Corey Carter was born 51 years ago today in Brooklyn, New York. The list of accomplishments he has achieved since his debut release Reasonable Doubt in 1996 is too long to list here. Instead, you will find 11 little-known facts about the influential rapper.
1) He wrote Grammy history last month. JAY-Z was recently tied with 80 Grammy nominations for most Grammy nominations in history. He shares this award with legendary producer Quincy Jones. He is also married to the person who currently holds the record for the second most Grammy nominations: With 9 nominations at the end of November, Beyoncé’s career was 79.
2) Childhood friends of Beyoncé also became stars. He attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn with future rappers The Notorious B.I.G., DMX and Busta Rhymes. He was close to Biggie throughout the late rapper’s life and was one of the last people to talk to him on the phone before the shooting that cost him his life in 1997.
3) He has high-flying ambitions – sometimes too high. JAY-Z wanted to use a NASA space shuttle as a stage prop during his 2011 “Watch the Throne” tour with Kanye West. However, the plan was rejected due to the prohibitive cost of purchasing and transporting the ferry. (At 180 feet, the spaceship was also too big to fit into music venues).
4) He was a prodigy. His sixth grade teacher, Renee Rosenblum-Lowden, told the Washington Post in 2018 that the HOVA was tested in the sixth grade at the twelfth grade reading level. He has always had a knack for remembering things. Supposedly he never writes down his lyrics, but composes them and remembers them all.
5) It was feared that The Blueprint might become a flop. The people in charge of the label were annoyed about the release of the album on September 11, 2001 due to the attacks on the World Trade Center. Instead, The Blueprint sold 420,000 copies in the first week and is now considered by many to be his masterpiece and one of the greatest albums of the genre.
6) He was the first billionaire of hip-hop. In addition to selling tons of albums and merchandise, JAY-Z has always made wise investments, including owning a stake in Uber and an interest in the Brooklyn Nets basketball team and the Tidal streaming service. (On the eve of his birthday, he released his latest year-end playlist on the service). Recently, Kanye joined him on the list of billionaires with a wealth that could surpass that of his former mentor thanks to his successful clothing line Yeezy.
7) He cannot decide how to write his name. After performing as Jay-Z for years, he has deleted the hyphen from his name in 2013. Four years later, the hyphen returned and he reformatted his name so that it is now written in all capital letters. The origin of his nickname has also been disputed over the years. In interviews he said it was a reference to his childhood nickname “Jazzy”, but he also claimed it was a tribute to his rap mentor Jaz-O. (Another popular theory, but never confirmed by him, is that this name came from him who grew up near the J/Z subway line in Brooklyn).
8) He once shot his brother – when he was 12 years old. Before he says he himself was shot three times while selling crack cocaine before he became successful in music, JAY-Z – at the tender age of 12 – shot his older brother in the shoulder for stolen jewelry. His brother, who was addicted to crack cocaine at the time, did not press charges and later apologized while in hospital.
9) He bent the truth a little – okay, a lot – for a sample. To delete the Annie rehearsal for his 1998 hit “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”, JAY lied to the song’s composer, Charles Strouse. The rapper mistakenly told Strouse that he had seen the musical as a child on Broadway and had written a competitive essay about it in school.
10) He has his own color. In 2007, JAY-Z spent tens of thousands of dollars for the Pantone Color Institute to create a shade just for him. The color described as mother-of-pearl blue with platinum dust was introduced later this year on his own limited edition GM Yukon Denali series. Blue is obviously a color that means a lot to him (Daughter Blue Ivy, The Blueprint, etc.)
11) He may have bought Beyoncé a dragon egg. Actress Emilia Clarke, who portrayed “Queen of Dragons” Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones, spoke to Harper’s Bazaar in 2015 about the series’ detailed fake dragon eggs when she revealed this interesting tidbit: “I tried unsuccessfully to steal one of the egg props for myself, but apparently JAY-Z bought one for Beyoncé. I do not know.”