Jay-Z is one of the most successful businessmen and musicians in the world, with an estimated net worth of over $1 billion. His sustained success as a rapper and cultural entrepreneur has afforded him many things, such as an $88 million mansion and a high-profile marriage to pop icon Beyonce.
Even though today Jay-Z is an international star with more accolades than one can count, there was a time when his destiny was in severe jeopardy. His life in the streets prior to his rap career was risky and dangerous, and very easily could have taken him down a different path, in which he would have never met Beyoncé or seen his immense financial success. As fate would have it, a chance trip to London was the turning point in Jay-Z’s life and career.
Jay-Z was born into one of the roughest environments imaginable
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York’s infamous Marcy Projects, Jay-Z was born with the odds stacked against him. Maturing in the midst of the 1980s crack epidemic, Jay-Z was surrounded by drugs, death, and poverty. Few Black men made it out of Marcy Projects without succumbing to violence or the legal system, and at the time, Jay-Z was well on his way to becoming another statistic.
The hostile environment had a huge impact on Jay-Z, causing him to become cold and ruthless toward his peers. During an interview with NPR, Jay-Z detailed what it was like to grow up in Marcy.
“It was a very intense and stressful situation,” he said. “It was a weird mix of emotions. One day, your best friend could be killed. The day before, you could be celebrating him getting a brand-new bike.”
It was during this time that Jay-Z began his life in the streets, selling crack cocaine to people in his community and beyond.
Jay-Z narrowly avoided prison, thanks to a lucky trip to London
After diving headfirst into the street life as a teenager, Jay-Z began to rise in the ranks. He had expanded beyond Marcy and was selling drugs in locations as far as Trenton, New Jersey, and Maryland, according to his autobiography, Decoded. However, despite his unscrupulous day job, he still had a passion for music.
Jay-Z would write rhymes while on the corner, and then record them when he returned home. He had formed a close relationship with Jaz-O, a rapper who would serve as a mentor early in his career. At the time, Jaz-O had just gotten a record deal from EMI Records and was sent out to London to record his debut album. He brought Jay-Z along with him, which ended up changing the course of HOVA’s life.
While overseas, Jay-Z’s entire crew got arrested after authorities executed a sting operation. One of his best friends, Emory Jones, ended up being indicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison for cocaine trafficking. Jay-Z claims he was with Emory “every single day,” and that Emory’s fate could have very easily been his. Upon his return, Jay-Z knew it was time to make some major changes.
Jay-Z left the streets behind and became and billionaire
Deciding he was ready to pursue rapping full-time, Jay-Z partnered up with his friends Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke to found Roc-A-Fella Records, an independent label. Through the label, he released a slew of albums, including the classics Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, and The Black Album. It was also during this time that he would meet a young Beyonce, and the two began their relationship.
Fast forward to two decades, and Jay-Z now has 14 #1 albums, 21 Grammys, a net worth of over $1 billion, and a highly-publicized marriage to Beyoncé. And to think, it all could have never happened, if not for a chance trip to London.