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Jay-Z has been a looming figure in hip-hop for over 25 years. The Brooklyn-bred rapper and businessman has expanded his footprint beyond just music, but his skills as an MC are what put him on the map over two decades ago.

Jay-Z poses on the red carpet
Jay-Z | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Jay-Z’s career in the late 1990s

Jay-Z released his debut album Reasonable Doubt in 1996. The album contained hit tracks such as “Dead Presidents II” and his fellow Bed-Stuy rapper The Notorious B.I.G., “Brooklyn’s Finest.” He quickly become one of the hottest rappers on the block, filling a void in New York after Biggie’s death in early 1997.

After Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z went on to release an album every year for the following seven years. Among those were 1997’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, 1998’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, 1999’s Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, and 2000’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.

Jay-Z walking in NYC
Jay-Z | Robert Kamau/GC Images

Jay-Z released ‘The Blueprint’ on 9/11

Jay-Z’s sixth album, The Blueprint, was released in 2001. And in the years since then, it’s been regarded by many as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, with hit songs such as “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”

The album was released on September 11, 2001. At the time, Tuesday album releases were the industry norm, so the release had been planned for months. Still, in light of the tragedy, the album sold 426,000 copies in its first week.

CNN examined the timing of The Blueprint‘s release in 2011 to mark the 10th anniversary of that fateful day. Tricia Rose, a professor at Brown University and author of the book The Hip-Hop Wars believed that the answer why the album did so well despite the traumatic events of its release day lied in Jay-Z target demographic.

“Young people not directly affected are always more removed from the onset of national tragedy,” sshe said.

“While the much older fans of Mariah Carey or Bob Dylan would likely be too busy and worried about terrorist attacks to rush out and purchase a CD the week of 9/11, Jay-Z’s teen and early twenties fans, already hyped up about this release long beforehand, remained focused on their idol. And many probably never left the comfort of their bedrooms to download the release.” (2001 was the year Apple introduced its iconic iTunes store, and The Blueprint was downloaded digitally en masse.)

Jay-Z in front of a white backdrop with logos
Jay-Z | David M. Benett/Getty Images

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Mariah Carey also released ‘Glitter’ on 9/11

Mariah Carey was infamously in a drug rehabilitation center in 2001, placed there by her family despite her protests. In her 2020 memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey, the “Fantasy” singer reflected on that day: she watched the towers crumble on the facility’s TVs, and was released that same day.

It didn’t even occur to her that that was also the day that the soundtrack for her movie Glitter was slated for release that same day. The movie was released in theatres 10 days later.

“The box-office sales for Glitter were dismal, in large part because the country was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks,” Carey admitted. “The tragedy was still fresh, and no one was ready for the lightweight distraction that was Glitter.” She acknowledged that the movie “was not made for serious cinemagoers and art-gallery hoppers; it was an imperfect, fun, PG flick.”