From Roc-a-Fella to TIDAL and beyond. Happy 48th birthday to Jay-Z.
Jay-Z’s silver tongue has always served two intertwined purposes: music and business. In 2001, on “U Don’t Know,” he boasted of his innate, god-level powers of persuasion and business intuition that he first plied as a teenager selling crack cocaine in Brooklyn: “I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell / I am a hustler baby, I'll sell water to a well.” Then, 16 years later, on “The Story of O.J.,” he rapped, “Financial freedom my only hope / fuck living rich and dying broke”—having amassed a fortune upwards of $800 million, he had expanded his vision to include laying down the foundation for a dynasty (the Roc!), a trend and tradition and cycle of black entrepreneurship that will last for millenia.
"We came out of a generation of black people who finally got the point: No one’s going to help us," Jay wrote in his 2010 memoir Decoded. "So we went for self, for family, for block, for crew–which sounds selfish… The competition wasn’t about greed–or not just about greed. It was about survival."
Jay-Z's ability to self-mythologize once manifested itself in "December 4th," an origin story that, like a documentary, interpolates commentary from his mother, Gloria Carter. Over a shimmering Chi-Lites sample, the song begins with the story of his birth "10 pounds, 8 ounces" and fast-forwards through his childhood, entrance into hustling, and the release of Reasonable Doubt in 1996. Given the ground the song covers, it can only be a series of images, from a young Hov beating on the kitchen table to an adolescent Hov standing on the corner ("Goodbye to the game, all the spoils, the adrenaline rush / Your blood boils you in the spot, knowing cops could rush").
Today is December 4th. It is Jay-Z's 48th birthday. Let us celebrate by revisiting his key business ventures over the years, from Roc-a-Fella Records to TIDAL and beyond.