Shawn Corey Carter (born December 4, 1969), better known as Jay-Z, is an American rapper and current president and CEO of Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella Records, co-owns The 40/40 Club, and is a part owner of the New Jersey Nets NBA team. He has been one of the most successful American rappers of the past decade. In 2006, an MTV list named him the "Greatest MC Of All Time". 
Known for his use of freestyling abilities, flow, and blending of street and popular hip hop, Jay-Z became one of the most respected rappers in the music industry before his declared retirement in 2004. He is admired for his ability to craft lyrics from memory, without the use of pen and paper  (he claims his critically acclaimed album The Blueprint was written in only two days). He also returned from retirement in late 2006 with the album Kingdom Come which sold 680,000 copies in its first week, Jay-Z's highest selling album in a one week period.
Along with Damon "Dame" Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, Jay-Z was one of the founders of Roc-A-Fella Records, a hip-hop record label that also launched the careers of artists such as Beanie Sigel, Kanye West, Memphis Bleek, Young Gunz, Freeway, and Teairra Marí.
Originally from the Marcy Houses in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, Shawn Corey Carter was abandoned by his father Adnes Reeves when he was twelve years old. Jay-Z attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, along with rapper AZ until it closed down. After that he attended George Westinghouse High School in Downtown Brooklyn with fellow rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes and Trenton Central High School in Trenton, New Jersey but did not graduate. He claims to have been caught up in selling drugs; in addition to this, Jay-Z has lyrically alluded to having sold cocaine and marijuana.
According to his mother Gloria Carter, a young Jay-Z used to wake his siblings up at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. Eventually, she bought him a boom box for his birthday and thus sparked his interest in music. He began freestyling, writing rhymes, and followed the music of many artists popular at the time.
In his neighborhood, Carter was known as "Jazzy," a nickname which eventually developed into his stage name, "Jay-Z." The moniker is also a homage to his musical mentor Jaz-O (a.k.a. Jaz, Big Jaz) as well as to the J-Z subway lines that have a stop at Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jay-Z can be heard on several of Jaz-O's early recordings in the late 80's and early 90's, including "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie." He and Jaz-O once ran into a blossoming LL Cool J in the park and were beaten in a freestyle battle by the self proclaimed G.O.A.T. He also collaborated with Inglewood, California producer Three-1-Zero. His career had a jump start when he battled a rapper by the name of Zai. The battle caught the eye of many record labels, as Jay-Z was able to hold his own against Zai. He also made an appearance on a popular song by Big L, "Da Graveyard," and on Mic Geronimo's "Time to Build," which also featured early appearances by DMX and Ja Rule in 1995.
From the beginning of his commercial recording career, Jay-Z chose a route that many would consider untraditional. When no major label gave him a record deal, Jay-Z created Roc-A-Fella Records as his own independent label. After striking a deal with Priority to distribute his material, Jay-Z released his 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt with beats from acclaimed producers such as DJ Premier and Clark Kent and a notable appearance by The Notorious B.I.G. Although the album received critical acclaim, record sales were modest as they topped off at 420,000 units the first year.
After reaching a new distribution deal with Def Jam in 1997, Jay-Z released his follow-up In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Executive produced by Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, it sold better than his previous effort, though Jay-Z later explained that this was one of the worst periods of his life. He was reeling from the death of his close friend The Notorious B.I.G. The albums relatively glossy production stood as a contrast to his first release, and some dedicated fans felt he had "sold out." However, the album did feature some beats from producers who had worked with him on Reasonable Doubt, namely DJ Premier and Ski. Jay-Z mentioned on the YES Network's "CenterStage with Michael Kay" show that if he could do one thing in his career over, it would be Vol. 1, claiming that "it [the cd] was this close to being a classic, but I put like, a few songs on there that ruined it." Speculation is that he was referring to "I Know What Girls Like" and "(Always Be My) Sunshine," both of which were produced by Bad Boy beatmakers and criticized as a commercialization of his sound.