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It’s late on a Tuesday afternoon and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter has just returned to his office from a full day of filming a show about his latest album, “The Blueprint 3,” for BET.
“I am so sick of myself,” he said with one hand on each cheek, exhaustively sitting down behind the massive dark wooden executive desk in his office on the 38th floor at 1411 Broadway in New York. “I have been talking about myself all day. I really don’t like that.”
That statement certainly rings true for the 39-year-old (he turns 40 on Friday) hip-hop mogul. He’s known for being extremely private — he doesn’t allow anyone to set foot inside his office when he isn’t there, and he refuses to address questions about his relationship with his wife, pop star Beyoncé Knowles. He says the relationship “is the one thing that’s sacred” in a life so often on display to the public.
As one of the most successful recording artists of all time, Carter is probably also one of the most humble. He speaks often of his beginnings — growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Houses projects, where drugs and guns surrounded his everyday life. At nine years old, Carter witnessed the murder of a close family friend. At 11, his father, whom he says he looked up to and strived to become, left him and his family behind. By the time he was 13 years old, Carter was headed down the dangerous path of a drug dealer. He started dealing crack on local streets, often dodging bullets from gang members and other dealers in the area. He maintains he never did drugs, only sold them.
Carter has said he never had a grand plan to become the powerhouse he is today — and he refuses to refer to himself as a powerhouse — with annual sales quickly approaching $1 billion across all of his businesses. This empire includes RocNation, his talent agency; Roc-A-Fella Records; part ownership in the New Jersey Nets, 40/40 nightclubs, The Spotted Pig restaurant in Manhattan — and the keystone, Rocawear, which generates about $700 million annually at retail. Not to mention Carter has scored major endorsement deals for brands such as HP and Budweiser.
Besides these businesses, his own accomplishments in music are astounding. With 12 albums under his belt and 40 million albums sold worldwide (his latest has sold 1.3 million to date), Carter has had more number-one albums than any other solo artist worldwide. He’s won seven Grammy awards and founded and helped shape the careers of Rihanna and Kanye West. He even had a stint as president and chief executive officer at Def Jam Recordings, but stepped down in December 2007 in order to take on new projects.
He took a more active role in Rocawear in September 2005, after buying out co-founder Damon Dash’s 25 percent stake in the company for $30 million.
“Rocawear has always been part of the whole overall culture. It’s connected to everything that I do,” Carter explained. “So coming in full time was important to me. It’s something I really believe in and something I want to protect.”