Shawn Corey Carter, also known by his stage name Jay-Z, is a successful American musician, producer, and businessman, renowned for his influence on the hip-hop genre. Born in Brooklyn in 1969, Carter was raised by his mother with his three older siblings (Jay-Z Biography). Having a rough childhood, the boy lived in a now-infamous public housing complex, Marcy Houses, and was involved in dealing drugs (Jay-Z Biography). Using music as an escape and a way to channel his inner frustrations, Jay-Z rose to fame with his debut album named Reasonable Doubt. Even a few decades later, Carter’s songs still resonate with modern audiences due to his relatable and strong lyrics. As a way to demonstrate the relevancy of his work and the messages it conveys, two of Jay-Z’s songs will be discussed: “Where I’m From” and “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”.
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Both songs touch upon Jay-Z life, his music career, as well as the hardships that living in a poor neighborhood entailed. “Where I’m From” goes into great detail to describe his daily life in Marcy Projects, filled with poverty and gun violence (JAY-Z.). Throughout the track, Carter states multiple times that living by your word and always being on alert was essential for survival, not only because of gang violence but police brutality as well (JAY-Z.). The song sought to bring light to the issues of poor communities and to give attention to the suffering of black people, describing their day-to-day life as a struggle for survival. “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”, while still devoting some time to his surroundings, is more about the rapper’s personal journey, a way to celebrate his achievements (JAY-Z ). This song serves as a statement, a promise of future success, and a way to inspire other musicians like himself.
Jay-Z’s music was always rooted in black culture and took inspiration from other artists that came before him. In an interview with MTV, young Carter states that he “grew up around music” and cites Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye as his early inspirations (Anderson), both pretty large figures in the music industry. Listening to artists who resonated with him at such a young age helped Jay-Z shape his own style and the methods he uses to write music. The rapper’s work also uses a widespread technique of “sampling” tracks. Sampling is not only a clever way to provide a different meaning to an already existing work, but can also be used to give attention to some of the lesser-known, struggling musicians. As a black person, Jay-Z uses his platform to provide his honest perspective on living in the United States, from the point of view that aims to resonate with an average African-American deeply. Coming from his personal experience, his lyrics often bring up the subjects of oppression, poverty, police brutality, and racism.
While met with only a lukewarm reception at first, Jay-Z nevertheless was able to raise his career to an unprecedented level, gaining notoriety not only in his music genre but in all of the mainstream media as well. All of his 13 studio albums sold incredibly well, most of them earning platinum status multiple times, speaking of his popularity with the fans. Winning numerous awards, the rapper also received universal acclaim from critics, forever cementing his name in the hip-hop genre. The overwhelming success speaks volumes about the man’s lyrical prowess and talent, developed through his many years in the industry. Jay-Z now stands as a model and an icon for many musicians like him, people who grew up hearing his music, and now use it as an inspiration for their projects.
In conclusion, Jay-Z earned his well-deserved recognition by the power of his hard work and talent in writing and performing music. The rapper’s songs are constantly being brought up as an inspiration for countless artists that came after him, they shaped the sound of the modern hip-hop genre. Building himself up from nothing, the man came to be known as one of the most influential people in the music industry, his works still being relevant to this day.