Across his five decades on this earth, Jay-Z has adopted many descriptors. And, no, we're not just talking about his given name, Shawn Carter.
There is Grammy winner (23 times over), president of Def Jam Recordings, founder of Roc Nation and billionaire, thanks to his stakes in companies like Armand de Brignac champagne, Tidal and Uber, his real estate and, of course, the publishing rights to his 13 no. 1 albums.
Not to mention father to 9-year-old Blue Ivy and 4-year-old twins Rumi and Sir—and, of course, Mr. Beyoncé Knowles, the power couple's marriage now in its 13th year. And he came thisclose to becoming Sir Jay Z when Paul McCartney knighted him Sir Hova of Brooklyn (an honor Queen Elizabeth II can officially only bestow on British citizens.)
And then there's rapper, the one that started it all with the release of his debut, Reasonable Doubt more than 20 years ago. An album that required him to create his own label Roc-A-Fella Records to get it on the shelves, it charted on the Billboard 200, was certified multi-platinum, a milestone that's pretty much standard for the 12 solo studio albums he's produced since, and was eventually named as one of Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."
Two-and-a-half decades since his coming out party, he's no doubt succeeded even his loftiest expectations. "I want to represent hip-hop culture positively," he surmised to Oprah Winfrey back in 2009. "No one in my family is wanting for a meal right now, so that part is done. Rap is what took me out of my situation, and now I must care for it. I have to leave it as I found it—or better—for the next generation of kids. Then maybe they can change their situation like I did."
Mega-producer and frequent collaborator Swizz Beatz sees him as a "blueprint for our culture," he previously told Forbes. "A guy that looks like us, sounds like us, loves us, made it to something that we always felt that was above us. If he's a billionaire now, imagine what he's about to be. Because he's only just starting."
The broad strokes of the Brooklyn native's rags to unfathomable riches story are well-known and documented: Despite an aptitude for language, he never finished high school, making it as a drug dealer long before he began his journey to music legend by selling albums out of his car.
But there's so much more enthralling history than can be covered in a soundbite. Which is what happens when you jam pack a lot of living into 50+ years—nearly half of it taking place in the public eye. In honor of the rapper-producer-record exec-entrepreneur's 52nd birthday Dec. 4, here are 50 truly fascinating tidbits from a life well lived.
(Originally published Dec. 4, 2019 at 3 a.m. PT)