Maybe Jay-Z's next album should be titled Vol. 4...How I Beat the Rap and Lived to Rhyme Another Day.

The Grammy-winning hip-hopster otherwise known as Shawn Carter officially received three years' probation on Thursday as part of an expected plea agreement with prosecutors stemming from a scuffle at a New York nightclub in which the rapper stabbed a rival record executive.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Micki Scherer made the wrist-slap official, approving the deal Jay-Z worked out in October. The 31-year-old rapper pleaded guilty October 17 to a reduced charge of misdemeanor assault for knifing producer Lance "Un" Rivera twice during a December 1999 fight at Manhattan's Kit Kat Klub.

But Scherer warned Jay-Z, whose hits include "Big Pimpin'" and "Izzo," to stay out of trouble or face the consequences.

"Obviously, if you are arrested again, that would be a serious situation," said the judge, who earlier had scolded Jay-Z's lawyer for the tardiness of his client, who turned up for the hearing 15 minutes late.

Nevertheless, the Brooklyn native's hard-knock life won't get any harder as he avoided a trip to the slammer.

According to police reports, the fracas started when Jay-Z, who heads his own Roc-A-Fella Records label, bumped into Rivera at an album release party for Amplified, a solo album from A Tribe Called Quest frontman Q-Tip. The two got into an argument during which Jay-Z accused Rivera, 35, of bootlegging the rapper's Vol. 3. . .Life and Times of S. Carter. Jay-Z then stabbed Rivera twice with a five-inch knife.

But Jay-Z came up with a sure-fire blueprint to avoid serious jail time: Pay.

He reportedly coughed up $600,000 to Rivera, who subsequently informed prosecutors that he "would either disappear at the time of the trial or testify in a way that would help 'his friend," according to prosecutors' court documents.

Jay-Z, who would have faced up to 15 years if convicted, instead was able to cop to a lesser charge.

After the hearing, the rapper exited the courthouse without addressing the media (he was seen signing autographs, however). Instead, his lawyer did the talking.

"We are pleased that this case has been resolved in this fashion," defense attorney Benjamin Brafman told reporters.

Brafman also pointed out his client's charity work. Jay-Z donated more than $100,000 in concert proceeds to World Trade Center victims and was the lone rapper to perform at Paul McCartney's Concert for New York City--the all-star benefit that paid tribute to the Big Apple's men and women in uniform and raised millions for attack victims and their families.

Jay-Z's latest CD, The Blueprint, debuted atop the Billboard charts in September, becoming his fourth straight record to do so.

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