Jay-Z, former hustler turned rapper turned successful entrepreneur, and the embodiment of the American Dream and the first hip-hop billionaire celebrates his 51st birthday today.
The list of accomplishments he's achieved since his 1996 debut release, Reasonable Doubt, are too long to list here. Instead, here are 11 little-known facts about the influential rapper.
11 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Jay-Z
1. He made Grammy history last month.
JAY-Z recently became tied for the most Grammy nominations in history with 80. He shares that distinction with legendary producer Quincy Jones. He's also married to the person who currently holds the record for second most Grammy nominations: Beyoncé's 9 nominations at the end of November put her at 79 over the course of her career.
2. His childhood friends also became stars.
He attended Brooklyn's George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School with future rappers The Notorious B.I.G., DMX, and Busta Rhymes. He remained close with Biggie throughout the late rapper's life and was one of the last people to speak with him on the phone prior to the shooting that took his life in 1997.
3. He has lofty ambitions--sometimes too lofty.
JAY-Z wanted to use a NASA space shuttle as a stage prop during his 2011 "Watch the Throne" tour with Kanye West. However, the plan was scrapped due to the prohibitive cost of buying and transporting it. (At 180 feet tall, the spacecraft was also too large to fit into music venues.)
4. He was a child prodigy.
His sixth grade teacher, Renee Rosenblum-Lowden, told The Washington Post in 2018 that HOVA tested at a twelfth grade reading level while in the sixth grade. He has always had a knack for remembering things, as well. He supposedly never writes down his lyrics but composes and remembers them all.
5. There was fear that The Blueprint would flop.
Label executives fretted over the album's release on September 11, 2001 due to the World Trade Center attacks. Instead, The Blueprint went on to sell 420,000 copies that first week and is now considering by many to be his masterpiece and one of the greatest albums of the genre.
6. He was hip-hop's first billionaire.
Along with selling tons of albums and merchandise, JAY-Z has always made wise investments, including owning a share of Uber and a stake in the Brooklyn Nets basketball team as well as in the streaming service Tidal. Kanye recently joined him on the billionaire list with a wealth that may edge out his former mentor's thanks to his successful Yeezy clothing line.
7. He can't decide how to write his name.
After years of performing as Jay-Z, he dropped the hyphen from his name in 2013. Then four years later, the hyphen returned, and he reformatted his name to be in all capital letters. The origins of his moniker has also been disputed over the years. He's said in interviews that it's a play on his childhood nickname "Jazzy," but he's also claimed its an homage to his rap mentor Jaz-O. (Another popular theory, though never verified by him, is that that name comes from him growing up near the J/Z subway line in Brooklyn.)
8. He once shot his brother--when he was 12.
Before he says he was shot three times himself while selling crack before finding success in music, JAY-Z—at the tender age of 12—shot his older brother in the shoulder over some stolen jewelry. His brother, addicted to crack at the time, did not press charges and later apologized while hospitalized.
9. He bent the truth a little—okay, a lot—for a sample.
In order to clear the Annie sample on his 1998 hit "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," JAY lied to the song's composer, Charles Strouse. The rapper falsely told Strouse that he'd seen the musical on Broadway as a child and written a competition-winning essay on it at school.
10. He has his own color.
In 2007, JAY-Z spent tens of thousands of dollars for the Pantone Color Institute to create a hue just for him. Described as a pearly blue with platinum dust, the color was first introduced on his own limited edition line of GM Yukon Denali later that year. Blue is obviously a color that means a lot to him (daughter Blue Ivy, The Blueprint etc.).
11. He may have bought Beyoncé a dragon egg.
Actress Emilia Clarke, who portrayed "Queen of Dragons" Daenerys Targaryen on HBO's Game of Thrones, was talking with Harper's Bazaar in 2015 about the show's richly-detailed faux dragon eggs when she revealed this interesting tidbit: "I tried unsuccessfully to steal one of the egg props for myself, but apparently JAY-Z bought one for Beyoncé. I don't know."