The J To Z Of Jay-Z: The Making Of A Hip-Hop Heavyweight

We look back over Jay's storied career before he completes his Blueprint trilogy in September.

The storied career of perhaps the greatest rapper of all time kicked into yet another gear Thursday (August 20) when Jay-Z's video for "Run This Town" premiered on MTV.

The Brooklyn lyricist is readying his 11th solo album — and the final in the Blueprint trilogy — for release September 11. MTV News will be presenting "The J to Z of [artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist]," a retrospective of the rapper's career, leading up to the release of The Blueprint 3, featuring archived video clips from some of his finest moments and interviews.

It all started for Jay-Z, professionally, when he aligned himself with veteran rapper Jaz-O. Soon, the quick-witted MC was learning the music business from the inside. However, he was still unable to land a recording deal of his own. So Hov partnered with Dame Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke to launch Roc-A-Fella Records.

The trio hit big with Jay-Z's debut, Reasonable Doubt. The classic collection established the rapper as a rising star. He solidified his lyrical reputation on the follow-up, In My Lifetime. With the passing of rap titans Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., hip-hop was devoid of a reigning king — until Jay-Z delivered his third album, Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life. He'd always been inspired by Biggie, whom he attended school with, and now the Marcy Project rhyme-spitter ascended to occupy his fallen friend's King of New York crown.

"[When] someone like Biggie comes out the neighborhood," Jay-Z told MTV News in August 1998, "you look at that like, 'I could do that.' That's where B.I.G., that's where Christopher is from, [the guy] who used to [hang] in front of the yellow store all day long. It's just the inspiration and the drive to know that if you strive, things could happen and you can come up out of here, Brooklyn, [or any other] tough neighborhoods."

Mainstream success soon followed for Jay-Z. He performed at the 1999 Video Music Awards, doing double duty when DMX was a no-show at the event. Ever the businessman, Jay-Z and his partners introduced a flurry of projects toward the end of the '90s, from clothing line Rocawear to wrapping Hov's first album trilogy with the release of Vol. 3 ... The Life & Times of S. Carter.

The new millennium saw Jay-Z revisit the contextual themes of his debut, with his classic The Blueprint, released on September 11, 2001, just hours after the tragic terror attacks occurred in New York.

"Still chasing the elusive Reasonable Doubt," he told us with a smile. "[The Blueprint] is definitely up there, but I feel that all the time. It ain't for me to say — it's for the people to say."

While most New Yorkers were bonding in the aftermath of 9/11, two of the Big Apple's best were engulfed in a nasty feud. Jay-Z prodded Nas on Blueprint's "Takeover," a scathing dis effort largely targeted at Mobb Deep. Nas responded with brutal gusto on "Ether." The two lyrical wizards shocked many in the hip-hop community by engaging in vicious character attacks in rhyme.

Jay-Z abandoned the battle after his mother suggested he went too far on "Super Ugly." The dis was criticized by the public at large and left Hov wounded for the first time in his career. Bruised but not damaged, Jay-Z swiftly began work on The Black Album, which he announced would be his final solo rap album.

He quickly won over fans again with the project. The album was praised from the booming "PSA" to the melancholy "Allure." It was evident Jay-Z was going out on top.

But what would a charismatic young man with a Ph.D. in street economics do with his free time once he quit rap? Jay-Z turned the tides on the record companies that wouldn't sign him as he became the first rapper to head a major label when he was appointed the president of Def Jam in December 2004. The deal cemented Hov as a power player. He also retained ownership of Roc-A-Fella after he, Dash and Biggs were bought out by Island Def Jam Music Group.

Under Jay-Z's leadership, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, and Kanye West transformed from notable talents to international superstars.

The rapper turned executive kept busy in other ways too. He and Nas buried their longstanding feud. Jay-Z then signed the Queens poet to Def Jam. The move was orchestrated behind the scenes but brought public during New York radio station Power 105's annual Powerhouse concert.

"It's bigger than both of us," Jay-Z later said during an interview he and Nas did with MTV News' Sway. "It's not really about us. I mean, it is, but it really isn't. It's more about the culture, about showing people another way, because [the battle] we staged was something that stopped the world. Now everyone emulates the battle. 'If I do that, I can get attention drawn to me.' Now everyone is emulating the end result. So now we have to show them another way."

Still, despite all the accomplishments Jay-Z racked up in his suit and tie, it didn't compete with the feeling he received as an artist. So in September 2006, Hov announced his return to hip-hop. He left the corporate suite and went back into the recording both. The result was Kingdom Come, which debuted at #1 and scored Jay-Z the highest first-week sales in his career.

The past three years, without question, have been better for hip-hop with Jay-Z's return. He followed Kingdom Come with American Gangster (featuring his and Nas' first official collaboration), an album inspired in part by the Denzel Washington movie of the same name. Jay-Z also married longtime girlfriend Beyoncé. Then he announced he'd be completing the Blueprint trilogy that began in 2001 with The Blueprint 3, a project that will be released through Jay-Z's Roc Nation partnership with concert-promotion giant Live Nation.

Jay-Z continues to make moves, make history and make the game better with his presence. Does he run the town? It would be hard to argue against him.