Jay-Z's Early Years: From The Marcy Houses To Reasonable Doubt

In anticipation of The Blueprint 3, we look back at Hov's Bed-Stuy origins.

In just a few weeks, [artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist] will release one of the most hotly anticipated albums of 2009 when he drops his 11th album The Blueprint 3. But even legends have to start somewhere, and though it seems like he's been at the top of his game since his first album, there was a time when Jigga was just an up-and-comer.

The man born Shawn Carter grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in the Marcy Houses, a housing project in the borough's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. It was there he attended high school with Christopher Wallace (before he became the Notorious B.I.G.) and got hooked up with local MC Jaz-O. Carter's nickname growing up was "Jazzy," which gave way to Jay-Z when he started rhyming with Jaz-O. (Jay-Z is also a reference to the J/Z subway train, which serviced his Brooklyn neighborhood.)

Hova made his first appearance on MTV way back in 1989, when he appeared with Jaz-O on an episode of "Yo! MTV Raps." Though he was still new to the game, he carried himself with a professionalism and confidence that would carry him through the early part of his career.

After separating from Jaz-O, Jay worked on building his reputation and stockpiling the rhymes that would become his full-length debut Reasonable Doubt, which he released on his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, in 1996. That album included production by hip-hop legend DJ Premier and a collaboration with his former classmate Biggie Smalls called "Brooklyn's Finest."

"Me and Big went to high school together, and we would say 'What's up' but never had any long conversations," Jay told MTV News in 1997. "But then we both got into the business, and I started seeing him at parties, and we decided we needed to do something together. I respect that man as one of the greatest rappers ever in this business."

All through his career, Jay never forgot where he came from or the people who helped him to get where he is today. He still references the Marcy Houses in his lyrics and makes frequent trips to his old stomping grounds for projects, like the video for "99 Problems" or a recent visit during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. It's proof that even one of the biggest MCs in the world had to start small somewhere.