Beleaguered Jay-Z Grabs 1999 Rap Artist Prize

Just days after being charged with stabbing record executive, hip-hop star nets Billboard honor.

LAS VEGAS — After spending the past week in the spotlight for allegedly stabbing a record executive, Jay-Z was honored as Rap Artist of the Year at the 1999 Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday night at the MGM Grand Hotel.

But the rapper chose to make light of his legal situation as he accepted the trophy, which honored his sales success and radio airplay as determined by Billboard magazine's charts.

Two veteran female wrestlers, who were helping singer Lou Bega present Jay-Z his award, staged a fight shortly before the rapper's name was announced.

"I hope they don't charge me for what just happened, too," the blue-jean-clad Jay-Z (born Shawn Carter) said. The rapper was arrested Dec. 2 on charges of stabbing label executive Lance "Un" Rivera at a New York City club. Rivera founded the Untertainmant label with the late hip-hop star the Notorious B.I.G.

Before leaving the stage, Jay-Z plugged his upcoming album, Vol. 3 ... Life and Times of S. Carter (Dec. 28), adding, "Ain't no stoppin' us, baby."

The rapper's fans seem to be with him in that assertion, with one devotee in particular saying she feels an even greater loyalty to the 29-year-old Jay-Z since his arrest.

"As a matter of fact, my support for him has grown stronger," Victoria McEachin, 18, of New York City wrote in an e-mail. "At this time, Jay-Z needs as much support as he can get, and I'm behind him 100 percent."

Another fan, 20-year-old Erita Cohen, said she feels Jay-Z "deserves to be recognized, but I'm not sure I know who he is anymore."

Tracii McGregor, executive editor of The Source, said that the majority of fans will judge Jay-Z on his music and for no other reason.

"Not everybody's interested in finding out if Jay-Z's a dark person or if he's really evil or, like, whatever," said McGregor, who called his upcoming album "amazing."

Last year, Jay-Z became the first hip-hop performer to hold the #1 slot for five consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The chart-topping album was the rapper's quadruple-platinum Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life, which featured the single "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" (RealAudio excerpt).