Rap stars and other pop culture icons are among the most compelling subjects for reluctant readers, but those celebrities’ biographers often have a difficult task cut out for them. This account manages to chronicle the life and work of hip–hop superstar Shawn Carter, known commercially as Jay-Z, without glorifying the lifestyle of crime and violence that sometimes informs his work. Like the other titles in Lucent’s People in the News series, the text is based on primary sources that are well documented through footnotes, making the process of constructing the biography transparent for readers.
Carter’s background selling drugs is presented as an aberration of a teenager, a product of accepted neighborhood culture in the Marcy public housing projects, the community CBS news called "among the most dangerous places in America" (p.12). Carter’s childhood is evidenced through excerpts from previously published recollections. Carter shares his own accounts of everything from the derivation of his moniker Jay-Z to the special status accorded records in his household to a reminiscence about a special school teacher who invited Carter’s class to her home. Carter was a solid student at an academically rigorous, entrance examination-based school, where he met his collaborator Christopher Wallace (also known as "Biggie Smalls" or "the Notorious B.I.G.") before dropping out. Though he rapped on recorded tracks for other MCs as early as 1989, it would be 1995 before Carter recorded his first original song.
Carter released his first album in 1996, and also formed his own record label, Roc-A-Fella, that same year to avoid the economic abuses of the studio system. The book includes a segment on each album, describing Carter’s creative process, with much tangential insight into the politics and profit motives underscoring the music industry. One chapter is devoted entirely to Carter’s positioning himself as a mogul, producing younger artists and expanding into commercial spin-offs like the Rocawear clothing line. Though Carter’s career has gone from strength to strength, the book describes his attempt at retirement and brief presidency of Def Jam in some detail, which will be of interest to particular devotees. The book is up-to-date, reflecting Carter’s 2008 marriage to R&B singer Beyonce Knowles and strong support of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy, ending with the release of The Blueprint III album in September 2009.
After sustaining chart-topping success for more than fifteen years, Carter provides an inspirational story sure to engage students with interest in urban music and entrepreneurship alike. Well-researched and presented. Recommended for high school libraries.