Jay-Z [Shawn Carter] was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Marcy Houses, a housing project in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.After their father, Adnis Reeves, abandoned the family, Shawn and his three siblings were raised by their mother, Gloria Carter. Reeves would later meet and reconcile with Jay-Z before dying in 2003. Jay-Z claims in his lyrics that in 1982 at age 12, he shot his older brother in the shoulder for stealing his jewelry. Along with future rapper AZ, Carter attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn until it was closed down. He then attended the nearby George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School with future rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes, followed by a stint at Trenton Central High Schoolin Trenton, New Jersey, though he did not graduate. According to his interviews and lyrics, during this period he sold crack cocaine and was shot at three times.
According to his mother, Carter used to wake up his siblings at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. She bought him a boom box for his birthday, sparking his interest in music. He began freestyling and writing lyrics. Known as "Jazzy" around the neighborhood, Carter later adopted the showbiz/stage name "Jay-Z" in homage to his mentor Jaz-O. (He would drop the hyphen in 2013,and add it back in 2017.)
Jay-Z can be briefly heard on several of Jaz-O's early recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie." Jay-Z became embroiled in several battles with rapper LL Cool J in the early 1990s. He first became known to a wide audience on the posse cut "Show and Prove" on the 1994 Big Daddy Kane album Daddy's Home. Jay-Z has been referred to as Big Daddy Kane's hype man during this period, although Kane explains that he didn't fill the traditional hype man role, and was instead "basically ma[king] cameo appearances on stage. When I would leave the stage to go change outfits, I would bring out Jay-Z and Positive K and let them freestyle until I came back to the stage." The young Jay-Z appeared on a popular song by Big L, "Da Graveyard", and on Mic Geronimo's "Time to Build", which also featured early appearances by DMX and Ja Rule in 1995. His first official rap single was called "In My Lifetime", for which he released a music video. An unreleased music video was also produced for the B-side "I Can't Get with That."
With no major label to give him a record deal, Jay-Z sold CDs out of his car and, with Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs, created Roc-A-Fella Records as an independent label in 1995. After striking a distribution deal with Priority, Jay-Z released his 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt with beats from acclaimed producers such as DJ Premier and Super DJ Clark Kent and an appearance by The Notorious B.I.G.. The album reached number 23 on the Billboard 200, and was generally favored by critics. This album would later be included in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" as No. 248 and eventually reach platinum status.
After reaching a new distribution deal with Def Jam in 1997, Jay-Z released his follow-up In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Produced by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, it sold better than his previous effort. Jay-Z later explained that the album was made during one of the worst periods of his life when he was reeling from the death of his close friend, The Notorious B.I.G. The album was a personal revelation for Jay-Z as he told the stories of his difficult upbringing. The album's glossy production stood as a contrast to his first release, and some dedicated fans felt he had "sold out." However, the album did feature some beats from producers who had worked with him on Reasonable Doubt, namely DJ Premier and Ski. Like its predecessor, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 earned platinum status in the United States.