Home News Jay-Z: A Quick Look At His Rise To Near-Billionaire Status

Jay-Z: A Quick Look At His Rise To Near-Billionaire Status


Jay-Z’s silver tongue has always served two intertwined purposes: music and business. In 2001, on “U Don’t Know,” he boasted of his innate, god-level powers of persuasion and business intuition that he first plied as a teenager selling crack cocaine in Brooklyn: “I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell / I am a hustler baby, I’ll sell water to a well.” Then, 16 years later, on “The Story of O.J.,” he rapped, “Financial freedom my only hope / fuck living rich and dying broke”—having amassed a fortune upwards of $800 million, he had expanded his vision to include laying down the foundation for a dynasty (the Roc!), a trend and tradition and cycle of black entrepreneurship that will last for millenia.

“We came out of a generation of black people who finally got the point: No one’s going to help us,” Jay wrote in his 2010 memoir Decoded. “So we went for self, for family, for block, for crew–which sounds selfish… The competition wasn’t about greed–or not just about greed. It was about survival.”

Jay-Z’s ability to self-mythologize once manifested itself in “December 4th,” an origin story that, like a documentary, interpolates commentary from his mother, Gloria Carter. Over a shimmering Chi-Lites sample, the song begins with the story of his birth “10 pounds, 8 ounces” and fast-forwards through his childhood, entrance into hustling, and the release of Reasonable Doubt in 1996. Given the ground the song covers, it can only be a series of images, from a young Hov beating on the kitchen table to an adolescent Hov standing on the corner (“Goodbye to the game, all the spoils, the adrenaline rush / Your blood boils you in the spot, knowing cops could rush”).

Today is December 4th. It is Jay-Z’s 48th birthday. Let us celebrate by revisiting his key business ventures over the years, from Roc-a-Fella Records to TIDAL and beyond.

Roc-a-Fella Records

Founded by Jay-Z, Damon Dash, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, Roc-a-Fella began its quest for world domination with the 1996 release of Jay’s debut album Reasonable Doubt. The label launched the careers of Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek(!!!!), Kanye West, Freeway, and Dipset, and formally folded after the release of Magna Carta Holy Grail in 2013.


Jay-Z and Damon Dash co-founded streetwear line Rocawear in 1999. The brand would eventually create a rift between the two business partners. Jay bought out Dash’s share for $22 million in 2005, then sold the rights to Rocawear to Iconix Brand Group for $204 million in 2007. He still holds his stake in the company.

Def Jam

In 2004, Jay-Z took over as President of Def Jam Records, the label that Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin famously founded in an NYU dorm in the early ‘80s. He helmed Def Jam until January 1, 2008, when he stepped down to launch Roc Nation.

Roc Nation Sports

Jay-Z paid $4.5 million for 1/15 of 1 percent of the New Jersey Nets in 2004; nine years later, he sold his stake, which reportedly depreciated in value by $350K, in order to launch the sports agency Roc Nation Sports. Today, Roc Nation Sports’ roster of clients includes Robinson Cano, Victor Cruz, Kevin Durant, Dez Bryant, and Skylar Diggins.

Roc Nation

Roc Nation is a one-stop entertainment shop that comprises a label, talent agency, and concert production company. The label’s roster currently includes artists J. Cole, Rihanna, The-Dream, Vic Mensa, T.I., Jaden Smith, and dozens of others. In 2017, Roc Nation extended the $150 million deal it made with Live Nation in 2008.


In 2015, Jay-Z recruited A-list artists like Beyonce, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West to help him buy Swedish streaming company Aspiro for $56 million and launch the streaming service TIDAL. Despite ample turnover in the CEO position and a handful of high-profile lawsuits, the company was valued at $600 million in early 2017, when Jay Z solid a third of TIDAL to Sprint.


An abbreviated list of the companies in which Jay has invested:

  • high-end wine and spirits company Armand de Brignac (he invested $200 million)
  • Cohiba cuban cigars
  • BlackJet, a private jet company that shut down in 2016
  • JetSmarter, another private jet company
  • Julep, a nail parlor company
  • Uber
  • Away Luggage
  • Stance socks


In March 2017, Roc Nation launched venture capital firm Arrive with the help of Primary Venture Partners and GlassBridge Asset Management. Arrive offers “brand services, business development, [and] advisory and capital to drive growth in their organizations” to “entrepreneurs and their early stage businesses.”

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