Born Shawn Corey Carter, Jay-Z grew up on the streets of Brooklyn. He was raised at the Marcy Houses a public housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood just down the block from the BPL. Raised by a single mother with his three older siblings, Carter had a tough childhood: he dropped out of high school, sold crack cocaine, and was shot multiple times. But despite the odds, his musical talents as a rapper helped launch what would become a spectacular career in entertainment.
He began to work with Jaz-O who became his mentor and from there worked his way up. From rap battles with LL Cool J in the 1990s to selling his CDs out of his car, Jay-Z began to make a name for himself. He, along with Damon “Dame” Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, created their own independent label, Roc-A-Fella Records, and began putting out music.
Jay-Z’s story is special and unique to his hometown. So, when conceiving of this exhibition, it was important to pay homage to his beginnings and the community that surrounds him in Bed-Stuy. Desiree Perez said the team wanted this showcase to be open to everyone. This need for accessibility led the team to choose a public library rather than a museum or gallery. On this, Perez said, “Jay belongs to the people…[the Brooklyn Public Library] is a place that feels comfortable. It’s not intimidating.”