Happy Birthday, Jay-Z: A Look Back At Hov’s Early Years

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(Jay-Z explains why he became a rapper in ’98)

By Nadeska Alexis

Jay-Z celebrates his 42nd birthday on December 4, and you’ve got to figure that “midlife crisis” is a completely foreign concept to a man who has survived and prospered in the entertainment industry since his 1996 debut with Reasonable Doubt. This year alone the Brooklyn-born rapper, turned mogul, released his Watch the Throne album with Kanye West and kicked off one of the most anticipated hip-hop tours to date. He also topped Forbes’ Cash King List once again, officially renamed his basketball team the Brooklyn Nets and learned that he’s about to become a father. Take a look back at footage from Hov’s earliest years, before he was sharing dinner tables with Warren Buffett. Clips include his first tour performance in 1991 and his 1996 hosting duties on Yo! MTV Raps.

1. Jay-Z’s first appearance on Yo! MTV Raps in 1989.
A baby-faced Hov makes a brief appearance back in ’89 but he would return a few years later to host an episode of the show.
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2. Hov’s first tour performance in Los Angeles, 1991.
Big Daddy Kane introduces Jay for his first tour performance, on the West Coast, along with Positive K.
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3. Jay’s first music video “Dead Presidents,” released in 1996.
“Dead Presidents,” released from Jay’s 1996 album Reasonable Doubt spawned his first solo video.
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4. Jay-Z hosts Yo! MTV Raps in 1996.
After his initial 1989 appearance, Jay-Z returned to host an episode. During this hosting gig he had the chance to introduce the video for his single “Ain’t No N—-” featuring Fox Brown.
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5. Jay-Z is presented with a moonman for Best Rap Video in 1999.
Afeni Shakur and Voletta Wallace–the mothers of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.–presented this award to Jay. “Can I Get A…” featuring Ja Rule and Amil beat out singles that included DMX’s “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” Tupac’s “Changes” and Nas featuring Diddy “Hate Me Now.”
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6. Mr. Change Clothes launches Rocawear, November 2000.
After selling out stores for other brands, Jay finally decided to launch his own clothing band, Rocawear. He said that this would enable him to design the right fit, “just baggy enough for everyone.”
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7. Jay talks early rap battles with Sway, 2003
The Brooklyn rapper recalls some of his memorable lyrical exchanges, which includes battling Big L on his block, battling Busta Rhymes in high school, and catching LL Cool J exiting a club.
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8. TRL presents Jay-Z with a retirement plaque, November 2003.
His retirement was short-lived, but the folks at “TRL” were still kind enough to present him with a retirement plaque.
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9. Jay-Z is crowned Hottest MC in 2006.
Shawn Carter weighs in on the struggle to remain on top. “In rap, everything moves so fast, you can be on top of your game…next year you’re not. There’s a lot of young rappers and they all aspire to be where I am now, as I did I aspired to be where B.I.G. and Pac and people like that was when I was coming up.”
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