HE WAS BORN Shawn Carter, he became Jay-Z, and the 43-year-old rapper and industrialist has become one of the most unlikely success stories in an American landscape littered with them.
By day he is a pinstriped, sweet-talking entrepreneur, cutting deals with corporate America; by night he is a profane, misogynistic hip-hop mogul, glorifying violence against that same America. He boldly steps between Main Street and the mean streets with ease and abandon.
President Obama celebrates Jay-Z and elicits his support, yet it is difficult to believe POTUS the parent would ever want his adolescent daughters exposed to Jay-Z's serial characterization of women as "bitches" and "hos."
In Jay-Z's "Is That Yo Bitch?", it begins: "Uh, you don't get mad at me/I don't love 'em I f- 'em/I don't chase 'em I duck 'em/I replace 'em with another one." In "99 Problems," he croons: "I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one." In "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," he gives a "middle finger to the law."
And that's the printable stuff.
(The unprintable stuff is so unprintable, it should only be printed in invisible ink.)
His discography is a roadmap to racism, sexism and mayhem.
Yet despite a lyrical rap sheet longer than Rapunzel's hair, it does not interfere with Jay-Z's astounding marketeering. He has sold 50 million albums worldwide, with 17 Grammy awards, but his business dealings far eclipse his artistic accomplishments.
Co-founder of Roc-a-Fella Records, founder of Roc Nation entertainment company, co-owner of the 40/40 Club sports bars and lounge, minority owner of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, Jay-Z's net worth is estimated at nearly $500 million,
He also is a burgeoning real estate developer, an investor in Carol's Daughter line of beauty products, a creative director for Budweiser Select, co-creator of the clothing label Rocawear and executive producer of the basketball video game "NBA 2K13."
As Jay-Z famously once said, "I'm not a businessman; I'm a business, man."
(FYI: Let's not forget Jay-Z is married to Beyonce, perhaps the shrewdest business deal he's ever closed.)
And, now, partnered with Hollywood heavyweight Creative Artists Agency - I can't get lunch with those guys unless I'm delivering it; Jay-Z, meanwhile, struts in and they shower him in ahi tuna and sparkling water - he's launched his own sports agency, Roc Nation Sports.
Among Jay-Z's first clients: MLB's Robinson Cano, the NBA's Kevin Durant, the NFL's Geno Smith and the WNBA's Skylar Diggins.
Scott Boras, move over; Jay-Z's got a bigger ride.
I don't care that Jay-Z once was a drug dealer and, after finding musical success, pled guilty to a misdemeanor for an incident in which he allegedly stabbed a record executive. I don't begrudge him his rap-to-riches glory. What I do wonder about is how a fellow can build a far-flung business empire on the heels of creating a legacy of destructive lyrics.