Photo: Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
  /  04.21.2022

By now, the world knows that JAY-Z, a man considered to be the true GOAT in hip hop, is a billionaire. According to Forbes, 2019 saw him holding on to almost $300 million worth of real estate, cash and various investment stakes. Add in businesses like TIDAL, D’Ussé and Roc Nation, as well as his own music catalog, and you have a man that’s in a position to keep permanent wealth in his bloodline. One can only imagine how much those aforementioned numbers have grown since.

During a 2010 sit-down for CNN Business in promotion of his book Decoded, JAY-Z gave advice on becoming a mogul in America. Aside from what he learned during his tenure in the streets, Hov revealed that many of his decisions are based on what he’s loved his entire life:

Do things that are true to you. Most things I’m involved with are an extension of being creative. Roc-A-Wear’s a clothing company, part of who you are in hip hop is your attitude and what you’re trying to express, how you dress. I loved sports growing up, I grew up in a household where sports was on 24/7. These [are] all things that are comfortable for me.”

The truth is JAY-Z has been providing gems in regards to making money and becoming financially sound since the preliminary stages of his eventual rise to power. Below lies a compilation of classic lines delivered by the Brooklyn-born icon that gives listeners insight into how he joined the ranks of Tyler Perry, Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey. As best described by the man himself:

I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man …”

1. “Can I Live” – Reasonable Doubt, 1996

“True this, the streets school us to spend our money foolish, bond with jewelers and watch for intruders, I stepped it up another level, meditated like a Buddhist, recruited lieutenants with ludicrous dreams of getting cream, let’s do this …”

Years ago, JAY-Z told “The Breakfast Club” that Reasonable Doubt was his greatest album ever because “that’s the joint [he] took [his] whole life to make.” This was also the album that contained evocative stories about JAY-Z‘s life before rap success, a mix of vivid tales from Marcy Projects and cinematic narratives straight from the mafioso era. On the Irv Gotti-produced standout “Can I Live,” Hov‘s delivering a bulk of lines towards the song’s end that seem to stress two different messages:

  • The importance of understanding the stereotypes our communities and people face when it comes to money management, and
  • Making sure that you build a solid team that shares your goals and aspirations.

2. “Rap Game/Crack Game” – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, 1997

“When it’s hot, get on my money spot in every state, like the Wiz in Camelot, the mom-and-pop’s is the gate, but first we scope shit, advertise in every area, let the fiends know, hey, we got some dope shit, gon’ need a middle man, so we look to radio …”

Like some of his equally legendary peers, this In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 standout saw JAY-Z utilizing lessons he learned while making money on the streets to maximize his chances of success in the music industry. Continuing further into the Stevie J and Buckwild-produced effort, JAY even rapped about some of his more difficult moments in the midst of his journey to the finish line, specifically in regards to his conflicts with a certain distribution deal during the Reasonable Doubt era:

Went from an eighth to a quarter to a half a key, Priority’s work wasn’t right so I switched factories, now I’m the new nigga, who figured I’d get the game locked, now watch how the prices of your cocaine drop …”

3. “U Don’t Know” – The Blueprint, 2001

“… if somebody woulda told ’em that Hov would sell clothin’, not in this lifetime, wasn’t in my right mind, that’s another difference that’s between me and them, I smarten up, open the market up …”

The Blueprint standout “U Don’t Know” sees JAY-Z opening up about his success in both the drug and rap games. What makes the above lines so poignant is the fact that he decided he would create his own brand instead of being a patron to others — a move that many entrepreneurs have implemented after realizing they can create their own product to generate endless revenue. In this case, Roc-A-Wear was bringing in $700 million in annual sales during its prime, which lead to a buyout from Iconix for more than $200 million in cold, hard cash. Simply put, the benefits of starting his own clothing brand is essentially explained on the Just Blaze-backed effort immediately after:

“1 million, 2 million, 3 million, 4, in 18 months, 80 million more, now add that number up with the one I said before, you are now lookin’ at one smart Black boy …”

4. “Show You How” – The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse, 2002

“Pay ya taxes, y’all niggas hustlin’ backwards …”

“Show You How” is another Just Blaze classic that sees Hov in full-on professor mode, giving tips to listeners about weak raps, choice of vehicles and (for the ladies) making the most of questionable relationships. What might be the most important line on the entire track is JAY-Z‘s stern instruction in regards to the IRS — a lesson that peers like Fat Joe, Lauryn Hill, and the late Biz Markie have learned the hard way.

5. “Moment of Clarity” – The Black Album, 2003

“… I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me, that’s the win-win …”

It’s crazy how, at the time, we all thought that this would be the last time we’d receive an album from JAY-Z. As such, it was no surprise to hear just how much reflection and knowledge was packed into the 14-song effort, which — like Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint — is largely considered to be one of the greatest bodies of work in JAY-Z‘s catalog.

On the Eminem-produced “Moment of Clarity,” JAY-Z can be heard reflecting on all of the decisions he made to reach that point in his career. As can be seen in the above lyric, he also revealed that reaching financial freedom wasn’t just for his own enjoyment — until this very day, he makes sure to pass on his blessings to those less fortunate in a variety of ways, from providing kids scholarships through The Shawn Carter Foundation to bailing out protesters during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. All-in-all, uplifting your own is just as important as becoming wealthy.

6. “30 Something” – Kingdom Come, 2006

“I don’t buy out the bar, I bought the night spot, I got the right stock, I got stockbrokers that’s movin’ it like white tops …”

As most of us are aware, JAY-Z‘s comeback album was filled with themes of maturing into someone who’d separated himself from what had become popular amongst younger artists at the time. A perfect example of this is the Dr. Dre-produced “30 Something,” which sees him rapping about everything he does differently than the rest — from toning down his flashiness to letting his team handle matters that might otherwise land him in legal trouble. As far as financial advice is concerned, the above bar is some of the best  counsel — why spend all of your money at someone else’s establishment when you can collect cash by opening up your own?

7. “No Hook” – American Gangster, 2007

“Own boss, own your masters, slaves, the mentality I carry with me to this very day, fuck rich, let’s get wealthy, who else gon’ feed we?”

Fueled with inspiration from Denzel Washington‘s depiction of drug trafficker Frank Lucas, JAY-Z delivered one of his most impactful albums with American Gangster, a concept that (with the aid of Diddy and The Hitmen) saw cinematic flashes of mafioso motifs reminiscent of Reasonable Doubt. In the above line from the Diddy, Sean C, and LV-backed “No Hook,” JAY-Z once again stresses the importance of owning your own “product” — in this case, being in control of his music catalog. Later on in the song, he also lets the listener know that for whatever goal you’re trying to accomplish, it’s necessary to put in the work:

“Hustle ‘caine, hustle clothes or hustle music, but hustle hard in any hustle that you pick…”

8. “So Ambitious” – The Blueprint 3, 2009

The world don’t like us, is that not clear? Alright, but I’m different, I can’t base what I’m gon’ be off of what everybody isn’t, they don’t listen, just whispering behind my back, no vision, lack of ambition, so wack!”

If you really need some inspiration, look no further than the Pharrell Williams-produced “So Ambitious,” which immediately begins with JAY-Z recounting an unfortunate experience with a teacher. Despite what that educator said, he worked hard to improve his circumstances — even with the obstacles set in front of him as a Black man from the so-called ghetto. He reiterates this in the above line, making sure to let listeners know not to allow the outside world — whether it’s the powers that be or others who are in a similar predicament — stop your forward movement to success.

9. “The Story of O.J.” – 4:44, 2017

“I coulda bought a place in DUMBO before it was DUMBO for like $2 million, that same building today is worth $25 million, guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo …”

Obviously, the biggest draw from JAY-Z’s most recent solo effort was based around him being transparent about his infidelities as well as his intent to better himself for his wife Beyoncé and their children. Aside from that, songs like “The Story of O.J.” are absolutely packed with lines about how he continues to build his financial wealth — so much so that this song alone could have its own article. With that said, bars like the one above show how even he has some regrets with money decisions made at this stage of his life. As can be seen below, he also rapped about how his art investments alone have solidified Blue Ivy, Rumi and Sir’s safety nets…

I bought some artwork for $1 million, 2 years later that shit worth $2 million, few years later that shit worth $8 million, I can’t wait to give this shit to my children…”

10. “Entrepreneur” (with Pharrell Williams), 2020

“We on our own, stop sittin’ around waitin’ for folks to throw you a bone, if you can’t buy the building at least stock the shelf, then keep on stackin’ ’til you stockin’ for yourself …”

A couple of years ago, Pharrell connected with his longtime collaborator for the single “Entrepreneur,” which — as the title suggests — sees the two behemoths speaking to Black men about overcoming race-based adversities and social ills to become thriving businessmen. JAY-Z made sure to zero in on this by also reminding the target audience that no handout is coming, and they must be assertive to accomplish all goals.

The accompanying visual for “Entrepreneur” (below) is also notable given its spotlight on a variety of men and women that have seemingly followed much of the advice that JAY-Z and his peers have pushed upon us all over the past few decades — advice that will certainly see many following in the billionaire‘s golden footsteps.


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