Something was deemed special about the man known as Jay-Z even before he took his first breath. Shawn Corey Carter was born on Dec. 4, 1969, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Sort of like Denzel Washington, who was told that greatness awaited him and subsequently fulfilled that divinely inspired premonition, Shawn Carter’s mom silently proclaimed that he was destined for great things even before he was born. “He was the last of my four children,” Jay-Z’s mother later recalled, “the only one who didn’t give me any pain when I gave birth to him, and that’s how I knew he was a special child.” Abandoned by his father at age 11, Carter attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, where he was a classmate of the soon-to-be-superstar and martyred rap legend Notorious B.I.G. As Jay-Z later recalled his childhood in one of his songs, “December 4th,” “I went to school, got good grades, could behave when I wanted/ But I had demons deep inside that would raise when confronted.” It was during his childhood that the nickname he is known by around the world originated. In 1989, he joined the rapper Jaz-O — an older performer who served as a kind of mentor — to record a song called “The Originators,” which won the pair an appearance on an episode of “Yo! MTV Raps.” It was at this point that Shawn Carter embraced the nickname Jay-Z, which was simultaneously an homage to Jaz-O, a play on Carter’s childhood nickname of “Jazzy,” and a reference to the J/Z subway station near his Brooklyn home.

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