Nine years have passed since the rap icon played the Twin Cities. So what else has he been up to?
He raps, too.
Unless you're a diehard fan who knows every word of the “Blueprint” album and didn't immediately turn away from his dud of a new record, it's easy to forget that Jay Z is first and foremost a rapper. Dude wears a lot of hats.
The hip-hop icon is also known as — in rough order of what gets him the most publicity — a husband to Beyoncé, father to Blue Ivy, clothier, sports agent, advertising pitchman, record producer, bar and restaurant owner and all-around entrepreneur. In the past, he has also been a record-label president, film producer, NBA team owner and wannabe hotel operator.
Somewhere down the long list of things that have made Jay Z more and more famous, there's also “touring performer.” The real-life Shawn Carter, 43, hasn't played a concert in the Twin Cities since 2004 and has never been much for the road. He went so far as to proclaim his retirement from touring in 2006. Funny how he decided to go back out once a baby arrived back home.
So we're not sure how to rate Jay Z's performance skills going into Saturday's concert at Xcel Energy Center, a kickoff to the second U.S. leg of his Magna Carter Tour. But we can rate some of the more high-profile aspects of his multi-faceted career.
Turned down by other labels, Jay started Roc-A-Fella Records in 1996 with business partner Damon Dash to self-release his landmark debut, “Reasonable Doubt.” They built it into one of the most successful record imprints of the ’00s, thanks largely to Jay’s records and not, say, Memphis Bleek’s or Beanie Sigel’s. Jay went on to become president of Def Jam Recordings in 2006, but his tenure was short-lived, and he had a falling-out with Dash.
Greatest hits: Signing Kanye West to Roc-A-Fella and Rihanna to Def Jam.
Jay and Dash started the Rocawear clothing line in 1999 and built it to $700 million in annual sales by the time they sold the company to Iconix for $204 million in 2007. Staying on to help lead the company, Jay has been dogged — no pun intended — by controversies ranging from its use of Asian “raccoon-dog” fur to copyright infringement lawsuits to this year’s much-publicized dispute over its new high-end line for Barneys New York. The department store has been accused of racial profiling.
Greatest hit: Rocawear bomber jackets themselves became icons of hip-hop culture.
Roc-A-Fella produced such utterly forgettable ’00s urban dramas and comedies as “State Property,” “Paid in Full” and “Death of a Dynasty,” several starring Dash himself.
Greatest hit: He was smart enough to let Ron Howard’s company, Imagine, handle production of the excellent new festival documentary “Made in America.”
Budweiser, Samsung, Bing, Reebok and Hewlett-Packard have used him to sell their products. It seems to have worked out fine for those companies, but it also worked well for Jay. The Samsung deal led to an automatic million downloads of his new album this year, and the Budweiser ads also greatly promoted his music.
Greatest hit: The 2009 TV/web ad for Rhapsody in which he re-created all his album covers (and hyped that year’s “The Blueprint 3”).
His stake in the Brooklyn Nets was only 1/15th of one percent, but he played a big role in moving the team from New Jersey to his native borough, getting a new arena built and branding the franchise. Alas, he had to sell off his stake to make way for his next big venture — sports agent, which is a conflict of interest for NBA owners.
Greatest hit: He must’ve had a role in getting music-savvy ex-Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett to sign with the Nets.
With help from mega-agency CAA and his own experience in making guys in suits pony up for guys and gals with talent, Jay launched Roc Nation Sports this year and has signed such hotshots as the New York Yankees’ Robinson Canó, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant and the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz.
Greatest hit: Jay's mere presence at a dinner meeting with New York Mets reps last week was enough to spark speculation that Canó might defect crosstown.
Grade: Too early to call, but his roster is A-list.
With a net worth reported by Forbes at about $500 million (and that’s not counting his wife’s coffers), Jay has taken hits for not being more generous. Like the time in 2010 he donated a mere $6,400 to his namesake Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund. When Harry Belafonte singled out Jay and Beyoncé for not being more supportive of African-American causes earlier this year, Jay responded, “My presence is charity.”
Greatest hit: He did donate $1 million to the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina.
OK, so Jay sounds bored and out-of-touch on the new record, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” arguably the worst of his 12 solo albums (2006's “Kingdom Come” comes close, though). He's still the hard-flowing master MC and sometimes poppy hitmaker who gave us “Hard Knock Life,” “Empire State of Mind,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “N-----s in Paris,” “Run This Town” and “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” — all classics he has been delivering on the current tour.
Greatest hit: “99 Problems” (go ahead and debate).
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658