Originally from Marcy Houses housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, Jay-Z was abandoned by his father Adnes Reeves and shot his brother in the shoulder for stealing his jewelry when he was twelve years old. Jay-Z attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, along with rapper AZ, until it was closed down. After that he attended George Westinghouse Information Technology High School in Downtown Brooklyn, with fellow rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes, and Trenton Central High School in Trenton, New Jersey, but did not graduate. He claims to have been caught up in selling drugs, to which he refers in his music.
Jay-Z with a friend in Trenton, New Jersey, circa 1988.
According to his mother Gloria Carter, a young Jay-Z used to wake his siblings up at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. Eventually, she bought him a boom box for his birthday and thus sparked his interest in music. He began freestyling, writing rhymes, and followed the music of many artists popular at the time. It is stated that he beat Busta Rhymes in a rap battle, but also has lost to DMX. On top of that, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member Bizzy Bone was snatched by his employer and taken to New York to battle Jay-Z; Bizzy reportedly was victorious in the battle.
In his neighborhood, Carter was known as "Jazzy", a nickname that eventually developed into his stage name, "Jay-Z". The moniker is also an homage to his musical mentor, Jaz-O (a.k.a. Jaz, Big Jaz), as well as to the J/Z subway lines that have a stop at Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jay-Z can be heard on several of Jaz-O's early recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie". His career had a jump start when he battled a rapper by the name of Zai. The battle caught the eye of many record labels, as Jay-Z was able to hold his own against Zai. He first became known to a wide audience by being featured on the posse cut "Show and Prove" on the 1994 Big Daddy Kane album Daddy's Home He also made an appearance on a popular song by Big L, "Da Graveyard", and on Mic Geronimo's "Time to Build", which also featured early appearances by DMX, Q-Man, Ja Rule and Shazim Hasan in 1995. His first official rap single was called "I Can't Get With That", for which he also released a music video.