With Reasonable Doubt being discreetly delivered only three years after VIBE’s conception, we've had the pleasure of watching JAY-Z dominate the game from floor seats. Every step of the way has been a big one; from his days as an underground emcee waiting to bubble, to the untouchable “Jigga Man” at the height of the Roc-A-Fella Dynasty to now, a mature, lamenting, father and husband.
This proximity has led the Grammy-winning artist to the cover of VIBE on many occasions and at times, the author of his own journey.
Like any good student of music, we did some crate digging and pieced together a timeline of covers, feature articles, and interviews that show the divine evolution of the God MC.
"You Must Love Him"
Written by Harry Allen | Photography by Carl Posey
With the release of Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, JAY began to ascend to the level as one of the biggest names in music, redefining what American “pop” music was. Despite this new-found fame, Hov still shrouded his true self behind his braggadocios rap persona, electing not to do many interviews as they are “monotonous bullsh*t” to him.
However, for this 1999 cover story, JAY-Z stepped outside of himself to engage in a conversation with Harry Allen, where the ambitious artist expressed his goals as “The Jigga Man,” while giving fans a small peek into what makes him Shawn Carter.
"[The goal is] to create a comfortable position for me and everybody around me. Like we doin’ with Roc-A-Fella. ‘Cause, like, blacks when we come up, we don’t normally inherit businesses. That’s not a common thing for us to have old money, like three and four generations, inheriting our parents’ businesses. That’s what we workin’ on right now. A legacy.”
“I know a lotta people out there going through the same struggles and the same thing I’ve been through. ‘You’re not a Martian, you’re not an unusual person. I understand your struggle. I’ve been through the same thing.’ And that’s what I think is happening right now. There’s a lotta people relating to my story.”
Written by Kris Ex | Photography by Vincent Skeltis
After Vol. 2 mastered unthinkable heights, geared up for the release of his fourth studio album Vol. 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter. This period in his life was clouded with a contradictory sense of optimistic drama. Yes, JAY-Z was at the height of hip-hop with his thumb on the pulse of the music business, but this was paired with personal and legal issues.
Kris Ex is able to get Hov to give context his battles, while alluding to personal issues that he wouldn’t fully reveal to the public until later in his career. This feature begins to chip away at the rapper's shield of relatable but distant armor, giving readers their first true glimpse at the human side of hip-hop’s demigod.
"I never thought success would be this hard to manage."
“‘I want you to imagine for a second growing up looking like someone and wanting to walk like that person and everything like that. You look at that person like that’s your goal in life, to emulate everything they do and then your mom comes to you like, ‘Well, we're about to get as divorce and your pop wants to disown you once you turn 18.’”
"In My Lifetime…"
Written by Shawn Carter | Photography by Sacha Waldman
Having weathered the Stillmatic storm while creating his magnum opus, The Blueprint, JAY-Z is now on his seventh studio album, turning “Big Homie” from a clever ad-libbed moniker to his official status in the genre. In his seven active years, Jigga also found growth from Marcy’s favorite mercenary and transformed into the president of Def Jam. Yet, with this editorial written by Shawn Carter, himself, one can sense his distance from creating. He lets readers hear first-hand his views on success and his failures as an artist. Almost stripping away his egotistical rap alias. Almost. Because true to his know hubris, JAY-Z combats a few of these sentimental movements with a few witty gut punches at foes.
I was four years old, but I remember that morning clearly. As my mom left for work, she told me to wait ‘till she got home to practice riding my bike. My uncle had promised to put training wheels on the secondhand bike I’d received from my cousin, but he hadn’t gotten around to it. Me being the youngest of four I was determined to be independent and not spoiled. I took the bike outside and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and taught myself how to ride without training wheels. My Brooklyn block was watching in amazement. It was my first feeling of being famous.
I apologize. By no means am I perfect. I said some real mean things about Nas and his family on ‘Superugly,’ and I felt I was a man about that by pulling the record publicly, although that wasn’t a ‘gangsta’ thing to do.
"Hova and Out"
Written by Shawn Carter | Photography by Dan Winters
After less than 10 years in the game, Hova had clearly reserved his seat a top of rap’s Mount Olympus. Having used his legendary one-take wonders to create and deliver projects at an unprecedented rate, it seemed as though there wasn’t much left of JAY-Z to do as a rapper. This notion was felt by not only his fans, but the God MC himself as he announced he would be “retiring” from rap after his ninth album, The Black Album. This created mass hysteria within the world of hip-hop, making anything associated with Jigga of high demand.
And even though this decision to walk away from rap was respected, many people did not fully understand his reasoning. So, when asked by VIBE to pen a piece centered around the close of his career, Hova saw the article as a medium to explain his thought process to his fan. Jigga used the pages of this iconic issue like the soles of a freshly unboxed pair of Air Jordan 10s, implementing song titles the way Nike used MJ’s accomplishments to create a timeline that simultaneously explained his departure.
I can honestly say I'm bored with hip-hop. I spent a lot of time feeling uninspired. I guess I'm spoiled. I grew up in a time where you had Ice Cube and Brand Nubian releasing albums the same year. One was West Coast, gangsta, and political and the other was East Coast, stylish and political. Polar opposites, but still linked, with crazy support from the same fan. Now, no one makes an album anymore. As soon as they walk into their label's office, executives are asking for a single. I know I'm guilty of co-creating that format, but it gets dimmer every time it's copied. A rapper will do their ‘girl’ song, the ‘club’ song and their "gangsta white label." It's not about the music anymore. It's about reaching for numbers.
I lost. I got second place, which to me, then and now, was the same as coming in 50th.
I read Miles Davis did this – took a break – and I understand it now. It probably got to a point he felt he couldn’t hear what was being played, and he just had to stop. He didn’t play his horn professionally for a couple of years. I truly did this rap game to death. No one can be mad at me for putting it down.
"The Audacity of Hov"
Written by Elliot Wilson | Photography by Leann Mueller
After using The Black Album as a brilliant fade away, much was expected from his eventual revival, intense pressure that resulted in the blunder that was Kingdom Come. Questions began to swirl around whether Hov’s jump shot had lost its touch. Yet with the 2007 release of American Gangster, it was clear that the self-proclaimed “Mike Jordan of Recording” had traded the 45 for his vintage 23 in search for that sixth ring.
Even though Hov seemed to have returned with vengeance, a sense of maturity permeated through this piece. Not only did he discuss his relationship with Beyoncé and his political affiliations, he also accepted his position as hip-hop’s elder statesman, removing pride to welcome the newer generation’s cultural impact (something rap still struggles with). Thus, making his 15-question conversation with Elliot Wilson, reflective of the dynamic duality that is now characteristic of JAY-Z.
My goal is to make a classic album this year, and my thing is to take a couple jump shots in my layup line. I look at it like a sport, like basketball. And when I came out with Kingdom Come, I didn’t do that. I came off the bench cold. So once again, I don’t have regrets over here. I just think if I took a couple more jump shots I could have made it to where everyone could have been able to relate to it.
You should embrace the next generation. In hip-hop, you always fight the next person coming in because the person wants your spot… but as a person, as a competitor, that’s only natural. There was a time Kobe was like, ‘I think I can take Mike.’ I admire that in a way. The public has (Lil Wayne) next in line. That’s what the public says. So, why not?