The Reign of Jay-Z; the Megastar Rapper Wants to Trade His Mike and Mixing Console for a CEO's Desk. Can He Live Any Larger? Nobody Ever Got Rich Betting against Him

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Byline: Allison Samuels

You would never have known it was a bad week for Jay-Z. There he was, two days after the election, at P. Diddy's birthday bash (held on Wall Street, of course), styling and profiling in a custom-made pinstripe suit, as if that other expensive suit--brought against him by R. Kelly--were just a minor annoyance. He and Kelly had planned a fall tour together, but Jay-Z blamed Kelly for showing up late, canceled shows and finally kicked him off the bill. Kelly, in turn, accused the rapper's posse of sabotaging his equipment and dousing him with pepper spray. (See you in court.) Oh, yes, and Kelly wants $75 million for wrongful termination of his contract. Yet Jay-Z, looking even more dapper than his host, grooved and mingled with the likes of Usher, Naomi Campbell, Donna Karan and Bruce Willis like a genial CEO--which is exactly the role he's got his sights on now.

At the age of 34, with an estimated fortune of nearly $300 million and enough awards and platinum albums to fill even one of his several palatial homes--not to mention his romance with the bootylicious superstar Beyonce Knowles--Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, is living a life that must have been hard to imagine when he was growing up in the crime-ridden Marcy projects in Brooklyn. Earlier this year Carter announced his retirement from recording--a move insiders saw coming--and he has now been offered the top job at Island/Def Jam Records. (According to sources familiar with the deal, he's mulling over the details.) He's also busy running his own Roc-a-Fella enterprises (including the Roc-a-Fella record label), which generates about $1 billion annually, and he's a part owner of the New Jersey Nets. No wonder he gave up his day job. "I think Puffy became a businessman so he could become a rapper," says one industry executive. "Jay-Z became a rapper to become a businessman. That was his way of getting into the game, because who wouldn't want to hire the most popular guy in hip-hop? His face alone would get the deal done. That wouldn't have happened to a kid coming straight out of the ghetto--he never would have had a shot."

Jay-Z readily admits that his long-term game plan always went beyond the recording studio and the concert venue. "The business of business has always been something I focused on, and rightly so," he says. "Rap is a young man's game, and I thought about that even when I was young--it has to come to an end. Whatever job you have, be it hustling on the street or working at the mall, you gotta have a plan for when it's over." But he won't be checking the want ads any time soon. With a huge fan base, the rapper with the boy-next-door looks and cooler-than-ice demeanor has inspired a generation of inner-city kids to ditch their NBA hoop dreams for an equally unrealistic fantasy of rolling in Bentleys and quaffing Cristal with beautiful women. Aware of his impact, Jay-Z began visiting urban high schools across the country, encouraging kids to stay in school and out of trouble. …