An attempt to understand the world of current events, finance and the economy on a level that allows me to teach it. I'm a journalist. Oh and the occasional post about family, life and kids!
In this 2010 photo, Jay-Z sits in a small diner in Omaha, NE for an interview with Steve Forbes and Warren Buffett. The most successful investor in history at the same table as a former drug dealer who 25 years ago was growing up in the projects.
Now, I’ve seen east L.A. and Compton, luckily only driving through them but I’ve seen and heard first-hand the destruction, violence and hopelessness in some horribly underprivileged communities. I certainly don’t pretend to understand it or relate to it.
I’ve often heard people say nobody really ever escapes the ghetto. Well if that’s true, someone must have forgotten to tell Shawn Corey Carter, aka Jay-Z. Beyond the music, drugs and gangs, Jay-Z is one of the most successful American musicians in history, and it’s not all due to his ability on stage.
He grew up in the infamous Marcy housing project in Brooklyn. His father abandoned him at age 11, he shot his brother for stealing from him when he was 12 and he was dealing cocaine when he was 13 years old. Statistically speaking, Jay-Z should be dead or in prison.
However, in the midst of the mayhem, he’s become an embodiment of American ingenuity. He epitomizes entrepreneurship and business acumen. He refuses mediocrity, takes risks and has a work ethic most of us can only aspire to. Think of it this way, it’s tough to go to work every day for any of us. It requires discipline, desire to save money, pay bills and raise children. Imagine if you had access to hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it completely liquid. Jay-Z can do anything he wants to. He can fly anywhere, buy anything and enjoy everything in life, yet he gets up every day and makes new deals, works harder, does more. If you think it’s tough to do what you do now, imagine STILL doing it with a few hundred million dollars in the bank. That is discipline.
“My brands are an extension of me. They’re close to me. It’s not like running GM, where there’s no emotional attachment.”
Jay-Z’s business ventures are vast. Early in his career, he co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records. He later founded the Rocawear clothing line, a decision that paid off handily when he sold it years later for $204 million. Additionally, he founded the upscale 40/40 club in New York, then later expanded it to Chicago, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. He also has plans of expanding to Tokyo, Singapore and numerous airports. He bought part of the New Jersey Nets and has since brought the team to Brooklyn. Curiously, he is listed as the Co-Brand Director for Budweiser Select in North America. All of this in addition to massive real estate holdings and investments in a major cosmetic company. His listed net worth as of 2010 was over $460 million.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Some say luck has a huge part in success and I believe that’s true. Even Warren Buffett admits that had he been born a woman, black, or in a different country at the time he was born he would never have been as successful as he is. Jay-Z also admits luck’s role in success, however I vehemently believe that luck is not a single antecedent to success.
Jay-Z shares specific traits with other successful American titans. In a word: Passion. He has the ability to foresee the future and not simply what he wants now, but what he wants to do and where he wants to go. His work ethic is one most people will never have. He has an inherent knack for seeing what CAN be, and fiercely fighting to see it through. He’s a risk taker, he tests the boundaries of “what is” and expects, no, DEMANDS success. Possibly most important of all, he fails. He fails and comes back. He fails and works harder.
It’s also easy to make money and spend it on oneself. Another trait he shares with the “1%” is his philanthropic habits. He donated over $1 million to Red Cross after Katrina hit in 2005, he has worked with Kofi Anan, former Secretary of the United Nations to raise awareness for water shortage in third-world countries and pledges other countless dollars to charities.
“Death before dishonor and Ill tell you what else, ill tighten my belt before I ask for help”
I argue that Jay-Z is not a rapper. He’s not a thug or a drug dealer who “struck it rich.” He’s an American icon who runs circles around most of us regardless of wealth or fame. He’s unique, he’s passionate and he never lets go. He just happened to be born in Brooklyn and raised in the Marcy projects. Where would Warren Buffett be had he been born in the same place? That’s the business of Jay-Z.
It’s a thought-provoking question….a lucky gangster rapper who happened to hold on to his money and walk out of the ghetto? Case closed? Or a man worthy of sitting at the same table with the late Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates?
To see the full video interview with Steve Forbes and Warren Buffett, click HERE.