“The best style is no style. Because styles can be figured out. And when you have no style, they can’t figure you out.” – Jay Z
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you have seen at least part of Jay Z’s slow and steady rise to the top. Though he began his career in music, and continues to make moves in that genre, the 45 year old has added several other career labels to his name. A brief read over of his biography and you see job titles like former Def Jam Records president, co-founder of Roc-a-Fella Records, Rock Nation Sports owner, 40/40 Club owner, Brooklyn Nets co-owner, author, and now streaming music service owner. His ability to move fluidly between career fields is what makes him the definition of a mogul. But what is it about him that makes this possible?
Jay Z was born Shawn Corey Carter on December 5, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the youngest of four children and raised by a single mother after his father left the family when he was 11 years old. Jay’s early environment in the Marcy housing projects meant his surrounding environment included plenty of drugs and crime. In “Where I’m From” he rapped, “I’m from… up the block, around the corner and down the street/ From where the pimps, prostitutes and the drug lords meet/We make a million off of beats, cause our stories is deep.” Though he could have remained in this environment his whole life, he used this same upbringing to motivate himself to pursue bigger dreams.
While he began rapping in his teen years, it wasn’t until the early 90s that he began to get a little spotlight from working with artists like Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J. He encountered struggles from large record companies who refused to sign him, so in 1995 he began his own record label, Roc-A-Fella Records with friend Damon Dash. Here he released his first solo album, Reasonable Doubt, which Rolling Stone named one of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. Over the next 17 years Jay Z would release another 10 records, ultimately selling over 100 million records and earning 19 Grammies for his work.
Throughout his career as a musician he began planting his foot firmly in other ventures and established himself as a true mogul. Some of his most significant business achievements include buying a piece of the New Jersey Nets basketball team and moving them to his hometown of Brooklyn, becoming president of Def Jam Records, founding a sports management company, and landing the cover of Forbes magazine alongside billionaire Warren Buffet. To date he is worth nearly half a billion dollars! These accomplishments show how diverse Jay Z’s skills are. As he rapped in Kanye West’s Diamonds are Forever Remix, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a BUSINESS, man.”
Though a number of his talents have led him to success, it is his ability to work seamlessly in several different fields that has enabled him to try so many different projects. In particular, a skill called “Code-switching” allows him to speak and behave appropriately in different circumstances and with very different crowds. Code switching is defined as the practice of alternating between two or more varieties of language in conversation. He summed up this skill perfectly in a 2005 Rolling Stone article, “Be water. If you pour water in a cup, it takes the shape of a cup. If you pour it in a teapot, it takes the shape of a teapot. Be fluid. Treat each project differently. The best style is no style. Because styles can be figured out. And when you have no style, they can’t figure you out.”
So how often do people have to rely on code-switching to succeed? When have you relied on code-switching to get ahead? Is it strategy or selling out? To a mogul, it’s just another tool in the arsenal.