Sad Details About Jay-Z's Childhood

When Jay-Z grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the '80s, there wasn't a man bun, hipster beard, wine bar, or vegan café in sight. Instead, the neighborhood, whose motto was "do or die Bed-Stuy," was where you went to score drugs. It had earned such a bad name that people totally swerved the Myrtle-Willoughby Avenues subway station for fear of getting caught up in gang violence, per Crowd DNA.

Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, spent his formative years living in The Marcy Projects, per Britannica. The public housing complex had a reputation for being especially dangerous, quite a feat given its precarious surroundings. Neighborhood kids were forced to grow up quickly, getting by on street smarts and criminal enterprises. So, it's little surprise that Jay-Z had more than his fair share of adverse childhood experiences and run-ins with the law.

He became one of the lucky ones, though. Despite being enmeshed in economic hardship, violence, crime, and the crack epidemic, Jay-Z managed to work his way out of the 'hood and into the (Holly) 'wood, becoming one of the music industry's most outstanding artists in addition to a billionaire businessman. Oh, and along the way, he also married Beyoncé Knowles too. Black Past notes that it all started with Jay-Z spitting rhymes with his mentor, Jaz-O. Then, he honed his rap skills by competing in MC battles in his school's cafeteria. And Jay-Z's sad childhood provided him with plenty of material.

Desertion, drugs and guns

Before he became Brooklyn's finest, Jay-Z lived a hard-knock life in Bedford-Stuyvesant's Marcy Projects. Per People, he was raised by his mom, Gloria Carter, after his dad, Adnis "AJ" Reeves, walked out on Jay-Z and his siblings, Eric, Michelle, and Andrea Carter. Reeves' abandonment profoundly affected the 11-year-old Jay-Z and continued to impact him into his adulthood.

"I changed a lot. I became more guarded," he told Rolling Stone. "I never wanted to be attached to something and get that taken away again. I never wanted to feel that feeling again [of being left]. I never wanted to be too happy or gung-ho about something or too mad about something." Jay-Z admitted that the experience also affected his love life, as he avoided getting close to women because of the pain of breaking up.

A year after his dad left, Jay-Z shot his brother Eric Carter in the shoulder. The musician told The Guardian that he'd fired on him because Eric had stolen his ring to fund his crack habit. As for how a 12-year-old got his hands on a gun in the first place, Jay-Z explained, "I went to someone's crib, someone's house, and got it. Guns were everywhere. You didn't have to go far to get one. Just everywhere." Jay-Z admitted he was terrified of being sent to jail "forever." However, Eric didn't snitch. In fact, he ended up apologizing to his little brother for what his addiction had made him become.

Running this town

A year after shooting his brother, Jay-Z dropped out of school, joined a gang, and started selling crack. The musician explained to The Guardian that the drug was "everywhere," tearing through the neighborhood and leaving people with an addiction in its wake, including his brother, Eric Carter. "We were like elders in the village, with a whole community on drugs," Jay-Z said. "There was no one to police us. And we were out of control." He admitted to making awful choices, but he said they resulted from necessity.

"Navigating this place was life-or-death," Jay-Z told Oprah during a tour of his old neighborhood. "If you broke your word to someone, he wasn't going to take you to court — he was going to deal with you himself. So it was here in the projects that I learned loyalty."

Jay-Z explained that he'd been trying to quit dealing and focus full-time on his music for years, but he hadn't been able to let go of his old life. He said that he'd become addicted to the adrenaline buzz and standard of living that the money afforded him. However, when Jay-Z reached 20, he realized that "[he] couldn't be successful until [he] let the street life go." So, he turned his back on dealing and hustling, and began seriously working on his music career. And the rest, as they say, is history.