When you have all the money you could want, more success than most can dream of, and absolute freedom to start your life over anywhere, what keeps two successful people together? Better yet—what keeps two successful people together after an affair, when everyone relentlessly scrutinizes your relationship, and celebrity breakups happen faster than you can read about them?
That’s what this story is about. In honor of Valentine’s Day and Black History Month, we’re profiling one of the most famous couples in the world—and the closest thing we have to royalty in the United States. For decades, Jay-Z and Beyoncé have been dominating the top of the charts with hits that made them famous, but in more recent years their fame has become almost eclipsed by the legend that is their relationship.
And that’s saying something. After all, Jay-Z earned the title of the first rapper to ever become a billionaire. Beyoncé, although she is 12 years younger than Jay, has a net worth of $500 million in her own right. And as the years have gone on, the world has watched them grow and diversify, invest in businesses and becoming one of the most influential teams in the country.
Yet rather than hide behind the wall of money they’ve amassed, the couple have been remarkably honest about their struggles together. And when the scandal occurred that could have threatened their reputations, or to end the life they’d build together, they found a way to turn it into a positive for them both. Because they both have a trait that we at Selfmade admire—the ability to roll with the punches, no matter what. It’s what’s allowed them to pivot, adapt, and keep moving forward in their own stories—and when you find someone else who is doing the same, it means that there’s nothing that can stand in your way.
JAY-Z’S START AT MARCY
Before Jay-Z was Jay-Z, he was Shawn Corey Carter—a kid raised in New York City by a single mom. Raised in the Marcy Projects, he bounced around between schools before he dropped out at the age of 16, shortly after releasing his first single. For a while, he payed the bills by selling drugs, but he still had the dream of becoming a professional musician. He used to play his music out of the back of his car under his rapper name when he could. Then in 1995, at the age of 26, Jay-Z founded his own record company—still known today as Roc-A-Fella Records.
He released an album called “Reasonable Doubt,” and because he was so much older than other rappers at that time, with content that was a lot more deep and profound than many other debut albums. He turned an age that some would have seen as a liability into a plus, and paving his own path in music and business. And for the rest of his life, Jay-Z never let the gatekeepers tell him “no”.
BEYONCE’S STAR BEGINNINGS
Beyonce Giselle Knowles, on the other hand, was born to be a star. Raised in Houston, Texas, Beyonce was a natural born talent. At the age of 9, she started entering talent shows where she won countless trophies for singing and dancing. Her father Matthew Knowles could see the potential in her career, so he quit his job at the Xerox Corporation in order to become her full-time manager while her mother supported the family as a hairdresser. Rather than pushing for his daughter to launch a solo career at such a young age, Matthew brought together Beyonce’s cousin and several other local girls to create a group called Girls Tyme.
My main accomplishment is achieving peace and happiness.”-Beyonce
Unfortunately, Girls Tyme was not the group that would make her a star. The group performed on the TV show “Star Search” and flopped. For Beyoncé, it was the first time in life she had tried her best, and lost. But that’s where Beyoncé showed what she was made of. She took it as a lesson learned, and got back to work. The group re-branded as Destiny’s Child, and continued to push, keeping their eye on the prize, until they had made it. Their song “Killing Time” was featured in the movie “Men in Black”.
When Beyoncé and Jay-Z met for the first time in the year 2000, Beyoncé was 18 and Jay was 30. In his song “Everything is Love”, Jay-Z has said that it was love at first sight when they met in Cancun. He was taken by Beyonce’s poise and confidence, and as they sat next to each other on the airplane, they were able to have a long conversation. With their age difference, Beyonce decided to take it slow. They became good friends, and talked over the phone for over a year before they went on their first official date in 2001.
Beyonce has said on several occasions that their friendship is what set the strong foundation, but their working relationship was just as strong. Beyoncé and Jay-Z released their first track together in 2002 called “03 Bonnie & Clyde”, but they tried to keep the details of their relationship out of the spotlight. They didn’t want to end up like so many celebrity couples who were exposed in the tabloids, and aimed for having as much of a normal relationship as possible. Looking back on things, it’s hard to imagine they ever believed that would be possible.
There are many shades on every journey. Nothing is black or white.”-Beyoncé
The same year they released “03 Bonnie & Clyde”, both of their careers took off in a big way. Beyoncé appeared in the movie Austin Powers: Gold Member, which established her as a solo talent outside of Destiny’s Child. Beyonce released her first solo album in 2003, and broke away from Destiny’s Child. Meanwhile, Jay-Z was launching a clothing brand called Roc-A-Wear. In the early 2000’s, the brand became incredibly popular among the rap and hip hop scene, and he was able to sell the company for $204 million in 2007.
For years they tried to keep their relationship quiet—they even denied being engaged in public. Instead of wedding rings, they had the Roman numeral number IV tattooed on their fingers, since it was their favorite number. On April 4, 2008, they were married in a private ceremony, but worked to keep their relationship out of the spotlight. Their wedding was a secret with only 30 of their closest friends and family.
THE BEST GETS BIGGER
From there, their careers only got bigger—and more expansive. Jay-Z had a knack for making brilliant money moves that continued to grow his wealth. Instead of accepting a product placement sponsorship with an alcohol brand, he became a partner in Armand de Brignac champagne by investing a $200 million stake in the brand in 2014. He featured their golden bottle in one of his music videos, and sure enough, this caused the brand to take off. He made millions of dollars per year from his association with the brand.
This is a pattern that has played out in all sorts of investments that Jay-Z has made. He purchased what is now the streaming service Tidal for $56 million—currently, the business is valued at $600 million. He invested $2 million in Uber that became $70 million. He went on to invest in other companies like Julep, JetSmarter, and Away luggage, until his total asset portfolio totaled over $200 million.
Sometimes we are satisfied with what people tell us we’re supposed to be satisfied with. And I’m just not going for it.” -Beyonce
But it wasn’t all about the money. In 2019, it was announced that Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation and The NFL would partner up. One of his goals in the NFL partnership is the “Inspire Change” initiative. This was inspired by the actions of football player Colin Keapernick, who stood against social injustice and was kicked out of the NFL. Jay-Z is hoping that now that Roc Nation is involved with such a large platform, they can make a difference in racial equality. Their other goal in the partnership was to bring amazing musical performances to the Superbowl halftime show.
At the same time, Beyoncé was finding her own way of becoming independent. Many young artists who started out as child stars keep their parents on as their talent managers, even well into adulthood. But Beyonce set the example that she was strong enough to pursue her own career, and broke away from her father’s management. She went on her own to establish Parkwood Entertainment in 2010, and in the documentary “Year of 4”, Beyonce showed what it was like to launch her own talent company. And it’s clear that she is equally as skilled in being a CEO as she is an entertainer.
REBUILDING THE FAMILY
It was in the midst of all this success that the trouble was brewing that would inspire some of the couples’ greatest success to date. Rumors spread for years that Jay-Z had been cheating on Beyonce, but they kept quiet for a long time. There was the infamous elevator video where Beyoncé’s sister attacked Jay-Z; the news that finally broke about Rachel Roy. And suddenly the empire of perfection that the two of them had built, for a moment looked like a house of cards.
But just as the pair has always had a plan—just like they had always rolled with the punches, and found a way to build something better in every situation, they decided to do what few would have the strength to do. They began working on their music together, and planning to talk about their family issues publicly. Beyoncé released her album “Lemonade” in 2016 where she expressed the pain of being cheated on, and Jay-Z released “4:44”. By starting with honesty, the incredible talent they shared, and turning their pain into the source of art, they were able to turn it into a positive for them both: “Lemonade” sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide that year.
We were sitting in the eye of the hurricane. The best place is in the middle of the pain. That’s where we were sitting.”-Jay-Z
Suddenly, the whole world knew the intimate details of their relationship, and it was all in the press. But they wouldn’t stop there. In 2017, Jay-Z was interviewed by Dean Baquet for the New York Times to talk about these mistakes. He said that he wanted to be an example for young black men and women that when you really love someone, you work through the problems. You find ways to roll with the punches, and turn the negatives into positives.
It’s a message that Jay-Z had been preparing his whole life to deliver, but one he didn’t have to give at all. There are many artists who would sweep the whole thing under the rug and move on. But if that had been Jay-Z’s style, he never would have gotten to where he did; and the same goes for Beyoncé. In the end, it is their struggles, as much as their successes, that make them great. But it was admitting those struggles that truly made them the best.