Shawn Corey Carter, more commonly known as Jay-Z, was born on December 4, 1969. He grew up in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, New York. His father abandoned his family at a young age, and Jay-Z also witnessed gang and drug violence in the housing projects. Surprisingly, Jay-Z, only 12 years old at the time, also shot his own brother for stealing his jewelry (Wikipedia, n.d.). Jay-Z was fascinated by the art of freestyling, hip-hop music, and writing poetry as raps by the age of 9, but was also involved in the drug-dealing world while growing up (Carter, 2010). He attended a few high schools, each of which he did not graduate. Jay-Z began to be known outside of the city in the 80’s and early 90’s when he was featured in music of well-known artists at the time, including Jaz-O (one of Jay-Z’s great friends), Big Daddy Kane, and Big L. Jay-Z helped create Roc-A-Fella Records, and released his first album called Reasonable Doubt in 1996. In 1997, he made a distribution deal with Def Jam and released his second album titled In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Jay-Z has had over 11 #1 albums (beating both Elvis and the Rolling Stones) (Carter, 2009). In addition to music, Jay-Z has achieved many other accomplishments as well. He is a huge entrepreneur/businessman. Jay-Z began the clothing line Rocawear, which was aimed to provide quality clothing at lower costs. He owns the 40/40 clubs, which are sports bars in Atlantic City and Chicago. He is a part-owner of the New Jersey Nets NBA team. In 2010, he wrote a book (which I have gotten much of my information from) called Decoded in which he explains his reasoning behind his raps as well as describes important events of his life. He has also established himself as a filmmaker with movies such as State Property, Paper Soldiers, and Fade to Black (Wikipedia, n.d.). Jay-Z remains a powerful and influential figure in the world today. He is continuing to make music, expanding and creating his businesses, and is also keeping a personal life. He was married to Beyonce Knowles, famous pop artist, on April 4, 2008. He and Beyonce, however, choose to not discuss their relationship much with the public press in order to preserve a sense of privacy and intimacy (Carter, 2010). Jay-Z, with so many different accomplishments and goals, can be assessed in many different ways, but I will assess his personality with two theories: Neo-Analytic/Ego perspective and the Trait and Skill Perspective.


The neo-analytic/ego approach is focused on the feelings of self that come from our interactions and conflicts with others throughout life. Neo-analysts believe that the individual’s sense of self (also known as the ego) is the core of one’s personality. Particularly within this perspective, Jay-Z will be analyzed here with Alfred Adler’s theory of Individual Psychology. Individual Psychology is defined as the “theory of personality that stresses the unique motivations of individuals and the importance of each person’s perceived niche in society” (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). Adler also believed that human nature is based on the goals of one’s life, and that social conditions have a major impact. Within this theory, there is an inferiority/superiority complex that comes from a core of personality that strives for superiority. Jay-Z has demonstrated a superiority complex, which is evident in an exaggerated arrogance. This arrogance is developed to hide the inferiority complex that can develop if an individual is/was in a situation where there is an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Jay-Z’s childhood was one that was filled with violence and hardships. Jay-Z said, “the self-esteem is low because in these neighborhoods we’re all taught that we’re less than and we’re not equal to everyone else in the world so they’re fighting against that: against self-esteem and against ego and everyone else ignoring us” (Carter, 2009). Heroin and cocaine were extremely prevalent in the Marcy Projects where he grew up, and he witnessed murders and shoot-outs at a very young age (Carter, 2010). Jay-Z, along with his peers, was in a very unfortunate environment where there was struggle everywhere around him. Jay-Z even got involved with drug-dealing, which he referred to in his book Decoded: “I love metaphors, and for me hustling is the ultimate metaphor for the basic human struggles: the struggle to survive and resist, the struggle to win and to make sense of it all” (18). Jay-Z has this mind-set about drug-dealing that it was necessary and acceptable in his environment because it helped him survive and rise above the rest. Although drug-dealing is dangerous and bad for society, Jay-Z developed his view as part of his superiority complex so that he did not feel badly or guilty for what he had done in order to retain his feelings of self-worth. In addition, Jay-Z thought of himself as a great rapper and artist. Although he is very successful, his early thoughts before his success were still holding himself above others. He may have felt trapped in the projects with the rest of the kids, but went as far as hiding his notebook full of rhymes under his mattress in order to prevent others from stealing them. His arrogance is still extremely evident today, and he believes that he will beat The Beatles for the most #1 albums (Carter, 2009). Adler also developed the concept of the aggression drive, which is the concept that in reaction to perceived helplessness, a person will lash out against the inability to achieve something. Jay-Z’s aggression drive is evident in his personality. Again, the economic hardships in Brooklyn made it difficult to see a way out, however, Jay-Z did not let the perceived helplessness in the projects hold him back. He lashed out with drug-dealing and his rap game. Drug-dealing accompanied violence, but he fought his way through the hard times in order to gain wealth and respect (Carter, 2010). Once his rapping was on the verge of being widespread, he tried to get a record deal, but no major labels would take him. His personality was to also lash out against this idea that he was not good enough, and so he instead began his own company called Roc-A-Fella Records with Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs (Carter, 2010). Through this lashing out and persisting attitude, he was able to release his first records that made him popular. Adler’s idea called perfection striving is that people attempt, through self-improvement, to reach fictional goals of their view of perfection is extremely evident in Jay-Z’s personality. In an interview on BBC in 2009, Jay-Z discussed how he has reached perfection by maturing with his music (Carter, 2009). He had goals in his childhood to be the best, and believed that he would be. He believes that in order to be a great rapper, one must create a story, be able to change that story with time. In the interview, he claimed that the reason why he has reached the top is because he never stopped striving for perfection, and he also allowed himself to stay connected with his roots and beliefs while allowing the story to change so that many people can connect with his music. He believes, and his success has shown, that he has reached his goals, which would not have been possible without perfection striving. Social understanding was also a major part of Adler’s theory. He theorized that everyone must address occupational tasks, societal tasks, and love tasks; each one of these also affects the others (Friedman & schustack, 2009). These are social issues that require understanding. Jay-Z can be described to be addressing all three of these, clear by his success in his life. Ever since he was 9, he knew that he loved rapping, and as he watched rap/hip-hop expand as he was growing up, it became obvious to him that he wanted to join this industry (Carter, 2010). Through societal tasks, he developed friendships and social networks, which ended up helping him tremendously with his occupational task. As mentioned in the biography, he was featured in his successful social network’s music, which allowed him to become introduced to the industry (Carter, 2010). With his friends and network, he was able to continue his success and maintain the social support he needed. With Beyonce, he found a suitable life-partner. The two of them are extremely successful and one of the most wealthy couples in the world (Wikipedia, n.d.). They also maintain their privacy as a couple in order to stay happy and close with each other. The neo-analytic/ego aspects of personality are therefore very apparent in Jay-Z’s life, particularly in Adler’s contributions.


Although there are many different theories within the trait approach to personality that can be applied to Jay-Z’s personality, a contemporary approach called the Big Five is the most capturing. The Big Five is a trait approach that allows personality to be embodied by five dimensions. These dimensions, inductively developed from extensive research, are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. Every individual, according to this approach, is somewhere on a scale for each of these dimensions (Friedman & Schustack, 2009).
Extroversion is “the personality dimension that includes enthusiasm, dominance, and sociability” (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). Jay-Z is very high on the extroverted scale. He is undoubtedly one of the most dominant rap figures of today, and would not have been able to get to where he is without being so enthusiastic about his work. Jay-Z has become a huge figure in the rap world and very well-known all around the world. He, therefore, is not retiring or shy, which are qualities of introverted people. He has had to, like many other rap artists, show himself to the world and use his voice and energy to reach the listeners. His extroverted qualities have allowed him to do this effectively.
Agreeableness is “the personality dimension that includes friendliness, cooperation, and warmth; people low in this dimension are cold, quarrelsome, and unkind” (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). Jay-Z, based on what the public can see, is somewhere in the middle of the scale of agreeableness. Jay-Z has shown that he can hold friendships and cares about the world. In an interview, Jay-Z discusses how we, as people of the free country, should help those in need and support the idea of health-care for all (BBC, 2009). He established friendships at all points in his life, and is holding a marriage that is shown to be respectful by not revealing intimacies to the public. However, although he is capable of establishing friendships, he has not maintained all of them, and has participated as well as provoked quarrels. The battle between Jay-Z and Nas is one of the most well-known example of Jay-Z’s unkind arguments. The feud lasted from 2001-2005, and both artists verbally attacked each other within their music (Wikipedia, n.d.).
Conscientiousness is “the personality dimension that includes dependability, cautiousness, organization, and responsibility” (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). Jay-Z took chances, but took them carefully. For this reason, I would place him high on the conscientiousness scale. As mentioned in the biography, Jay-Z is far from just a famous rapper. He is also a big businessman, and has invested in sports bars (40/40), a basketball team, Rocawear clothing, his Roc-a-Fella record label, shoes, etc. To get to the level of success and expansion that he is at today, he had to persevere (especially because of his childhood in the Marcy projects) and keep his many projects organized so that he could make careful investment decisions.
Neuroticism, the fourth dimension, is “the personality dimension that includes nervousness, tension, and anxiety; people low in this dimension are emotionally stable, calm, and contented” (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). Jay-Z is in the lower part of the scale of this dimension. While watching interviews of Jay-Z, it is clear that he remains calm and collective, with comprehensive, stable answers that allow him to be displayed as emotionally stable. He seems confident in his abilities and his opinions, so not much anxiety or nervousness is exhibited. However, Jay-Z describes that:
“In hip-hop, top artists have the same pressure a rock star like Bono has—the pressure to meet expectations and stay on top. But in hip-hot there’s an added degree of difficulty: While you’re trying to stay on top by making great music, there are dozens of rappers who don’t just compete with you by putting out their own music, but they’re trying to pull you down at the same time” (Carter, 2010).
However, he goes on to say how he loves the competition.
Lastly, openness is “the personality dimension that includes imagination, wit, originality, and creativity; people low on this dimension are shallow, plain, and simple” (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). Jay-Z is very high on the openness dimension. He is in no way plain and simple. Decoded reveals the meanings of his lyrics and the depth of thoughts and rhymes, which reveal a culture, a history, and personal descriptions. Jay-Z says “I read quite a bit, but I read more-so about the soul and about the search for life and you know everything that goes on outside the tangible; the things that we see and know to be true. There’s poetry in everything” (Carter, 2009). His raps are clearly creative, and he is wise in all areas in the art of hip-hop.


Jay-Z is an intelligent, influential, successful artist in today’s world. His talents expand beyond the music industry into film-making and entrepreneurship. His book Decoded is also an excellent example of his skills in writing, revealing much of his personality and thought-process. After examining Jay-Z from both the neo-analytic/ego perspective and the trait approach, it is clear that Jay-Z is an artist that values his life’s journey and remains in touch with the roots of his childhood. He demonstrates the qualities of a personality that help a person excel in the music world, with passion for his work and determination to continue to remain prevalent in the industry.


Carter, S. (2010). Decoded. , NY: Spiegel & Grau.
Carter, S. (2009). Jay-Z Interview on BBC Part 1 [Online video]. BBC. Retrieved April 15, 2011, from
Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2009). Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Jay-Z. In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 16, 2011, from