My Mom Knew Jay-Z When…

Home Brooklyn Life My Mom Knew Jay-Z When…

By Lillian Rizzo

When Jay-Z lived in the Marcy Housing Projects, home was building 524. He was just Shawn Carter. He attended Eli Whitney High School (now known as Van Arsdale) in Williamsburg. He walked out of his building directly on to Marcy Avenue everyday, just like his neighbors in the Bedford Stuyvesant projects.

But in the mid-1990s he launched his hip-hop career and in 1997 he released his first solo album. Carter changed his name and his address.

He was one of the few in Marcy to do the latter.

About 15 years later the 27 buildings in Marcy have changed little. Bordered by Nostrand, Marcy, Flushing and Myrtle avenues, each block represents a distinct demographic. On Nostrand Avenue Hasidic Jewish women line the street in the daytime. On Myrtle Avenue, 20-something year old hipsters spill out of the G-train subway stop right in front of the Marcy Playground. Flushing and Marcy avenues still remain populated by Marcy residents and after 3 p.m., when children are walking back from school, policemen and policewomen stand at the corners.

Jay-Z may occasionally mention Brooklyn and Bedford Stuyvesant in his songs. But the younger audience that lives where he once takes notice. he is of their parents’ generation. Either they’ve heard too much about him from their moms and dads. Or they do not even know that he once hung out on the same red benches where they gather.

Mention of his name around Marcy elicits rolled eyes and chuckles.

“I don’t really care, I actually just found out a few years ago,” said Kwame Pilay, 17. “My dad was actually the one to tell me. He used to play handball with Jay-Z.”

She doesn’t have a favorite song by the rapper, although she listens to him. She had no clue what building he lived in.

Her indifference seems more generational than critical. Jevonte Wilson, 14, shrugged his shoulders at the mention of Jay-Z. Other then saying it was cool Jay-Z grew up there and he liked his music, Wilson was unaware that his home bore mention in the rapper’s lyrics. He did perk up, however, when he mentioned that mother had known the young Shawn Carter. His family, like Pilay’s, has always lived in Marcy.

Imani Brown, 19, has also lived in Marcy all her life, and can point out which building Jay-Z used to live in. Without hesitation she turned around to look down the path that led there, saying her 39-year-old aunt used to go to high school with Jay-Z.

“He’s not always talking about the ghetto, he’s a family man,” she said. As for his having lived where she lives, she added, “It’s not really exciting, it’s inspirational because it shows you can do anything.”

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