Jaÿ-Z, Damion “D-Roc” Butler, Lil’ Cease, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, Lil’ Kim, and Lance “Un” Riveria, photographed at a party in New York City by James “FlickMaster” Mooreon on February 1, 1997. The party was co-hosted by Jigga and Los Angeles Clippers player Malik Sealy, who was celebrating his 27th birthday.

The shooting guard was a close friend of “OG Juan” Perez, who introduced the baller and the rapper to each other in 1996. Perez was one of the pallbearers at Sealy’s funeral on May 26, 2000—on May 20 he had tragically passed away after being involved in a car crash in Minnesota. He was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, alongside his idolMalcolm X. His father Sidney was once the leader’s bodyguard. Every time Hov hits the stage in Minnesota he dedicates the show to his late friend. His last season playing in the NBA was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and they retired his #2 jersey in his honor.

In February 2000 Sealy and OG Juan opened Baseline Studios in Chelsea, and Jigga was quick to move his label’s recording sessions there to support his friends. It became the recording home of Roc-A-Fella Records, with Hov recording the majority of his fifth studio album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia there. Sealy was present during the “You, Me, Him And Her” session. After his death Jay recorded “Stick 2 The Script,” memorializing his friend with the line “for like a hundred weeks nigga,we gon’ run the streets ’til we reach Malik.”

At this time photographer FlickMaster was already known to Jaÿ, with them having met through Roc-A-Fella Records receptionist Omoyele McIntosh, who ran the Roc’s Fan Family fan club with her sister Dara and Chaka Pilgrim. In 1995 he had heard one of the Brooklyn rapper’s early appearances on The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, immediately knowing he was destined for greatness. The next day he rang the Roc-A-Fella offices at 17 John Street to inquire about when his debut album would be dropping.

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According to Moore, Omi was “mad cool” and would hook him up with album samples and snippets in the lead-up to its June 1996 release, in return for his support on the street. Eventually he started going to John Street offices and chilling with the Roc team, and soon became one of Jaÿ’s personal photographers. He spent years taking photographs of Jigga and his crew at the office, in the studio, at industry parties, on tour, and at the label’s music video sets.

Jay-Z and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith with Big Bo and his wife Jessica, photographed as they dined in the private room at The Spotted Pig in the West Village on June 4, 2008. Big Bo, who is a childhood friend of “OG Juan” Perez, first met the rapper in 1996. After working with Roc-A-Fella Records and OG’s Def Jam subsidiary Roc-La-Familia, Bo is now a D’USSÉ ambassador. 

The birthday celebrations began at Hov and OG Juan’s Roc The Mic Studio in Manhattan, where the Roc family drank Armand de Brignac champagne while Philli Collins laid down his “A Billi” remix. If you listen to the introduction, the rap mogul can be heard saying “OG I’m going in! Big Bizzle, happy birthday my nigga!” After Jay had laid down his freestyle with Young Guru working the boards, the group headed to The Spotted Pig for dinner. The “A Billi” freestyle was released five days later.

Restaurateur Ken Friedman founded the West Village restaurant in February 2004 with help from a famous friend—Jay himself. The two had the same lawyer, which resulted in Friedman having the opportunity to pitch The Spotted Pig to Jay one night over dinner. As soon as he was done Jay pulled out his checkbook and handed over a $50,000 check to secure his immediate inclusion in the venture. Jay also happens to be an investor in the building the gastropub is housed in. In an interview with Bon Appétit magazine on the restaurant’s ten-year anniversary Friedman sang the praises of his famous partner: “Everyone Jay as this ‘thugged-out’ rapper, but he’s really fascinated with food and wine, and he loves April Bloomfield’s cooking. He’ll have her come to his house and cook. He’s also a dream investor; he’s invested in everything we’ve asked him about—the Rusty Knot, the John Dory, Tosca. So that’s cool.”

When staying in New York City Jay is a regular patron at his investment—in November 2007 he famously ate there five evenings in a row. He usually occupies the private room on the second floor of the establishment, and he has hosted everyone from Bill Clinton to Kobe Bryant to Q-Tip in there. Jay will often let the British Michelin starred chef Bloomfield cook him anything she wants upon his arrival, as long as there is no pork in the dish.

“Now me and my lil’ mama, ‘Quita and Ty-TyJuan and Dez out in Saint-TropezJay Brown and Kawanna, sneaking marijuanaYou know that Mary J. give you no more drama”

Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kawanna Brown,

Marquita Smith, Jay Brown, and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, photographed as they walked the streets of Portofino, Italy on June 14, 2005. On that particular family holiday the group, along with “OG Juan” Perez and his wife Desiree, spent a week traveling the Mediterranean Sea.

“Ty mama died, I was thereMy nephew died, he was thereHe in my house more than I be there, more than B there …Ty Ty take care of my kids, after he done grieving”

Jay-Z, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith and his son River, and Steve Stoute, photographed as they sat courtside at a game between the New Jersey Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the

at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey on March 22, 2009. That evening Hov, who is wearing a

Rocksmith “Notorious 81″ shirt, watched as his mentee LeBron James lead his team to a 96-88 win over the franchise he was a co-owner of.

Ty Ty has been riding with Hov for thirty years, and is the godfather of Blue Ivy Carter. On “FRIENDS”

Jay revealed that it is Ty Ty that he and Beyoncé have asked to take care of Blue, Sir, and Rumi—if the superstar couple should ever pass while they are still children.

In a 2015 interview with Fatherly, Ty Ty explained how Uncle Jay has always helped him parent his children, and he always expects to be able to do so vice versa with Blue Ivy and the twins. “We have conversations about it all the time. We’re going to parent each other’s kids because we’re family,” he explained. “If my son is doing something and Jay, Jay Brown, or any of the guys see it, they don’t wait for me to explain the situation that just happened. They’ll just handle it.”

Later he gave advice to parents who are working hard to provide for their children, but may find themselves leaving their family behind for the cause of money. “Maintain a balance, because nothing is more important than your kids. A lot of times, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re only doing this for the betterment of our family, and that makes it easier to stay away longer. Then, you put yourself in positions where you don’t have to be there; but if you allow yourself to get used to it, you’ll be there. If you don’t allow yourself to get used to it, you won’t be there.”

Jay-Z, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, and Rihanna, photographed sitting courtside at a game between the New Jersey Nets and the Miami Heat at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey on March 15, 2007. That evening the trio watched as the Nets went down 93-86.

Exactly two weeks later Rih and Hov would release their first collaboration, “Umbrella” to radio. They had recorded the song in February, with the Def Jam Recordings President and CEO adding his verse after Rihanna had finished recording her parts. The verse that we hear today is the second one contributed by Jay—he felt his first effort didn’t represent the song’s themes enough.

“Umbrella” spent seven consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100″ chart. In the United Kingdom it spent 10 consecutive weeks atop the “UK Singles Chart.” During this run British citizens were hit by extreme rainfall and flooding, leading the media to declare there was a “Rihanna Curse” at play. Similar events occurred in New Zealand and Romania, as the placement of “Umbrella” at the top of the single charts coincided with some of the worst storms in history.

For their efforts Rih and Jay earned a Grammy Award for “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration,” in addition to receiving nominations for “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year.” The single has sold over 6,000,000 copies in the United States alone.

JAY-Z, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, and Tim Blacksmith, photographed at today’s Roc Nation Brunch, which is being held in the observatory at the top of One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

Hov is wearing a Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit, a Tom Ford dress shirt and tie, and a Stetson hat from the legendary JJ Hatters store on Fifth Ave.

Blacksmith is a co-founder of Tim & Danny Music, a full service entertainment collective lead by himself and Danny D. StarRoc, the full-service entertainment company founded by Hov and Norwegian production duo Stargate back in 2008, is one of the companies that operate within the T&DM collective.

Jay Z, Swizz Beatz, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, Chris Ivery, Shawn “Pecas” Costner and Jay Brown, photographed at TIDAL’s “TIDAL for All” launch event, held at Skylight at Moynihan Station event space in New York City on March 30, 2015.

Music producer Chris Ivery is a longtime friend of Hov, and the husband of Ellen Pompeo—the star of Shonda Rhimes’ hit television show Grey’s Anatomy. In a recent conversation with The Hollywood Reporter the actress spoke on how TIDAL represents a much-needed changing of the guard in music, and how actors should take the same route: “I don’t know if you listened to JAY-Z’s latest album, but in one song <’Moonlight’> he talks about how all the white guys own the record labels, and they say to these artists, ‘Oh, here’s a $3 million advance,’ while they’re making billions. The artists are chasing Grammys and Lamborghinis, so they think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m rich.’ Meanwhile, Sony just made fucking $500 million, and they gave you $3 million and you think you’re doing amazing. With TIDAL JAY-Z’s empowered artists by giving them a piece, and it makes them more invested. I love it. And I think, like the music business, we need to get to a place where actors have more ownership over what they do. That should be part of this conversation we’re having now.”

Jay Z, Emory Jones, and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, photographed sitting courtside at a game between the New Jersey Nets and the Atlanta Hawks

at the Prudential Center in Newark on December 27, 2011. Hov is wearing a pair of Air Yeezy II sneakers, coming over five months before the shoe’s official release.

Emory had been released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville in April 2010, then spent six months in a halfway house. When his federal custody formally ended on September 30, Emory began a position as an executive assistant at the Roc Apparel Group. This position came about when the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, wrote a letter to Baltimore’s Judge Benson Legg detailing the $50,000 position being held for Emory upon his release. 

In his 2009 letter to Legg, Jay noted that he had known him for over 15 years, and believed that his “attributes, including intelligence, interpersonal skills and solid work ethic, will be a significant asset for my organization.” He added that Jones was an “honest and reliable individual” and that it “would be a privilege to offer him” employment. Jay’s letter was included as part of a sentence reduction motion filed in August 2009. The motion was triggered by a Supreme Court decision addressing the inequity in sentences levied in cases involving crack cocaine as opposed to the powdered form of the drug. Legg granted Jones’ motion and shaved 37 months off his sentence. Upon release a Maybach 62 was waiting for him at the gate.

In a letter to the community upon his release Emory wrote that “the last 10 years of my life have been a turbulent roller coaster ride of ups and downs. But through it all, I’ve managed to stand strong, and not let myself drown in this cesspool of despair that we call: ‘THE BELLY OF THE BEAST.’ My body is fettered, but my mind, heart and soul run free. I’ve come to grips with myself, and have made a conscience decision to deal with the hand that I was dealt, because I have no one to blame but myself. I will not impugn or malevolently criticize the powers that be for my demise, nor will I deem my incarceration as some sort of ‘Badge of Honor,’ in light of keeping it real. However, what I will do is make an O.G. call out there to the young brothers lifestyle, and tell you all ‘to put the guns and drugs down, educate yourselves, and get on a righteous path.’ Because whether you know it or not, this may be the beginning to your end.”

After pleading guilty to a September 1997 drug distribution charge, Emory “Clash” Jones had been sentenced in January 2000 to nearly 16 years in prison. Along with Jay and his childhood friend and business partner DeHaven Irby, Jones had run a large business headquartered on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In verses throughout his career Jay has referenced this time. In Decoded Hov spoke openly of “doing work” in Maryland, but revealed that period “ended badly–shootouts in clubs, major police investigations, whole crews arrested. I got out of there just in time. Some of my best friends weren’t so lucky. It was tragic.” 

Many would have first understood the importance of Emory to the rap mogul when they heard 2006′s Kanye West-produced and John Legend-featuring “Do U Wanna Ride.” The Kingdom Come track opened with a recording of Jones calling collect from prison, and Jay goes on to describe himself as the “eyes for Emory” and how all his incarcerated friend wants is to “hear his boy talk fly.” During an interview with Power 105.1’s “The Breakfast Club” in February 2017, Emory talked about the track for the first time ever. Here, in his own words: 

“When Jay did I was locked up in Kentucky. First thing I told him was ‘We don’t need no song to solidify who we are.’ He was like ‘Nah, I wanna do this.’ But I had to make him understand from the jump that no song was going to solidify who we are. We know who we are for each other. 

He gave it to me over the . That’s him for you, he just pops up out the blue sky and wanna start rapping for you. He gave it to me and I was like ‘Fuck.’ He wanted to show how much he appreciated me and I appreciate him. I was like, you know what, that’s his craft, let him do what he do.

So when I finally got to Otisville it was funny, ‘cause you know how when you be in and everybody don’t know who you are when you walk through the door. Me, I never used to get haircuts or nothing, ‘cause people used to judge you by your look. So I never used to do that type of stuff. But when I first walked on the camp you could tell allmy so-called brothers were looking at me like ‘He fucked up!’ They already judging you. But then by the time word got around they come back quick, and I’d laugh because I’m like ‘You know you showed your true colors already, right?’

I was in there when I heard the song. I was at a camp dinner, which was real loose and comfortable. The guards used to always try to be friendly. I was like ‘Hold up, this ain’t a good look.’ Even though not all guards are bad people, they just got a job. One day a guard pulled me into the office and played the song for me off a mixtape. I was like ‘Wow.’ That got me through that last two years, I was like ‘I’m good now! I can ride this out!’ That’s the beautiful thing of the music. Jay’s music got me through, and I think that’s why I’m still .

It makes it better for me ‘cause I know it, not just understand it. I think now people are only just catching up to things he said years ago. You really can’t fathom that this is all real. That’s the world we living in, with so much alternative facts. You really don’t believe that this is real.”

Emory Jones now works as a partner and Creative Director for the Planes clothing label. He and Jay were the masterminds behind the paper plane logo that has taken the world by storm. At the same time he has reinvigorated the PUMA brand, bringing them the Roc’s Rihanna, JAY-Z, Meek Mill and Big Sean. His Instagram “Word of the Day” posts come from a collection of inspirational writings he sent his family and friends while he was away for all those years.

Jay-Z, power forward Kenyon Martin, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith and Beyoncé, photographed during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarter-finals, played between the New Jersey Nets and the New York Knicks at the

Madison Square Garden on April 22, 2004. Hov’s Nets won the game 81-78, eventually taking the series 4-0.

Why was Hov sitting courtside in a suit? Earlier that day he

and Beyoncé

had been at the Criminal Justice Building in Philadelphia, supporting his Roc-A-Fella Records artist Beanie Sigel as he stood trial on attempted murder charges.

In 2003, on Tuesday July 1, Beans allegedly fired six shots from a 9mm handgun at Terrance Speller, outside Philadelphia’s Pony Tail Go-Go Bar strip club.

One shot is said to have struck Speller in the foot, and another in the stomach. He surrendered himself to police two days later on Thursday – but only after performing his hometown set with Jay on the “Roc the Mic Tour” at the Tweeter Center in Philly.

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A mistrial was later declared by Judge Karen Shreeves-Johns after jurors in the case deliberated for five days, one day longer than the trial itself, and still could not decide on Sigel’s fate.