How did one young man go from growing up in Bed-Stuy’s Marcy Projects to selling 50 million albums and being worth half a billion dollars? There are a number of factors, but here are a few:

1. Know your audience. Jay-Z is able to appeal to different audiences for different songs within the same album. So while many rappers choose to alienate women entirely, Jay-Z makes songs specifically with women in mind. His fan base was able to grow across genders and social groups.

2. Vary your tone. Lure people in with the mainstream hits, but bring enough depth to each record to convince the critics that your album isn’t just about the fluff that makes people dance.

3. Brand authenticity. Jay-Z spent most of his youth selling crack and coke in Brooklyn, which puts weight behind the words he uses to describe the reality of his environment. With each new record, his own reality changes, and the record’s content changes accordingly. Listeners come to expect truth and experience in his lyrics; a brand promise of honesty and storytelling that evolves through the decades.

At some point, success breeds success and the snowball became big enough that Jay-Z could put out just about anything and it would sell. Thankfully, he still leverages his sharp attention to detail to find new ways to engage his audience (i.e. partnerships with Kanye West and Justin Timberlake) and create desirable social circumstances (i.e. marrying Beyonce).