Jay Z's childhood was far different than daughter Blue Ivy's will be. In the November issue of Vanity Fair, the 43-year-old rapper and Beyonce's husband details his life growing up in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects with his single mother and three siblings, and selling drugs to make ends meet.
"We were living in a tough situation, but my mother managed; she juggled," Jay Z tells the magazine. "Sometimes we'd pay the light bill, sometimes we paid the phone, sometimes the gas went off. We weren't starving -- we were eating, we were O.K. But it was things like you didn't want to be embarrassed when you went to school; you didn't want to have dirty sneakers or wear the same clothes over again."
The "Holy Grail" emcee said "crack was everywhere" and "inescapable" while he was growing up. "There wasn't any place you could go for isolation or a break. You go in the hallway; [there are] crackheads in the hallway. You look out in the puddles on the curbs -- crack vials are littered in the side of the curbs. You could smell it in the hallways, that putrid smell; I can't explain it, but it's still in my mind when I think about it."
Eventually, crack became a part of Jay Z's life too -- as a way to make money. The mogul clarified to Vanity Fair, however, that he never used crack, only sold it.
Did he feel guilty about contributing to the drug problem in his neighborhood? "Not until later, when I realized the effects on the community," he explains. "I started looking at the community on the whole, but in the beginning, no. I was thinking about surviving. I was thinking about improving my situation. I was thinking about buying clothes."
Jay Z also says his mother Gloria knew what he was doing, but forced herself to look the other way. "We never really had those conversations. We just pretty much ignored it," he explains. "But she knew. All the mothers knew. It sounds like 'How could you let your son . . . ' but I'm telling you, it was normal."
But Jay Z says his troubled past has made him a better business man today for his sports agency, Roc Nation Sports. "I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer," he says. "To be in a drug deal, you need to know what you can spend, what you need to re-up. Or if you want to start some sort of barbershop or car wash -- those were the businesses back then. Things you can get in easily to get out of [that] life. At some point, you have to have an exit strategy, because your window is very small; you're going to get locked up or you're going to die."
For more of Jay Z's interview, pick up the November issue of Vanity Fair on newsstands nationally Oct. 3.