Born Shawn Corey Carter, the man today known as Jay-Z probably didn’t realise at the time that he would become one of the most financially successful rap artists in the history of the genre, win ten Grammys or marry Beyonce.
Jay-Z was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, in New York City. His was a large family, but his musical talent showed itself early and his mother made sure to encourage him. By the time he was 19, he was well on his way, working with rapper Jaz-O. Twenty years later, he’d be working with Barack Obama to help the latter get elected.
Happy Land nightclub had been ordered closed for building code violations during November 1988, including the lack of fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. These faults were never remedied, and fire exits were later found to have been deliberately blocked (to prevent people entering without paying).
The evening of the fire, Julio González had argued with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She told him to leave, and when he refused, she called the bouncer. González tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. Later that night, González returned to the establishment with a container of gasoline which he spread on the staircase that was the only access into the club.
In the resulting fire, 87 people lost their lives. González was convicted of 87 murders and 87 charges of arson, and sentenced to 25 years to life on every charge (a total of 4350 years), although he will be eligible for parole in March 2015 (the sentences for multiple murders are served concurrently under New York state law).