Jay-Z wouldn’t be where he is today without his mother, Gloria Carter. “My mom always taught me—you know, little boys listen to their moms too much—that whatever you put into something is what you’re going to get out of it,” Jay-Z told O Magazine. “ I had to fully let go of what I was doing before for the music to be successful. That was a leap of faith for me. I said, “I have to give this everything.” With that work ethic, Jay-Z became not just one of the greatest rappers of all time but a mogul who Forbes estimated in 2022 was worth around $1.3 billion.
Everything that Hova has reaped, he has made sure to give back to not just his community but to the woman who raised him. Here’s what you need to know about Gloria.
Gloria Carter Raised Her Son By Herself
Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. His father, Adnis Reeves, abandoned Jay-Z’s mother, his two older sisters, and his older brother Jay-Z was just 11. “We were living in a tough situation, but my mother managed,” Jay-Z told Vanity Fair in 2013. “She juggled. 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.”
“We were told our parents would separate, but the reasons weren’t explained,” Jay-Z told O magazine in 2009. “My mom prepared us more than he did. I don’t think he was ready for that level of discussion and emotion. He was a guy who was pretty detached from his feelings.” When asked why his father left, Jay-Z said, “I summed it up that they weren’t getting along. There was a lot of arguing.”
“I also felt protective of my mom. I remember telling her, ‘Don’t worry, when I get big, I’m going to take care of this.’ I felt like I had to step up,” Jay told Oprah Winfrey. “I was 11 years old, right? But I felt I had to make the situation better.”
Gloria worked as a clerk in an investment firm, but she told USA Today in 2014 that she would sometimes take on “an extra job as a security guard to make ends meet.” She continued to work as Jay-Z’s career began taking off, which her son didn’t like. “Jay had a problem with that,” she told USA Today, adding that the “99 Problems” rapper and his siblings arranged a meeting to talk their mother into retiring. After a year of retirement, Gloria realized something. “I was bored,” she said.
Gloria Is The President of the Shawn Carter Foundation
In 2003, Gloria and Jay-Z launched the Shawn Carter Foundation, a public charity that aims to “help individuals facing socio-economic hardships further their education at post-secondary institutions.” Since its creation, over “$4MM have supported initiatives to empower youth and communities in need through the Foundation’s programs: Scholarship Fund, College Prep and Exposure, International Exposure, Professional Development, Scholar Support, and Community & Goodwill Programs,” per the foundation’s website.
“The underserved have so many problems,” Gloria told USA Today. “Sometimes they need someone to give them a hand.” The fund helps students across the country, typically from low-income households. “We have kids who act as the moms and dads of their families, kids who are products of the foster care system, kids who were in prison,” said executive director Diana Diaz. “They still want to pursue a further education, whether it’s at a four-year institution or a community college or vocational school.”
“There’s so many people that have a desire to go to college, but they can’t get the funding. With me taking on this responsibility, we make dreams come true,” Gloria told ESSENCE.
Gloria’s Sexuality Was Featured On ‘4:44’
Gloria joined her son on the track song “Smile,” off his 2017 album, 4:44. “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian,” rapped Jay-Z in the opening verse, revealing his mother’s sexuality to the world. Gloria recounted how she told her son about this undeniable truth, and how that left the rapper in tears.
“I just finally started telling Jay who I was. Besides your mother, this is the person that I am. This is the life that I live,” she told Dusse Friday (h/t PEOPLE). “So my son started actually tearing. He’s like, ‘That had to be a horrible life, ma.’ I was like, my life was never horrible. It was just different. So that made him want to do a song about it, and the first time I heard the song I was like, eh, I don’t know dude. I ain’t feeling that.”
Gloria said she only told Jay-Z because it was something that was never discussed. “I was never ashamed of me. I’m tired of all the mystery. I’m gonna give it to ‘em,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about anybody wondering if I’m in the life or not. So now maybe you can focus on the phenomenal things I do, so focus on that. Now it’s time for me to be free.”
“It changed the dynamic of our relationship,” Jay-Z said on an episode of The Shop: Uninterrupted, per All Hip-Hop. “When she first heard that song [“Smile”] she got super defensive…I was in L.A., and she flew out to L.A., and then she left and was like, ‘No.’ We talked through it. And then, when she flew back to L.A., she had written a poem. She wrote that on the plane. It came with the American Airlines note pad… I was like, ‘You got bars, ma!’”
In 2018, the GLAAD Media Awards honored Jay-Z and Gloria with special recognition for “Smile.” Gloria told PEOPLE that she was surprised by the reception of the song. “I didn’t realize how we touched so many lives,” she said ahead of the ceremony. “I’m just glad that I can inspire people.”
When accepting the award, Gloria gave thanks to her “family for loving me unconditionally, no matter what. Thanks to my partner, for loving me and helping me free myself from being in the shadows. Thanks to you, to all the people whose lives I touched, for your support, by just telling my truth.”
“Here I am,” she added. “I’m loving, I’m respectful, I’m productive, and I’m a human being who has a right to love who I love. So everybody, just smile, be free. Thank you, and God bless.”