At just about any given moment of any given day—including this sunlit June Friday afternoon—Jay-Z is a busy man. Sitting on a swivel chair at his Roc the Mic studios in downtown Manhattan with a glass of Santa Margherita white wine in hand, he tackles interview after interview with Japanese reporters, pausing only to use the restroom or ask his assistant to get him a refill or an order of food from his sports club, 40/40. But while he handles his international duties, his Roc Nation team—seven people, including his assistant, longtime publicist and his engineers—make sure his empire runs smoothly. His employees are scattered around the room, some perched on stools and couches, others standing or sitting on the floor. His assistant is booking flights, hotels and car service for the BET Awards, which is taking place that weekend; his publicist whispers on the phone about another magazine story. His engineer catches a CNN report about Michael Jackson's death the day before and wonders about what might happen to his estate and kids. The rest of the Roc Nation crew sit with laptops in hand. Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter and raised in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects, is the first to admit he could not have reached half of his successes on his own. But it is his overarching big business vision and talent that have positioned him as one of the most iconic artists of his time.

Following in the footsteps of Madonna and U2, the 39-year-old rapper last year signed a 10-year, $150 million deal with the concert promotion giant Live Nation that includes touring, publishing and recording.

In May, Jay-Z departed from Def Jam, his longtime label home, at the cost of $5 million, but gained control of his future master recordings. Last month, he signed a one-off deal with Atlantic to distribute his upcoming, 11th studio album, "The Blueprint 3"; a month later, he signed a deal with Sony for all future Roc Nation releases.

"I still owed an album to Def Jam, but I wanted to have it back for a number of reasons, the most important being that it wasn't consistent with the type of business I planned for me or where I was positioning myself. Everything in my life I had taken charge of, but yet I was still an artist signed to a label. It seemed a little archaic in my plans," he says. "I've always prided myself on being a principled person. It was more so the principle than the amount of money. It was about owning my own masters and owning my own companies, but you have to pay for the privilege and that comes at a premium."

During the course of his career, Jay-Z has sold more than 29 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan (see chart, page 25). As if that number wasn't impressive enough, Forbes recently released its Hip-Hop Cash King list and crowned Jay-Z the highest-earning rapper of the year, knocking down last year's winner, 50 Cent. According to Forbes, which based its numbers on earnings between June 2008 and June 2009, Jay-Z pulled in $35 million in the past year, mostly from his international tour and his ownership stakes in 40/40 and the New Jersey Nets.

Heading over to Sony seems an ideal fit for Jay-Z, who has a close relationship with Columbia Records co-chairman Rick Rubin, not to mention the fact that his wife, Beyoncé, is signed to the label. At one point he thought Def Jam would be more appropriate for such a partnership. But he says the Universal Music Group label passed on the opportunity to develop him into the kind of mogul he wanted to be. (Def Jam had no comment on its relationship with Jay-Z at press time.)

"You have to figure, this is like four years ago, and to them it was just like, 'Are you crazy? No! Make a song!' " he says. "To me it was like, 'I've sold companies for huge amounts of money. I'm an entrepreneur—that's what I've been all my life. I can't just sit here and make records and not do anything else. Why wouldn't you want to do this with me?' I felt underutilized."

Click here to read more about "The Blueprint 3," Jay-Z's touring plans and what's next for Roc Nation.