Jay-Z close to a deal with Sony

Rapper confirmed exit from Def Jam last week

NEW YORK -- Jay-Z is close to signing a deal that will bring his future recordings to Sony, Billboard sources confirm. The deal, which will link Jay-Z's Roc Nation releases with Sony's Epic Records for distribution, "is 95% complete" according to people familiar with the ongoing negotiations. A formal announcement is expected in the coming weeks.

Just last week, Jay-Z confirmed his departure from longtime label home Def Jam. His split from the Universal Music Group-owned label reportedly came with a $5 million price tag, but left the rap artist and label executive in control of his future master recordings. Jay-Z's eleven solo records (including the live "Unplugged" album) and collaborations with Linkin Park and R. Kelly have sold more than 29 million units according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Last year, Jay-Z and Live Nation struck a wide-ranging deal that included touring, publishing and albums. The roughly $150 million pact includes a partnership in Roc Nation, as well as the rapper's own recordings and tours for the next 10 years.

"He definitely didn't want to release his album via Def Jam," said a UMG source. "And given his close relationship with [Columbia Records Co-Chairman] Rick Rubin, it comes as no surprise that he'd make the switch."

Speculation has intensified in the past week that a Sony deal is in the works. Sony CEO Howard Stringer and Jay-Z's Roc Nation partner Jay Brown have been spotted meeting in Los Angeles and New York; Epic Records president Amanda Ghost is managed by Roc Nation and Brown; and Jay-Z's wife, Beyonce, is a Sony artist on the Columbia Records label.

But despite Jay-Z's close ties to Columbia, sources insist he and his wife will not be labelmates. "It will be a distribution deal, sort of like Star Trak is distributed by Interscope, and it will be on the Epic side, not Columbia," a Billboard source said. Lawyers for both sides are currently hashing out the details.

If the deal goes through, Jay-Z highly-anticipated eleventh studio album, "The Blueprint 3," will most likely be the first release on Roc Nation to be distributed by Epic.