The 13 Best Jay-Z Songs

For over 20 years, Jay-Z has held rock over the rap population to a degree that is unheard of. His latest, “ 4:44, ” is his fourteenth No. 1 album, which is the most all time among solo artists. That ’ south five abruptly of the Beatles ’ record, but three more than either Bruce Springsteen or Barbra Streisand have managed to accomplish. In honor of his 13th studio apartment album, I ’ ll look back at the 13 best songs in his discography .

#13 — “Song Cry”

Album: “The Blueprint” (2001) “ 4:44 ” international relations and security network ’ t the first time Jay-Z has addressed his own infidelity. barely two years after epitomizing rap ’ randomness misogyny problem on “ Big Pimpin ’, ” Jigga decided to let his defend down. Following nine boastful tracks on “ The Blueprint, ” Jay-Z switched gears on the soulful “ Song Cry. ” The climate is different, this time — probably because Jay-Z feels genuine regret over being the cause of the fail relationship the song report. Prior to Drake mainstreaming vulnerability within an industry previously allergic to it, Jay-Z enjoyed his own share of knock ballads, with none vitamin a poignant as “ Song Cry. ”

#12 — “Streets Is Watchin”

Album: “In My Lifetime…Vol. 1” (1997) As a former drug dealer, paranoia is an overarching composition in Jay-Z ’ second discography. On “ Streets Is Watching, ” Jay dives cryptic into his inner mind, revealing foil plots, brushes with death, and a conscience that has weighed heavily on him. “ If I shoot you, I ’ meter brainless/If you shoot me, you ’ re celebrated. ” Coming from the streets, fame brings with its own set of complexities and difficulties. I ’ molarity not just referring to the typical ways in which fame can impact a person. Rappers such as Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. ( who explored this theme on many occasions, most notably on “ Mo ’ Money, Mo ’ Problems ” ), there was no clean break with the streets. The worlds could overlap at times, and “ Streets Is Watching ” represents the amplification of the menace that the streets represent, even for a person who now has the means to in full leave them behind .

#11 — “22 Twos”

Album: “Reasonable Doubt” (1996) Jay-Z is the GOAT. For me, that is indisputable. lyrically, though, most fans of rap study him inferior to the likes of Biggie, Nas, and Eminem. They should revisit “ 22 Twos. ” On one of the standouts from his now-classic debut, “ Reasonable Doubt, ” Jay cements his subject as a technically gifted rapper and lyricist. The first verse is the highlight, as Jay uses the two/to/too homonym as a motif, repeating the good 22 times. His fast-paced delivery, a feature he would move away from later in his career, is potent throughout .

#10 — “Empire State of Mind”

Album: “The Blueprint 3” (2009) Jay-Z spent his career talking about being bigger than hip-hop. With “ Empire, ” it seemed he actually transcended that finical slit of the music industry. In terms of odes to the Big Apple, its rival international relations and security network ’ metric ton another rap birdcall but Frank Sinatra ’ s epochal “ New York, New York. ” For a guy who strived to epitomize the fight and the glory, the crusade and the grit, of the biggest city in the world, “ Empire ” cemented his encase. No one else could call themselves the “ new Sinatra ” with a heterosexual side. When Jay-Z did it, it didn ’ metric ton seem out of invest .

#9 — “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”

Album: “The Blueprint” (2001) “ Izzo ” may have come foremost, while “ U Don ’ triiodothyronine Know ” was arguably more excessive. But “ Heart of the City ” is the staple of the Kanye-orchestrated “ Blueprint ” strait. The exultant horns and soulful sound brought you back to the vertex of 1970s cycle and blues, as Jay furnished listeners with a variety of musical profiles. This lead might be Jay ’ s greatest flex : he knows all the young up-and-comers resent his success. And do you know what ? He couldn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate care less .

#8 — “Can I Live”

Album: “Reasonable Doubt” (1996) On the heels of “ 22 Two ’ mho, ” the behind burn of “ Can I Live ” kicks in and sets the stage for the subsequent movie-esque theme that occupies Jay-Z for much of the rest of the album : life as a hustler. On “ Can I Live, ” Jay is equal parts paranoid and unleash. Lines about keeping his ears to the streets are followed by lines about sitting at craps tables in Vegas. One of the most herculean components of the birdcall is that it ’ s not just a statement but a kind of argument. A justification, of sorts. Jay-Z was constantly intelligent enough to go beyond description and into the kingdom of persuasion.

#7 — “Takeover”

Album: “The Blueprint” (2001) anterior to “ Takeover, ” hip-hop ’ sulfur best dis tracks — songs such as “ Hit ‘ Em Up ” and “ No Vaseline ” — were verbal assaults ; instances of crossing the production line. At the altitude of Jay-Z ’ s gripe with colleague New York knocker Nas, “ Takeover ” bucked this drift. With production from Kanye West, “ Takeover ” represented the attempt at a good song disguised as a diss track, one that Nas would be unable to avoid in the clubs, on the radio, and in passing cars. Anecdotally, most think Nas ’ “ Ether ” was superior, but possibly that ’ s merely because “ Takeover ” was miscategorized as a battle traverse. In retrospect, it paved the way for Drake ’ s “ Back to Back. ”

#6 — “Big Pimpin’”

Album: “Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter” (1998) While promoting his bible Decoded in 2010, Jay-Z looked bet on on the track that would serve to represent his player ways. “ Some [ lyrics ] become truly profound when you see them in spell, ” Jay told The Wall Street Journal. “ not ‘ Big Pimpin ’. ’ That ’ s the exception. It was like, I can ’ thyroxine believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this kind of matter ? Reading it is in truth harsh. ” It is harsh. Although it ’ south hard to disassociate the forefather of three from the track ’ south context, “ Big Pimpin ’ ” gives us possibly the most barbarous lead to a poetry in his career. Everyone knows it by kernel, a grotesque as it may be. “ You know I…thug ’ em, fuck ’ em, love ’ em, leave ’ em / Cause I don ’ metric ton fuckin ’ need ’ em. ”

#5 — “Politics as Usual”

Album: “Reasonable Doubt” (1996) With the second song on his introduction album, Jay-Z gave us a glimpse of the “ mafioso-rap ” sub-genre he would go on to dominate. In under four minutes, he introduces us to the peaks and valleys of a hustler ’ second biography. Moments after referencing Don Corleone and talking about spend 10 years in prison, he ’ s back to telling us about vintage wine and champagne. just as he said, it ’ mho just politics as usuallll .

#4 — “99 Problems”

Album: “The Black Album” (2003) Twenty years after his bill, Rick Rubin ended up crafting the best beat of his career with “ 99 Problems. ” With a sound straight out of Run DMC ’ s aura days, Jay-Z puts the best story-telling of his career on wax. The overuse industrial intro captures the tone and raises the stakes mighty from the peak. then, Jay lets loose with his fib of getting pulled over by a hook looking to bust him. You hang on to every password, sweating it out with him as he raps from both perspectives : his own vitamin a well as the bull ’ second .

#3 — “Public Service Announcement”

Album: “The Black Album” (2003) On the album that was supposed to be his curtain cry, “ PSA ” should have been his MJ in 1998 moment. It ’ second Jay-Z at his most confident and braggadocious. Despite being eight albums in, it feels like he ’ s at his absolute vertex. The riveting piano presentation, followed by the crescendo of organs when the beat drops, is both simpleton and effective. And who doesn ’ t love the open ? “ Allow me to reintroduce myself : My name is Hov ! /H-to-the-O-V. ”

#2 — “Where I’m From”

Album: “In My Lifetime…Vol. 1” (1997)

This track still stands as one of the reasons Jay-Z was the first rapper inducted into the Songwriter ’ s Hall of Fame. Over one of the grittiest beats he ’ mho always rocked, Jay-Z lets us into the parlous environment that is the Brooklyn ghetto. It features some of the most memorable lyrics of his career ( “ I ’ meter from where gripe is inevitable/Summertime is unforgettable ” ) ; arguably his most authentic lines ( “ Your news was everything, so everything you said you ’ d do — you did it/Couldn ’ thymine lecture about it if you ain ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate lived it. ” ) ; but the highlight is when listeners are clued in to what like is like where Jay is from : “ Where you can ’ triiodothyronine put your vest aside and say you ’ ll wear it tomorrow/Cause the day after we ’ ll be saying, ‘ Damn I was just with him yesterday ’. ”

#1 — “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”

Album: “Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life” (1998) The song marked Jay ’ s arrival to the mainstream masses. It ’ s a global smash that analyzed life ’ second ills and appealed to all races, ages, and cultures, with possibly the most celebrated hip-hop sample distribution of all-time : “ It ’ s the Hard Knock Life ” from the broadway melodious “ Annie. ” Almost 20 years late, it ’ south still Jay ’ s masterpiece : a song that finds a perfect counterweight between his street brain and pop crossover voter transcendence. “ Hard Knock Life ” serves as the moment that Jay-Z became a family name. That ’ s why it must be his No. 1 .

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