A Brooklyn native, Shawn Corey Carter (best known as Jay-Z) once stood in the very big shadow of fellow East Coaster Biggie Smalls. He has since created a dynasty in his own backyard and has earned the reputation as one of rap’s greatest. And deservingly so.
He’s co-founded Roc-A-Fella records, won of 17 Grammys, sold over 50 million albums worldwide and moved his his favorite NBA hoops team to BK just for kicks. Forget all this Kanye hype, if Hip-Hop has a God, his name is Jay-Z.
To celebrate the Jiggaman hitting the airwaves again with his new album, Magna Carta…Holy Grail, we’ve compiled a list of our 10 favorite Jay-Z songs of all time.
10. Run This Town
Yeah he’s talking ‘Ye, yeah he’s talking Rih’. Roc Nation comes together in full force for the first time in this stomper from The Blueprint 3. Rihanna sings one of her best licks ever in the chorus and Kanye sings about Maybachs and women, nothing new there. But this tune proved that if you wanted to roll with the best, you better pledge your allegiance.
9. Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Only Jay-Z can put out a song explaining what his damn name means and have it be a smash hit. A young Kanye West boasts producing credits on this one and Jay keeps it real, from his story of selling drugs in the projects to being the one artist all record companies were chasing.
8. Big Pimpin’
We like to think that this Jay-Z only existed pre-Beyonce, but we still love this song.
7. Dead Presidents II
This is a track off of Jay’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt, that die-hard fans love and most people aren’t familiar with. Our advice: Get familiar with it. Poetry laid down over a simple beat makes for a timeless combination.
6. Ni**as in Paris
When Jay and ‘Ye dropped Watch The Throne, hip-hop fans went bonkers. The two titans of rap went head-to-head in a colossal experiment and both came out victorious. In this track inspired by their luxurious travels overseas, they flirt with the city of love like only superstars can; by balling so hard that they’re partying like gorillas.
Eminem helps out Jay on one of the most emotionally rebellious songs of his career. This track from The Blueprint is a true tour de force from two of the most lyrically gifted rappers of this generation.
4. Empire State of Mind
New York, stand up and take a bow. You guys have got the best damn anthems and you should be proud of it. There’s Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” Ryan Adams’ lesser known “New York New York,” Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” and of course this young classic from Hov and Alicia Keys. Let the two of them give you a lesson on what the concrete jungle is all about.
3. Dirt Off Your Shoulder
Jay is a master of the humble brag: You gotta pardon Jay, for selling out the Garden in a day / I’m like a young Marvin in his hey / I’m a hustler homey, you a customer crony / Got some, dirt on my shoulder, could you brush it off for me?
2. Hard Knock Life
Oh snap. Annie? Did he really just do that? In one of the greatest sampled tracks in all of Hip Hop’s storied history, Jay treats us to some of his best flow and bite in a track that runs like a free-style demo rather than a studio-cut rap.
1. 99 Problems
“99 Problems” is a hateful and loud bash at drug-sniffing narcs, rap critics and haters alike. Guitar riffs from Billy Squier, Mountain and Wilson Pickett provide the bulk of the sonic tension that backs some of Jay’s best and angriest lyrics.