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Top 25 Jay-Z Songs… Take 2

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There’s a huge list of songs to go through when making any sort of list for Jay-z. While I tried my hardest to narrow down my version of Hov’s Top 25 songs, after reading Fred’s list, I felt he left out joints that are not only vital to Jay’s identity, but essential to understanding the great multi-persona rapper, as well as Sean Carter. With that said, here it is, not necessarily a better list, but another list for ya’ll to chew on.

*Side note: I didn’t include any one verse features of Jay’s. That’s a whole ‘nother list. Also, I kept the songs on the list original, no mash-ups/unofficial remixes.

25. “Feelin’ It”
From: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

The first Jay-z single I heard and knew of via my brother’s vinyl. Been a favourite ever since. One of those chilled, laid-back vibes that Hov perfected early.

24. “99 Problems”
From: The Black Album (2003)

About as aggressive and in your face as it gets. Rick Rubin on the beat gives it this old school Def Jam touch, adding to the old school mentality of new school issues that Hov addresses.

23. “Dope Man”
From: Volume 3: Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)

Talking about drugs, but speaking as his albums and songs as the crack. Song was pure fire and would be right at home on either Reasonable Doubt or The Black Album. The same effect would be there.

22. “Soon You’ll Understand”
From: Dynasty: Roc-La-Familia (2000)

“You’re my best friend’s sister, grown woman and all But you see how I am around girls; I ruin ‘em all…” Aside from “Song Cry,” this is Hov’s most sincere song surrounding relationships. It’s vivid and touching, it hits home.

21. “This Life Forever”
From: Black Gangster [Soundtrack] (1999)

His forte is exactly what this song is; a story about the street life mixed in with a little bit of that lavish lifestyle. Throw in a gritty, raw, undaunted flow and this song could’ve been perfect on a variety of Jay-z albums.

20. “Dear Summer”
From: 534 (2005)

How many artists can say they had the best song on an album, when the album wasn’t even theirs? Hov can, twice (“Anything” on Sigel’s album, too). Backed by a beautiful sample usage courtesy of Just Blaze, Jay says a heartfelt goodbye to summer, and talks about the triumph (or downfall) into corporate America.

19. “Takeover”
From: The Blueprint (2001)

Considering this was written in a few hours, and pretty much spawned resurgence in quality of lyrical dismissal, I’d say this song is pretty impressive. Whether I like it or not is irrelevant (and noted by my Top 10 Diss Tracks Article, it’s ever changing), this is Top 25 Jay-z Best, this is certainly one of his best, even if a Nas or Mobb Deep fan.

18. “Beach Chair”
From: Kingdom Come (2006)

Even at the end of a fairly dreadful album, “Beach Chair” proved to be a breath of fresh air. Coldplay’s Chris Martin adds a delicate touch on the vocals, but provides a powerful and epically soulful beat.

17. “You Must Love Me”
From: In My Lifetime… Vol 1 (1997)

Damn, what a great story. It’s a song like this that puts Jay-z amongst the elite in terms of story-telling rap artists. Frankly, when Jigga tells a street story like this, and gives it that emotional touch, he’s always money.

16. “This Can’t Be Life”
From: Dynasty: Roc-La-Familia (2000)

One of Kanye’s best beats fulfilled by three of the most emotional and heartfelt verses by Jay-z, Beans, and Scarface. As a whole, the song is amongst some of the best in each of these artists’s catalogue.

15. “Meet the Parents”
From: The Blueprint 2 (2002)

Five straight minutes of a story that Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro couldn’t come close to touching in 90 minutes. Loaded with twists, emotion, and vivid description, the song is completed by a gripping Just Blaze beat.

14. “Heart of the City” / “Lucifer”
From: The Blueprint (2001) / The Black Album (2003)

Two different tracks, sure, but, both some of Kanye’s best moments with Jay-z. Because of that, they are inseparable. One is talking about the lack of emotion and love in hip hop, the other is blending religious values within hip hop.

13. “Renegade”
From: The Blueprint (2001)

Who won? Hip hop did. These two just lash out at all the haters and imitators. Its furiousity is only encouraged by the harmonic beat by Slim; poetry, really.

12. “Brooklyn’s Finest”
From: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

From one great pairing, to arguably the best pairing. The story behind the making of this song is fascinating, but, the result is a classic track with loads of quoatables, high tempo braggadocio, and marvelous chemistry.

11. “December 4th” / “My 1st Song”
From: The Black Album (2003)

Appropriate that the first song on this album was the birth of Sean Carter, and ended with the birth of Jay-z. Both beats match the respected atmosphere of each track, with the latter being a surprise of a joint and holding itself up there with Jay’s best work.

10. “Can I Live”
From: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

The Isaac Hayes sample is used to perfection and Hov rhymes poetically about the lavish lifestyle with a million eyes on every move of the young hustler. The climax hits the chorus with the horns blaring too.

9. “Where I’m From”
From: In My Lifetime… Vol 1 (1997)

Widely known as one of Jay-z’s “hardest” and “grittiest” songs, and even revered as a favourite by the man himself, “Where I’m From” embodies everything that a neighborhood like Marcyville is all about. Not only is it a perfect ode, it’s a damn near perfect song.

8. “Song Cry”
From: The Blueprint (2001)

Over time, I preferred the Coldplay mash-up courtesy of Remot (Viva La Hova), but the lyrics can’t be outdone on any version of the track. Easily one of Hov’s most heartfelt joints. Similar to “Soon You’ll Understand” and “You Must Love Me,” but this one begs the question, is this song about a girl, or about h.e.r.?

7. “U Don’t Know” / “U Don’t Know” (Remix feat MOP)
From: The Blueprint (2001) / The Blueprint 2 (2002)

Just Blaze is crazy for this one. Still, more impressive is how Jay takes this beat and makes it his song, regardless of how show stealing Blaze might attempt to be on it. I prefer the remix, the energy of MOP elevates the track to a new level and Hov is just as impressive on it.

6. “Hard Knock Life”
From: Vol 2… Hard Knock Life (1998)

Annie has never sound so ghetto fabulous. Quite frankly, things changed when people heard this sample being rapped on, and of course, this is a trademark Jay-z became known for doing; changing the game. The track as a whole is thoroughly impressive.

5. “Can’t Knock The Hustle”
From: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

The first song off of the debut album of [arguably] the greatest rapper of all time’s best album. Certainly, this deserves a spot amongst the helm of this list. If not for the contextual reasons, then for the quality of the song ranging from the flow, the content, and the message Jay sent to everyone. Says it all in the title.

4. “A Million and One Questions”
From: In My Lifetime… Vol 1 (1997)

Damn, the things this song does to me. It gets me hype, it gets me laughing, it gets me thinking, it gets me in that b boy stance. While I feel like Jay-z has collaborated amazingly with Blaze, Kanye, and Timbo, it was this particular collaboration with Premier that just sounded so perfect. If not this one, then look at number 2.

3. “Dead Presidents” I & II
From: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

I originally put II, but how can you leave off the frequently overlooked part I? Lyrically, II may be superior, but certainly, I set a standard bar for Jay-z that he continued to meet throughout his career. The song carries more emotion than most rapper’s albums.

2. “D’evils”
From: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Everything about this track screams “best of” or “top #” simple for the overall quality and message this joint evokes. Lyrically, this song was above and beyond any “street-story,” it developed a bond between the inevitable evil soul and Jay’s profession. It’s so dark and disturbing in retrospect.

1. “Regrets”
From: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

This has and probably always will be, in my opinion, Jay-z’s best song. While “Can’t Knock The Hustle” started off the album in an impressive way, I was more taken by how Reasonable Doubt ended. While I was young and didn’t appreciate as much as I should’ve, “Regrets” is a song that as you get older reigns truer. While Jay’s songs on relationships with family and girls can be sincere, “Regrets” hits a spot of no return, and you can hear every bit of it in his voice and delivery. “stress…”

Honourable Mentions:

  • “Public Service Announcement” (The Black Album)
  • “Lost One” featuring Chrisette Michele (Kingdom Come)
  • “Allure” (The Black Album)
  • “Moment of Clarity” (The Black Album)
  • “La La La” (Blueprint 2.1/ Bad Boys 2 OST)
  • “Never Change” (The Blueprint)
  • “Politics As Usual” (Reasonable Doubt)
  • “22 2’s” (Reasonable Doubt)
  • “Lucky Me” (Volume 1: In My Lifetime…)
  • “Fallin’” (American Gangster)
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