While Jay-Z has been on the rap scene for a very long time (check out his appearance in Hawaiian Sophie) it wasn’t until he slowed down his flow and put out a classic in 1996 entitled Reasonable Doubt that he started to grab people’s attention and he hasn’t let go since. When coming up with a best songs list for Jay-Z it’s difficult because there are always more songs than you could reasonably cover but still I managed to get 41 on this list. Jay-Z is one of the best MC’s to ever do it because he has such great balance in his lyrics, flow, beat selection, and mass appeal, I don’t think he’s the best ever but anyone who says he’s not near the top is just being contrarian for controversy’s sake. It’s amazing as someone who has followed his whole career to see the transition he made from a rapper speaking on the street life that was big in the rap community to a full fledged mega star who has managed to cross over into the mainstream and various business ventures. If I left off your favorite song oh well but here are what I think the best songs by Jay-Z are by album.
Can’t Knock the Hustle– The song starts off with a familiar scene from Scarface before Jay-Z proceeds to rip the track. My Pops knew exactly what he did when he made me/tried to get a nut and he got a nut and what.
Brooklyn’s Finest– There should have been many more collaborations with Notorious B.I.G. but alas he died too soon. But we do have this gem at least where Jay and Biggie go back and forth one upping each other.
Dead Presidents II– The infamous Nas sample, a beat that every rapper has spit over at some point, and some really ill lyrics puts this on any best of Jay-Z list.
Feelin’ It– Even if it ain’t sunny hey I ain’t complainin.
D’Evils– Cue the conspiracy theorists pointing to this as part of their evidence as Jay-Z being a mason or devil worshiper or whatever other idiotic internet rumor they come up with. D’Evils is easily a top five Jay-Z song that explores the life of criminals and two friends that go their separate ways. Granted a nine to five is how you survive. I ain’t tryin’ to survive I’m tryin’ to live it to the limit and love it a lot.
Can I Live- I don’t sleep, I’m tired, I feel wired like codeine, these days
a brother gotta admire from four fiends away
My pain wish it was quick to see, from sellin ‘caine
til brains was fried to a fricaisse
22 Two’s- This song is just pure rap, lots of rhymes, no pop hook, and Jay-Z just goes in on the beat.
In My Lifetime Vol. 1
The Streets is Watching- You don’t hear songs like this out of Jay-Z anymore, the really gritty street tales.
The City is Mine- My hatred is the fuel just give me a sign and I’ll let the whole world know that the city is mine.
Where I’m From- A song about Marcy projects and one of the hardest songs that he ever released. A classic.
A Million and One Questions– This serves as the intro for In My Lifetime and it definitely sets the tone for the album.
Vol.2, Hard Knock Life
Hard Knock Life– This was a massive hit at the time that utilizes a sample from the play Annie of all places, we’ve all heard this one and it’s still great.
Reservoir Dogs- I don’t usually want to hear Jay on a track with a bunch of other rappers but this track with The Lox and Beanie Siegel is one of the exceptions.
Vol.3, The Life and Times of S. Carter
Dope Man- They call me dope man dope man, ghetto spokesman.
Watch Me- A Dr. Dre produced track that often gets overlooked but this deserves a spot because the first verse is sick and so true. Life is short then you on life support/ so in between it all I’ma say I’ve seen it all.
Big Pimpin’- With help from underground kings UGK, Jay raps about the player life on a catchy beat that dominated the airwaves that year.
The Dynasty Roc La Familia 2000
This Can’t Be Life- We get two of the best rappers ever on one track together Jay-Z and Scarface and not only that they produced a really great song.
Soon You’ll Understand- Man this song is a standout against a lot of average tracks that were on this album. The beat is sad and perfect plus we get to see a more serious side of Jay-Z that often got overshadowed in earlier in his career.
Takeover– Takeover is one of the best diss tracks ever and using a sample from The Doors, Jay-Z takes aim at Nas and Mobb Deep. It definitely woke Nas up and helped to birth one of raps greatest battles.
U Don’t Know– Let me tell you the difference between me and them they tryin’ to get their ones I’m trying to get them m’s.
Hola Hovito- This is one of my favorite songs off of the Blueprint I remember waking up and letting this song and the next three just play my freshman year of high school.
Heart of the City- The bigger you get in the game the more problems have with you. Jay wants to know where the love is for him.
Never Change-I’ll never change I’m too stuck in my ways.
Song Cry- Another sad relationship song like Soon You’ll Understand but this one stands on it’s own as one of Jay’s best.
Renegade- Jay-Z and Eminem on the same track together yields amazing results and I don’t care who was better because they both killed it.
The Blueprint 2
Meet the Parents- If you don’t think that Jay-Z is a great storyteller in his raps just listen to this song and see if it changes your mind.
The Black Album
December 4th– A song that goes into his birth and childhood with interludes of his mom speaking about him.
Moment of Clarity- Thank God for granting me this moment of clarity, this moment of honesty the world will feel my truths.
99 Problems- Backed by a hard rock instrumental Jay-Z both examines the problems he’s faced in his life and brushes off the haters.
Lucifer- Gets a boost by a sample from Max Romeo’s awesome song Chase the Devil. Really could be the best track off of the Black Album.
Beach Chair- A collaboration with Chris Martin of Coldplay that came out really well though very different from a lot of Jay-Z songs it’s a great track.
American Dreamin’- What are your options when school is out of reach and you have dreams of becoming an American success story?
Roc Boys- One of the singles off of this album that features some great old school production the horns are catchy as hell.
I Know- On I know Jay-Z raps aboutHeroin addiction under the guise of a broken relationship with deep dependencies.
Fallin’- What’s great about the American Gangster album is that you get a whole story from rise to apex and of course the fall of the gangster.
Thank You- A horn laced instrumental gives Thank You an upbeat feeling throughout the song and Jay-Z brings the type of lyrics that we have come to expect.
Run This Town- I love the instrumental on this song and Rhianna also sounds great.
EmpireStateof Mind- This song got played all over the place especially on TV but that’s only because it was such a damn good song. Jay-Z delivers a special ode to New York City.
Dear Summer- The beat is fairly simple and soft but is amazing and we get a few minutes of just pure Jay-Z raps.
Anything- For some reason this song found its way on to Beans’ album instead of a Jay-Z album. It is a touching song with a sample from Oliver Twist.
Grammy Family Freestyle- Okay it’s not a normal song but Jay absolutely annihilated this beat. Hov’s got flow but he’s no Big and Pac but he’s close. How am I supposed to win when they got me fighting ghosts?