Jay-Z’s 10 Best Songs

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What are Hova’s best tracks? We salute the Roc Nation hero with a rundown of his 10 finest moments on the mic…

10 ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’

Jay never acknowledges rappers who dis him anymore and the speaker-rattling ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ is the perfect kiss-off to his detractors and Exhibit A as to why there’s no fucking with the god. Charting his rise from “the bottom to the top of the pops”, Hov extends a firm middle finger to those who’ve lined up to throw rocks at the throne by musing on his success and bragging about his riches.

10 ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’

Jay never acknowledges rappers who dis him anymore and the speaker-rattling ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ is the perfect kiss-off to his detractors and Exhibit A as to why there’s no fucking with the god. Charting his rise from “the bottom to the top of the pops”, Hov extends a firm middle finger to those who’ve lined up to throw rocks at the throne by musing on his success and bragging about his riches.

9 ‘Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love)

Jay’s 2001 album The Blueprint saw the rapper firmly putting both hands on the mythical ‘King of New York’ crown left without an owner in the four years since Biggie’s tragic demise. Though he was becoming a global brand, the Harlem bounce of ‘Heart of the City (Ain’t No Live)’ showed he was forever in a New York state of mind.

8 ‘Show Me What You Got’

His retirement may have been short lived, but that didn’t mean Jay couldn’t kick start his comeback with a huge splash. The opening horns on ‘Show Me What You Got’ sounded like an alarm call signaling that the ruler – ‘the Mike Jordan of recording’ – was back, with producer Just Blaze lacing the celebration with triumphant drums loops throughout.

7 ‘Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)’ feat. Big Jaz & Amil’

Twenty-first century Jay has been best known for using his voice for broad, stadium-ready chants andinstantly quotable lyrics, but ‘Nigga What, Nigga Who’ displayed the other side of the MC. On a frenetic Timbaland beat that few rappers could touch, Hov stacks syllables on syllables for one of his most layered, dexterous flows.

6 ‘Girls Girls Girls’

Before hooking up with Beyonce and forming one-half of hip-hop’s ultimate power couple, Jay cut this wickedly funny ode to the promiscuous life of a rap superstar. Over a seductive soulsample, the Jigga Man makes his life as an international player sound at times glamorous, but mostly stressful and exhausting.

5 ’99 Problems’

Jay may have had 99 problems, but the bold-faced audacity of this track made it clear that nonewere weighing too heavily on him. A lampoon of hip-hop misogyny that sometimes gets mistaken for actual misogyny, Hov takes Rick Rubin’s crashing drums and earth-shattering guitar riffs as the ember to buoyantly dare rap critics to ‘kiss my whole asshole’. And in the middle of all these craziness, he drops a visceral critique on racial profiling by outlining a tête-à-tête between himself and a traffic cop.

4 ‘Encore’

While it didn’t anchor ‘The Black Album’ – Jay’s supposed retirement record – ‘Encore’ was the ultimate curtain call. Over Kanye West’s victorious horns, Hov fades to black by pondering his rap career and offering warnings to rappers who might follow his path. The Brooklynite claimed at the time that his retirement was motivated by a lack of competition. On this form, it’s hard to argue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koU2bb3iqzQ

3 ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’

Mixing Jay’s real life experiences as a low level drug dealer with glamourised gangster movie imagery, ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’ is a vivid slice of mafiosa rap with the Hov’s “godfather flow” justifying his thug in a ‘sorry not sorry’ kind of way. The creeping-but-funky beat is matched with Mary J’s belting hook, giving this one an appropriately luxurious sheen.

2 ‘In My Lifetime – remix’

While the original version of Jay’s first single ‘In My Lifetime’ found him reminiscing on selling tapes out of a trunk for a few dollars, the remix was on an altogether more widescreen scale. Laying out the rise and fall of a drug kingpin over just three verses and an expansive set of piano chords, this version played like a three-hour gangster epic, with Jay filling in as writer, director and star.

1 ‘Takeover’

With its jet-fueled bassline and punishingly thumped drums, Kanye’s sidewalk-crumbling take on The Doors’ ‘Five To One’ signaled a seismic shift in East Coast hip-hop. Standing alone at the top would be Jay Z, who used ‘Takeover’ to lay waist to, first, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and over a sprawling 32 bar verse, his arch-nemesis Nas. The Queensbridge MC would survive the assault, but it was Hov who was left sitting on the throne.