With Jay-Z‘s shell of an album, “Magna Carta … Holy Grail,” officially out today, we thought it best to take a look back at his entire career and dig up some tracks that remind us that he is an all-time-great. Sure his albums can be totally hit or miss — you’ll notice most of these songs come from the same few albums — but when he’s on, Jay-Z can make some of the best music in hip-hop.
Here are the 10 best Jay-Z songs:
10) “Hard Knock Life”
This song is more hilarious than it is great. What rapper in his right mind would sample the Broadway version of “Annie?” The strangest part is how tough it sounds, too.
9) “Big Pimpin'”
Known for his careful, and rather slow flow, “Big Pimpin'” is one of the few Jay-Z tracks where the rapper will deliver lines quickly. It also serves as sort of ven diagram comparing New York and southern hip-hop.
8) “Lift Off”
The entire “Watch the Throne” album is the crowning accomplishment of the Jay-Z-Kanye West duo. West produced some of Jay-Z’s most memorable tracks. In turn, Hova mentored West on his path to superstar status. On “Lift Off,” assisted by Beyonce, the two take a look back at the last two decades.
Sure this is from the later, less impressive Jay-Z years, but you can’t beat the visual story telling of “Fast forward freeze frame on my pistol/fist full of dollars makes ignorance is so blissful.” It’s as if Jay-Z is pointing out how his entire upbringing and path to fame can turn into some high-budget Hollywood recreation.
6) “Brooklyn’s Finest”
Jay-Z called it back in 1996 that he and Notorious B.I.G would be the most important Brooklyn rappers. In a way this song was a passing of the torch.