Top 10 Jay-Z Songs
In this list of the 10 best Jay-Z songs, we pay tribute to hip-hop king Hov, who is arguably one of the greatest rappers of all time.
For this countdown, we strictly focused on Jay-Z's solo tracks and nothing from his collaborative projects, which means no songs from 'Watch the Throne' LP and his collaborative albums with R. Kelly and Linkin Park. Then we concentrated on his evolution as an emcee and lyrical content. This list is not definitive, but we wanted to showcase just a smidgen of Jay-Z's supreme lyrical skills as a veteran rhyme-slinger.
In celebration of his infallible career in hip-hop, check out PopCrush's top 10 list of Jay-Z songs.
‘I Can’t Get Wit That’
Jay-Z honed his skills as an emcee as a hype man for Big Daddy Kane and later on several of Jaz-O's early songs in the late '80s and early '90s. 'I Can't Get Wit That' is the first official Jay-Z single as a solo artist. Jigga raps crazy punchlines with his the rapid-tongue flow over the Clark Kent-produced track. Peep this line: “You diggin me / The epitome / of ripping it raw / You kidding me, no artist that rap, getting bigger than me / Although these cats are wetting my style, I'm still thirsty / And we all gotta fall off, but you first G.”
‘In My Lifetime’ (Remix)
Remixed by Big Jaz, the remix of 'In My Lifetime' was Jay-Z's first single on his newly-created independent label, Roc-A-Fella Records, with his then-manager Damon Dash. Apparently, the duo sold the original version out of the trunk of Dash's car in 1993, but it's the acclaimed remix that makes our list of the top Jay-Z songs. Check out the accompanying video — Jay was “poppin' bottles” of champagne way before it became fashionable in today's rap videos.
The get-money anthem 'Dead Presidents' was Jigga's breakout single from his classic 1995 album 'Reasonable Doubt.' This Jay-Z song features Nas' memorable sampled line “I'm out for dead presidents to represent me” from 'The World Is Yours' (Tip Mix). However, it was the equally classic B-Side 'Ain't No N—a' (featuring Foxy Brown) that reportedly helped secure Jay-Z's label, Roc-A-Fella Records, a distribution deal with Def Jam.
‘Where I’m From’
Jay-Z will forever represent his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. He proves this on 'Where I'm From,' where Hov descriptively narrates the rough streets and hard times of living in Brooklyn's Marcy Housing Projects. “I'm from where n—as pull your card, and argue all day about / Who's the best MC, Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas,” he raps. While Jay has been to many places all over the world, his heart will always remain in Brooklyn, as evidenced in this top 10 Jay-Z song.
Jay-Z is known for anthemic songs, and in 200, he released one in the form of 'Izzo (H.O.V.A.),' which resonated with rap fans worldwide. The Jay-Z song deals with his former life as a street hustler to his status as hip-hop's top emcee. “I do this for my culture / To let them know what a n—a look like when a n—a is in a Roadster / Show them how to move in a room full of vultures / Industry is shady, it needs to be taken over,” he raps. Props to Kanye West for producing the infectious beat with the Jackson 5 sample. Fo sheezy my neezy!
If there's one thing people will remember about Jay-Z's career, it will be his infamous rap battle against fellow rhyme-slinger Nas. This diss song was the first salvo from Jay-Z in their infamous lyrical feud in which he questioned Nas' work ethic, credibility and rhyme style. “The takeover, the break's over, n—a / God MC, me, Jay-Hova / Hey lil' soldier, you ain't ready for war / R.O.C. too strong for y'all,” he raps. Nas followed with the acidic song 'Ether' that some would say almost ended Jay-Z's career. Thankfully, the two rap veterans reconciled and ended their lyrical diss-a-thon in 2005.
‘I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)’
Outside of his hardcore songs, Jay-Z made some memorable club jams, as well. This fun Jay-Z song, produced by the Neptunes and featuring Pharrell, finds Jigga hollering at the fly ladies. “Save the narrative you savin' it for marriage / Let's keep it real ma, you savin' it for karats / You wanna see how far I'mma go / How, much I'mma spend but you already know / Zip, zero, stingy with dinero,” he raps. Thankfully, unlike his rhymes imply, Jay didn't have to deal with gold digging since he ended up marrying fellow multi-millionaire Beyonce.
Jay-Z's '99 Problems' is a great rap-rock song that predates his collaborative mash-up effort 'Collision Course' with Linkin Park. On the song, Hova narrates a story about being stopped by a racist cop who wants to illegally search his car. By the way, Jay-Z's stance against the officer may not be legally sound. The B-side, 'Dirt Off Your Shoulder' is another infectious anthem that inspired the famous move seen around the world. So even if you have 99 problems, just remember to brush them shoulders off.
‘Brooklyn Go Hard’
Jay-Z pays tribute to his late friend and fellow Brooklynite Notorious B.I.G. with this Kanye West-produced song that bangs harder that a jackhammer on concrete. The song's accompanying video was created by graphic designer Evan Roth, who used a drawing technique called Typography Illustration to create the Jigga and Biggie images with the words “Brooklyn.” The powerful Jay-Z song and video both go hard! Brooklyn stand up!
‘Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)’
Undoubtedly, this is the most popular Jay-Z song and one of the greatest tracks in hip-hop history. All the elements fit perfectly: the crisp beat by Mark the 45 King, the catchy 'Annie' sample and inspirational lyrics like, “Let's stick up the world and split it 50/50, uh-huh / Let's take the dough and stay real jiggy, uh-huh.” Jay-Z later sampled the musical 'Oliver' for another sing-a-long, 'Anything,' but this Broadway-sampled anthem 'Hard Knock Life' still tops our list of the best Jay-Z songs.