Rap artist, producer, and one of the best hip hop musicians of all time, these are all different ways that people rightfully describe Jay-Z. Not only has he produced hit after hit, but the way he has helped move the scene forward as a musical genre should not be forgotten.
But what better way to go ahead and show his talent as an artist than by putting together a list of the 25 best Jay-Z songs of all time.
1. Can’t Knock the Hustle
This was on his debut album, and it led to him launching himself out onto the popular music scene and making people sit up and take notice. Featuring some dope beats throughout, Jay-Z incorporates his normal flow into proceedings, but don’t forget the chorus by Mary J. Blige, as that in itself is a cool addition to an already stunning song.
2. Money, Cash, Hoes
This track showcased Jay-Z dulling things down to a slower pace, but we must mention the beat that accompanies the song. It’s one of the most relaxed beats you will hear for a long time, and even though there’s a sense of repetition in the song, it has a catchy enough hook that pulls you in. As always, Jay-Z hits the timing of the beat with perfection resulting in a stunning piece.
3. Heart of the City
Here, what you get is a song that grinds its way through, offering you an insane beat that manages to remain exceptionally smooth from beginning to end. This song is like velvet chocolate in both the instrumentals and also how Jay-Z throws out the verses with absolute ease. It’s undoubtedly one of the best songs out there by him.
This is the diss track from his much acclaimed The Blueprint album, and even though it’s more of a laid-back diss track, it’s still ferocious in its delivery. It comes across as quite casual from time to time, with a hefty bassline included in the beat. And then, Jay-Z strides through his delivery with absolute confidence in what he’s saying, meaning people don’t stand a chance as he hits you with his message. It’s a classic track on a classic album.
5. Feelin’ It
Released back in 1997, the main thing that attracts you to this song is the hook, and it’s outstanding. Also, the lyrics are known for being hard-hitting, and keep in mind it’s from his debut album, so he had a lot to say for someone launching their career. Yet, Jay-Z shows his mastery of the art with his delivery which he hammers home with much aplomb while somehow sounding as if he’s keeping his cool.
6. This Can’t Be Life
This heavy beat helps make the song, but in all honesty, it’s a verse by Scarface that’s the real main point of the track. Of course, Jay-Z uses his confident and relaxed flow to the full extent as well, and this all leads to a sick song that shows off the versatility of Jay-Z even some 20 years after he started his career and road to stardom.
7. Politics As Usual
If you love gangsta lyrics with your hip hop, then this track has a tremendous amount that will get you excited. It’s something of a masterpiece from Jay-Z, in all honesty, and yet the way he manages to silently stride up to the song, delivery, and then glide off is astonishing. He somehow delivers his point without any type of stress or a sense of aggression but is still on point at all times.
8. 99 Problems
This is perhaps his most famous song for those who don’t listen to hip hop, and we can understand why it’s so loved. Jay-Z elegantly delivers his lyrics throughout, blasting through his verses without a care in the world. His delivery may not be as fast as others, but for Jay-Z, this is rapid, and yet he still delivers the right amount of emotion on a thunderous beat.
With an intense beat, Lucifer is the kind of song that grows on you over time, and you do need to be willing to give it a chance to do so. For Jay-Z, it’s all about giving people some sort of perspective on rap, and he feels as if it’s something only he can do. There’s more of a tension in the air through this track, so it can come across as slightly uncomfortable from time to time, but you will get used to it.
10. Dead Presidents
What we love about this track is the way it showcases that Jay-Z is one of the most chilled rappers around when it comes to his delivery. He is assertive when it comes to his lyrics, and he exudes confidence throughout, resulting in yet another impressive track on his debut album. It’s the perfect example of how you don’t need to be aggressive in rap to make a point.
11. 22 Two’s
One of the key things about this track is how Jay-Z manages to spit out his lyrics while remaining laid-back and low-key in his approach. This is something Jay-Z excels at, and he has clearly done so from this track on his debut album. The beat is strong, and yet it’s the way he quickly moves through the verses that make this song so stunning.
This hype track is a bit slower than you may expect, but it gives Jay-Z ample time to push across his intended message in his customary relaxed tone. There’s a slick feel to it all, which is helped by his smooth take on the verses. Oh, and it also features Kanye, so that’s a strong combination resulting in a fantastic track you should listen to on repeat.
13. Hard Knock Life
The narration through this track is spellbinding, and Jay-Z incorporates his usual trick of approaching the verses without much force, yet he still manages to always stress exactly how he’s feeling. Jay-Z bounces along through the track without a care in the world, and with tracks like this, it’s easy to see why the album has sold so many copies.
14. This Life Forever
This track comes from a time when Jay-Z was probably at his best. Even years after it was produced, it remains a sick song that still resonates even today. The beat used is on fire, and his flow is perfect. It’s classic Jay-Z, and we don’t see that changing at any point.
What we adore about this track is the way Jay-Z simply drops in on the second verse of the song with so much ease that you suddenly realize he’s there. This collab with Kanye is another example of how well the two of them work together. Oh, and the vocals by John Legend just manage to take the song to a whole new level.
16. Young Forever
With this song, you get Jay-Z striding in when he’s ready and then throwing out his lyrics with enthusiasm and confidence. And yet, the amazing thing is that Jay-Z himself states he’s never been happy with the final edition of this track. We find that surprising as it comes across as balanced with him maintaining control over his bars culminating in a strong message being sent out to all who listen.
17. U Don’t Know
This track goes deep, and it has something of a grime feel to it from the very moment you hear that first beat. Talking of the beat, it was created by Just Blaze, and it comes across as powerful while carrying the song to its finale. But then, Jay-Z does his thing with some dope lyrics delivered like darts in a track you won’t forget in a hurry.
18. Where Have You Been
This song comes across as something with a bit of nostalgia, and it has a more classic feel to the verses. Jay-Z brings up some carefully constructed lyrics, but the real winner in the track is the inclusion of Beanie Sigel, who adds so much emotion to the track that you almost forget that Jay-Z is the star. Yet, he then comes back with a bang reminding you who the boss is.
19. Friend or Foe
Jay-Z has never been afraid to push forward the boundaries of storytelling, and this track is a classic example of that. He just has the most effortless flow, and yet the charisma from this guy also stands out with each verse. Here, Jay-Z takes you on a journey, and we promise it’s one you will never forget.
20. Guess Who’s Back
Jay-Z appears in this Scarface track, as does Beanie Sigel, and it’s a storming track from beginning to end. Insane bets combined with three artists in their prime can only result in one thing, a song for the ages. They storm through it with energy and enough anger to make you listen in and take on board everything they wish to tell you. It bounces and vibes you out and deserves to appear on this list.
This track is perhaps best described as mesmerizing, and you will understand why that’s the case from the first time you listen to it. The song rises with such a force behind it that you feel it blasting through you until it’s done. This is where many believe Jay-Z managed to cement his place as one of the best rappers around, and we tend to agree with that when you check out his lyrics and how he throws them out. His style, and almost his grace, makes him different from the rest, and this song strengthens that idea.
22. My 1st Song
If you want to hear more of an emotional song from Jay-Z, then this is one we suggest you check out. It’s emotional and may even result in a few tears being shed, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s all about his childhood, and he really turns and looks at himself in a difficult light. It’s tough to listen to at times simply because of the subjects he touches on, but we think you should endure it thanks to the track’s brilliance. This song represents the emotional side of hip hop in ways you just don’t expect.
This single is raw and packs a punch as Jay-Z delves into some deep subject matters while still exhibiting his customary laid-back and confident delivery. His flow throughout the verses remains constant and ties in perfectly with a profound beat that leaves you hanging on every word he says, which is an art form in its own right. Here, Jay-Z hangs onto you like a puppet master, knowing you will dance along to his every word, and it’s something he does so smoothly that you don’t even notice.
We love this track as Jay-Z attacks those rappers that used auto-tune as he strips it back to classic hip hop. This must have hurt so many musicians who were going crazy for this technology. But this is Jay-Z having his say as the master of his art, and he has no problem in letting you know his thoughts on this subject. The fact he has a dig at them without losing his cool actually shows how amazing he is at delivering facts and opinions while remaining calm in the process.
This song is often sadly overlooked, and we hate that idea. It goes deep and encourages you to pay close attention to the lyrics to unlock the song’s true meaning. There’s a sense of disillusionment and anger throughout, but you wouldn’t really be aware of it, thanks to the way Jay-Z always delivers his lines. This track shows he knows how to build complex verses and beats that come together to create a feeling that adds so much to your overall experience of the song.
Barry has worked as a freelance writer for over a decade and has developed an eye for detail when it comes to unearthing cool and interesting facts.
His love of music stems from his student days checking out up and coming bands playing in the darkest corners of bars and clubs in Edinburgh.
The love of uncovering something new also remains with him. With an appreciation for music that’s best described as eclectic, his musical tastes range from Eric Clapton to Eminem through to Snow Patrol and Incubus. The memories that music can bring back to the fore is something he tries to portray in his writing.
For him, the voyage of discovery and unearthing something new is what makes this task of writing for MusicGrotto.com so interesting.