Top 10 Jay-Z Songs
Jay-Z might be a polarizing artist to some people, but there is one thing about him that cannot be denied: his lyrics. Shawn Carter is the godfather of rap’s double entendre. His lines have so many different meanings that he wrote a book “decoding” some of the notorious ones. A combination of complexity and commercialism, Jay-Z’s music has been celebrated for close to two decades. His name sits at the top of many Top 5 Dead or Alive lists. While it’s hard to come up with just 10 songs, TheDrop.fm compiles some hits (and some b-side classics), where Jay was truly on his A-game. When is he not, though? Here's the top Jay-Z songs.
‘Where I’m From’
Over D-Dot’s sneaky beat, Jay-Z in a couple of bars put Marcy on the map. Jay beckoned everyone to “Cough up a lung” for where he’s from. While Brooklyn was always known as a gateway drug for real rap, Jay-Z highlighted the Marcy Projects as the place where the hustlers play, and most importantly, the streets that raised him. Who knew a small strip of Brooklyn would produce one of the biggest artists in music history?
While everyone was used to Jay-Z being rough for the first five years of his career, 'Song Cry' was his moment of vulnerability. He couldn’t find it in his heart to shed tears for those he lost, so he makes the “song cry” instead. Regardless, you can hear the pain in Jay’s voice, which was something new for him to reveal. Since he’s always been quite elusive, this song showed some cracks in his tough exterior.
‘Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)’
The epitome of a tough guy track. The double meaning is present here, stating to “put your hands up” like you’re at a party or concert having fun or being held up by some stick-up kids or being arrested by the cops. Leave it to Jay-Z to show how one gesture can have so many different meanings, both good and bad. That has always been his forte — to reveal life’s multiple meanings. He’s made it an art.
This song has layered importance. For one, it was one of Jay-Z’s biggest commercial successes and was basically a song about his own name. The other? A young Kanye West produced this song. The world had no idea that one day these two would become the most powerful men in hip-hop side by side. On this song, it was a semi-successful rapper and an up and coming producer. Neither one of them was watching the throne.
Here is the cut that kicked off one of the biggest beefs in hip-hop history. 'Takeover' was Jay-Z's first shot on wax at Nas. The two were battling for G.O.A.T. status, while simultaneously entangled in a pissing contest over sharing a past lover. When Jay dropped this gem, we knew it was on. This song also has the classic line, “You made it a hot line / I made it a hot song.” Yes you did, Jay.
‘D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)’
“Get back to rap, you’re T-Pain-in’ too much,” Jay announced on this track. Hip-hop was entering into dangerous territory in 2009, with lyricism and real rap reaching an all time low. This song was a call to action, killing the warbled effects of Auto-Tune that rappers were leaning upon. While some rappers still decided to use Auto-Tune (T-Pain, obviously), for the most part, this song really did kill the trend. When Jay-Z speaks, hip-hop listens. That’s for sure.
'D’Evils' prepared the world for Jay’s mastering of the double entendre. Lines like “We used to fight for building blocks / Now we fight for blocks with buildings that make a killing” are so simply complex (showing the transition from childhood to growing up as drug dealers) that the style became Jay’s brand. Even when he’s traveled so far into the mainstream, he’s kept this skill alive. It was here, though, that the world heard it for the first time.
The idea of mixing rap and rock is not a new concept (shouts to Run-DMC and Aerosmith, plus Public Enemy and Anthrax). However, when Jay-Z enlisted Rick Rubin to throw hard guitars over his list of problems sans bitches, he was reminding hip-hop of how good it can sound over giant riffs. And like most Jay songs, we learn something new. Here we learned he ducked gun charges by knowing the law “a lil bit.”
‘Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)…’
This was Jay-Z’s big celebratory track. Eleven years deep in the game, and Hov was/is on top of the world. While the Roc has taken on many forms during his decade-plus tenure in the game, he still keeps it alive. The video for this song proves that, as it shows a young Jay-Z with the pre-Roc boys partying and then present-day Jay-Z partying with the new Roc boys. Every day is a reason to celebrate when you’re Jay-Z. L’Chaim!
‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’
This was the beginning of getting to know Jay-Z and the genesis of his hustler mentality. Sure, we briefly met him over Jaz-O’s 'Hawaiian Sophie,' but 'Reasonable Doubt 'was the world’s introduction to the real Jay-Z. We could have picked almost any song on this album and labeled it as one of the great ones, but 'Can’t Knock the Hustle' was the clear indicator that Jay was going to have commercial success from the jump.