Top 10 Jay-Z Songs

This list is a non-votable list and the content of the list reflects the opinion of its author.

The Top Ten

1 Dead Presidents I/II

Jay-Z's first ever single just so happens to be his very best.It actually came in two different versions, the first was a single released for radios and on collaboration records while the second came on his Reasonable Doubt album with no music video but a full new set of lyrics. Years later and both versions are still argued over as to say which is better DP1 or DP2 and there are valid arguments for both, however both are included on here as DP1 has a much more interesting rhyme scheme and was a great introduction of the character of Jay-Z while DP2 has better storytelling and talks about the gritty life of a Mafia member over a glossy beautiful instrumental. Multiple remixes have come out from many rappers after Jay sampling the song but none have ever done it this masterfully. If you were to go listen to any Jay-Z material I would always recommend starting with Reasonable Doubt and both of these songs in particular.

2 A Week Ago

Very few rappers can match Jay's lyrical prowess and domination in the rap game and this song (as well as the number 1 spot) may be the perfect representation of that skill. Vol. 2 exploded with splashy radio anthems, becoming Jay-Z’s only album to be certified five times platinum. “A Week Ago,” however, was the album’s throwback to the rueful street tales that he built his reputation on. Bay Area trailblazer Too $hort wasn’t supposed to be the only regional rap legend on the track " Jay asked Pimp C to appear, according to his UGK partner Bun B. The session fell through, but Jay linked up with UGK a year later for the far more famous “Big Pimpin’.” The haunted storytelling on the track is a nod to the two classic albums that preceded it and made sure that Jay-Z was not seen as a pop star due to the nature of his new album.

3 99 Problems

Jay-Z paid Rick Rubin a visit to “recapture that feeling I had when I was a kid,” as he explained in documentary Fade to Black. What came out of that session did have vintage heavy metal riffery reminiscent of Rubin’s Eighties work with LL Cool J and Beastie Boys, but lyrically it was a blistering, modern-day critique, taking aim at those who demonise him as a black man and rapper. The hook, borrowed from Ice-T and Brother Marquis of 2 Live Crew " “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” " was bait for talking heads, since verses play with the other meanings of the word. “Even as I was recording it, I knew someone, somewhere would say ‘Aha, there he goes talking about them hoes and bitches again! '” Jay writes in Decoded. The song became iconic enough that Barack Obama brought it to the 2013 White House Correspondents Dinner: In light of Jay and Bey’s controversial visit to Cuba, he said, “I’ve got 99 problems and now Jay-Z is one,” to hearty laughs.

This song was the first hip hop track

4 Takeover

Although it's also known for being one of the many solid tracks from the incredible Blueprint album, Takeover is even better known as a diss song on Jay-Z's greatest hip hop rival Nas and the infamous Mobb Deep. In the track Jay-Z mocks Nas for putting out weaker albums after his classic debut Illmatic and claims that he used Nas' voice from The World is Yours and made it better as a sample in Dead Presidents. Nas swiftly responded to this track a few months later with the equally brilliant Ether. Whichever you think is better, this song had a much greater impact due to Jay-Z having more fans at the time and while there is not much of Jay's storytelling, the lyricism and rhymes are on point.

5 D'evils
6 Empire State of Mind

By at least one measure, “Empire State of Mind” is the biggest record of Jay-Z’s career: He had never topped the Hot 100 as a lead artist until he released this collaboration with Alicia Keys, the final Number One hit of the 2000's. “Jay hit me up like, ‘I feel like I have this record that’s going to be the anthem of New York,'” Keys, another Big Apple native, explained to MTV. “He’s like, ‘The piano, the way the style [is], the whole flow, and it couldn’t be the anthem of New York without you.'” “Empire State of Mind” loops the dramatic, golden opening motif from a towering slice of orchestral soul " in this case, the Moments’ “Love on a Two-Way Street” " to great effect. Jay-Z touts his credentials as the “new Sinatra,” while Keys aims for universal uplift: “These streets will make you feel brand new/Big lights will inspire you.”

One of many great rap anthems about New York, this track came to life after two Brooklyn songwriters who were missing their hometown pitched the idea for a song to Jay-Z. A love letter of sorts to the city and with fellow New Yorker Alicia Keys, Empire State of Mind ended up becoming Jay-Z's first ever Hot 100 chart topper and it's no surprise either. It also bagged him his first two Grammy Awards solidifying him as one of the greatest music artists of all time. The music video and song also have steller production capturing the beautiful but also dark side of New York with twinkling keys and crunchy bass.

7 Meet the Parents
8 Where I'm From
9 Renegade

It's easy to say that this track belongs more to Eminem than Jay-Z, not only because Slim Shady did a lot of the production but also because many think he had a better performance lyrically which even led Nas to claim that Eminem murdered Jay on his own song in Ether. Whatever your thoughts are on the subject there is no denying that Jay-Z holds up relatively well talking about the violence in America and how his music has influenced the youth in a positive way as an escape. On the track, the two rap heavyweights also trade verses about Jay-Z's childhood and Eminem's problems with the music industry.

10 December 4th