“Allow me to re-introduce myself / My name is HOV”
That’s Jay Z, on his first lines of his track Public Service Announcement from his album The Black Album. This is the classic Jay Z intro track when he’s doing a live show. Timeless beat, punchy lyrics and a great track all-around. Fun fact! Just Blaze, the producer, use Little Boy Blues’ track “Seed of Love” as a sample. That song is familiar to those who have watched the teenage California tv show O.C.
Anyhow. I’m mentioning Jay Z since his full discography was released on Spotify at midnight. Why? Because he’s turning 50 [“fiffy”]. Time flies. I suppose most people have some artists that led them into a genre, or a favourite artist from a genre. And Jay Z has always been the one for me. He is to me, the greatest rapper of them all. Hence, this newsletter is dedicated to him.
Before diving into his tracks, I highly suggest the documentary that was made by HBO when he was “retiring” in 2001 when he released The Black Album. It’s called Fade to Black and is a behind-the-scenes documentary where you follow Jay Z while he creates his album and his “final” show at Maddison Square Guarden. Also, his biography to read and discover his upbringing in the Marcy projects in Brooklyn.
There’s so many great tracks from his discography, but I’ve chosen a few that I like a bit more. Please enjoy his time live on Spotify, as we don’t know if it’ll be there tomorrow when his celebration is over.
No newsletter like this could make Jay Z’s career justice. The discography is cemented into hip hop history, a legacy to carry on for future rappers and will always be acknowledged as one of the founders, greatest and most important artist and profile to hip hop.
A lot of tracks couldn’t fit into this newsletter due to time and space. It could easily be filled with 30 more tracks, but I hope you enjoyed it, as well as enjoy Jay Z’s discography whenever you take your time to listen to it.
Happy 50th birthday, Jay.
What other way to introduce this list of great Jay Z tracks but with his Intro: Medley from the album In My Lifetime: Vol. 1. That beat switch is majestic. Later sampled on Pusha T’s ‘Nostalgia’.
What other way to follow that up with his track ‘My 1st Song’ from the second-best album from Jay, The Black Album. I’ve had this on repeat so many times it would be burn marks on the CD if MP3’s wasn’t invented.
His first studio album, Reasonable Doubt, is still the best album he put out. Which can seem a bit sad with all great releases afterwards, but what a way to break into the market. Here two of the greatest tracks from Jay Z, and hip hop overall.
Jay Z used to rap really fast, to show off his technique, but has in interviews throughout the years condemned himself for doing so, since he feels it’s tacky. Watch an example when Jay rapped at 18 here. This track might be one of his fastest, but so catchy and also a great live track, since he usually splits up the crowd in two and let them compete in a classic who can shout the loudest of “Nigga What” and “Nigga Who”. The track symbolizes his maturity to me; taking something he saw as a weaknes, absorb it, and use it.
He’s known for not writing anything down. He keeps everything in his head, which all producers he’s worked mentions as something impressive. Which it is. All those tracks. So many lyrics. And how he can write it when he hears the beat… it’s just pure genius. Here’s a live example of a clip when Jay Z is in the studio with a young Kanye, hearing this beat and recording it straight after. Such a beautiful thing to see. Two amazing musicians creating stuff. Can’t ask for much more.
Can I Live is a deep and hard look into the rough life as a drug-dealer and the struggle it invites, as well as the reward it brings. Feelin It from the same album could be seen as the reward from the hard work he paints in his picture from Can I Live.
If Reasonable Doubt was his debut, this might be the last album from Jay. It’s the older, wiser Jay that drops his knowledge, looking back the ride from the start to where he’s at today: a billionaire, father, husband, rap legend. And Marcy (the project where he grew up) Me is a beautiful summary. If this is the nicest track from this album, the best video from this album, and his career, is the video to The Story of O.J.
Today, Jay Z is more of an investor and business man than musician, but spends a lot of his time and money on fighting the race-injustice in the US.
Marcy Me is a slow, thoughtful track, and he’s made a lot of them, but he’s also made an incredible amount of hits. Three of them are Heart of The City which has the most beautiful sample, and tempo switches and most head-nodding compability out there. Also, U Don’t Know featuring M.O.P is to this day on my work-out playlist; so much energy, such fire. Lastly, Murder To Excellence is from his well-known collaboration album with Kanye West, Watch The Throne, which has been written about, played through and celebrated, which it deserves. This track is always my go-to as the other classics from that album was played so much on the radio, this has always felt like a stand-out from that album.
I remember watching a documentary about Jay Z, where they’d interviewed a lot of friends and co-workers to him. And a lot of them spoke of the track Big Pimpin and the importance it had to his career. His album Reasonable Doubt cemented him as one of the greatest lyricists of our time, although it didn’t take him to the big scene outside of hip hop. This track though, Big Pimpin, did. It was ment for radio and the video is still to-this-day the most expensive video he’s ever made. And it succeeded: radio hit that not only gave him a Grammy; it also gave him the throne to the big scene.