Every Jay-Z Song, Ranked
Thrillist Editor Emeritus Mike Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever live, other than Shawn Kemp’s 17th kid. Now for the music credentials that make it okay for him to write a story like this: he’s worked for LaFace Records with Outkast, Goodie Mob, T.I., and Usher; Atlanta hip-hop station Hot 97.5 (with Ludacris!); So So Def Recordings, Jermaine Dupri's record label; and has also worked on projects for Motown Records, Bad Boy Records, Universal Records, and Arista Records.
With 225 album tracks included in his catalog, Jay-Z officially has more songs than he has problems. Obviously, many of them are truly great, while many others feature Memphis Bleek. Now that Jigga’s seemingly slowing down on full-time rap responsibilities, and has TOTALLY ABANDONED NEW YORK, we decided we’d send him off by analyzing and heartlessly ranking every single song that came out on a Jay-Z album -- no guest appearances with Beanie Sigel, sorry. Let’s go!
Oh, and we also turned them all into a Spotify playlist so you can listen while you read. Just click here or find it at the bottom of the article (in case you don't want any spoilers).
This gets the ultimate fail award just for being spectacularly wack despite having two of the biggest stars in music. What the hell is Justin singing about? Why is Jay so far removed from the beat? Is God dead?
They should have let a girl at Roc-A-Fella Records hear this after it was recorded so she could say girls don’t like lame music.
These “things” must include making songs with two mics, Mariah, a bongo, and a slide whistle.
Not one of the too-damn-many talented people on this sh*t-sausage beat were able to save it from sucks.
Dedicated to his friend Emory Jones, who apparently took a drug charge for Jay and did a few years in prison, the lyrics of the hook do not match the subject matter at all. Makes things weird. Play this right after you pick up a hitchhiker and see if he doesn’t bail while the car’s still rolling.
218. "Lucky Me"In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
217. "La Familia"Magna Carta Holy Grail
Disowned. Uninvited to next year’s reunion. Possibly adopted.
216. "Don't Let Me Die"Unfinished Business
Well, don’t jump off a musical bridge.
215. "Jay-Z Blue"Magna Carta Holy Grail
214. "Beach Is Better"Magna Carta Holy Grail
This is the sound of walking with sand between your ass cheeks.
213. "Feelin' You in Stereo"Unfinished Business
Funny; you’ll be feelin’ like you caught mono after hearing this.
212. "Versus"Unfinished Business
211. "N*gga Please" (feat. Young Chris)The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
210. "H*A*M"Watch The Throne
This pork definitely isn’t honey-baked.
208. "Meet The Parents"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Sounds like Fresno.
This is also the answer to the question, “What’s better than this song?”
205. "Crown"Magna Carta Holy Grail
You’ll need a bottle of bagged whiskey to get through more than one listening of this.
204. "Pretty Girls"Unfinished Business
Too bad they ain’t listening!
203. "Mo Money"Unfinished Business
Less good music. These songs with R. Kelly? Boo-boo!!
202. "The Return (Remix)"Unfinished Business
Please go back with your receipt and “Return” both of these wherever you bought them.
201. "The Return"Unfinished Business
200. "Picasso Baby"Magna Carta Holy Grail
It’s a bastard.
This is the exact same song as “Somebody’s Girl” from the first R. Kelly collab LP. Sheesh.
198. "Nickels and Dimes"Magna Carta Holy Grail
197. "Oceans"Magna Carta Holy Grail
196. "Heaven"Magna Carta Holy Grail
195. "Big Chips"Unfinished Business
In terms of taste, this was more Fritos than Flamin’ Hot.
Well, not all... Sometimes you two (Jigga & Kellz) also make whole albums of bad songs!
This title would have been good advice to the studio engineer and producer.
192. "P*ssy"The Best of Both Worlds
191. "Shorty"The Best of Both Worlds
190. "Get This Money"The Best of Both Worlds
All beat; no meat.
188. "Somebody's Girl"The Best of Both Worlds
187. "Shake Ya Body"The Best of Both Worlds
186. "Naked"The Best of Both Worlds
The king has no clothes.
185. "Green Light"The Best of Both Worlds
184. "The Streets"The Best of Both Worlds
Noticing a pattern here?
183. "It Ain't Personal"The Best of Both Worlds
It’s not? Then... why else would you hurt us with this song?
182. "Break Up to Make Up"The Best of Both Worlds
181. "I Did It My Way"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Frank Sinatra and Montell Jordan would both say this isn’t how they did or do it.
180. "The Best of Both Worlds"The Best of Both Worlds
It was the worst of times.
You’d be excused for asking if this whole song was ghostwritten by the former MTV News anchor.
178. "Diamond Is Forever"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Have you noticed all the good Drake/Jay-Z collabos are on Drake’s albums?
174. "As One" (feat. Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Gunz, Peedi Crakk, Omillio Sparks & Rell)The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
173. "Some People Hate"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Sometimes rappers make things worth hating on.
172. "Hova Song (Outro)”Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
Both of these “Hova Song” joints are weird as hell. This may have been the beginning of those illuminati rumors.
171. "Hova Song (Intro)”Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
170. "The R.O.C."The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
168. "Venus vs. Mars"The Blueprint 3
Both planets on this song should be hit by an asteroid.
167. "What They Gonna Do" (feat. Sean Paul & Michael W. Smith)The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
165. "Blueprint 2"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
This one sounded like an emotionally injured Jay rapping while “in his feelings” (butthurt) about having lost the Nas battle, according to a Hot 97 listener poll taken after the release of “Ether.” You can’t be worried about explaining yourself when you’re beefing.
162. "2 Many Hoes"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
161. "Squeeze 1st"The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
160. "Girl's Best Friend"Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
Even though Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame went hard as ever, doing it twice dimmed the “Damn!” factor.
152. "Oh My God"Kingdom Come
The beat’s a bit much for Jay’s cooled-down delivery, and the subject material seems to be a repeat of “Moment of Clarity.”
151. "American Gangster"American Gangster
149. "You Must Love Me"In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
147. "Pray"American Gangster
144. "American Dreamin'"American Gangster
143. "Justify My Thug"The Black Album
141. "Come and Get Me"Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
138. "F.U.T.W."Magna Carta Holy Grail
136. "Tom Ford"Magna Carta Holy Grail
Jay will lean on a nice beat with the quickness when he doesn’t really have much to say.
Not bad in practice or theory, but way too heavy on the Coldplay. Leaves a weird feeling in your ear.
132. "Fallin'"American Gangster
130. "Hovi Baby"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
128. "Bitches & Sisters"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
A dope beat and good intentions, but the only thing killed here was Jay’s individual power to alter the direction of rap music. Sure, he’s still a major influence, but he couldn’t stop the, ahem, Future.
122. "Jigga That N*gga"The Blueprint
119. "I Made It"Kingdom Come
118. "Party Life"American Gangster
116. "My 1st Song"The Black Album
115. "NYMP"Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
114. "Thank You"The Blueprint 3
For all its early dramatic promise (a mentor sees his understudy becoming a threat... Bwahaha... Bleek?!), this song ended prematurely.
112. "Intro"The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
“This is food for thought; you do the dishes.” Jiggaman goes back to the streets; still has it.
109. "Friend or Foe ‘98"In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
A fresh uptempo where Jay shows love to rappers of the past and Cole reconfirms Jay’s ability to mentor great new talent.
106. "That's My Bitch"Watch The Throne
A Q-Tip-/ Pharrell-produced dance jam that didn’t really matter but wasn’t necessarily bad.
103. "Reminder"The Blueprint 3
100. "New Day"Watch The Throne
A heartfelt groove from Jay and Ye to their (then) unborn kids. Unfortunately they predicted boys, but they get points for getting personal.
97. "Hola' Hovito"The Blueprint
96. "Gotta Have It"Watch The Throne
While not as mandatory as its name suggests, this Throne cut works well enough to keep.
93. "The Prelude"Kingdom Come
In which Jay explains coming back after all those fibs about retiring over an orchestral bass groove.
91. "Ride or Die"Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life
A place-putting Ma$e diss, produced by Stevie J (yeah, that guy).
90. "Trouble"Kingdom Come
A Shaft sample does the posse cut good.
Great advice on starting a career as a narcotics distributor.
87. "Jigga My N*gga"Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
Jay and Sauce flex the funk over the classic break beat “Soul Makossa.”
84. "No Hook"American Gangster
Whoever these other guys are, they did a good job of flanking Jay on this test-of-time-standing, rap-for-rap’s-sake ditty.
82. "I Know"American Gangster
81. "30 Something"Kingdom Come
Grown and confident.
The intro to this song probably hurt it more than the choppy beat, since by the time the drums kick in you’re totally confused on how to bob your head. Probably not the best choice for a lead single to Jay’s Vol. 3… The Life & Times of S. Carter, but then again that wasn’t exactly his best album.
79. "Honey"The Best of Both Worlds
One of the few songs that’s actually good from those two (¡!) albums with R. Kelly.
78. "Threat"The Black Album
Cedric The Entertainer’s ad libs added comic relief to Jay’s promises of violence.
These three should have made a whole album together.
Loyalty on wax.
74. "Sweet"American Gangster
This is the ‘70s.
A cinematic street opus from Jigga and Young Jizzle.
The voice you hear at the beginning and end is said to be none other than Michael Jackson. Not that Jay didn’t record with M.J. (they hit the Summer Jam stage together in 2001 and collaborated on a dope remix to “You Rock My World”), but having the King of Pop sing about “trying girls out” was quite the epic coup.
Atheism never sounded so godly.
Sure, it’s depressing as hell, and kinda spooky with whatever that whistling echo was. Still, a better song than a lot of rappers make when they’re high on happy drugs.
66. "Show You How"The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
A slow, brassy, and super-braggy rap presented as a bonus track to the overstuffed Blueprint 2.
64. "Where I’m From"In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
63. "Friend or Foe"Reasonable Doubt
A study on how to completely deflate, outstyle (and rob) someone you caught trying to play you out.
Jay burns Beans for venting his frustrations, and we can all feel it a little bit.
61. "So Ghetto"Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
60. "Blue Magic"American Gangster
Hova borrowed a Rakim flow to “bring the ‘80s back” over a Pharrell track and an audio clip of Denzel Washington’s voice from the movie American Gangster.
A bouncy West Coast beat with Jay boastfully challenging surging California rappers who’d dare consider robbing him at The Source and Soul Train Awards, this was Jigga appropriating a style not his own, which he’s done to mixed results throughout his career. This one, well-calculated for the times, happened to work.
A slow-burning, gospel-centric family shout-out full of nostalgia for Jay’s childhood days.
A continuously hilarious punchline aimed at fake/broke emcees who wear moissanites and lease base-model luxury cars.
A killer beat and a recorded interview soundbite from the late/great Pimp C made the mood right for this street-certified testimony.
Some say they like Jay’s verse on “Renegade” more than Em’s. Those people are lying. This is a dope Eminem song on a Jay-Z album ( just ask Nas), and therefore can’t rank in Jay’s top 50.
Keeping it real, the Lil’ Wayne mixtape version of this is better than Jay’s. Still, it was Jay’s song first, and it’s pretty hard not to groove to all that horn and drum action.
Pharrell’s crisp drum patterns and airy vocal delivery on the hook made for an ‘80s lounge bounce. Hopefully there isn’t a Marvin Gaye song that sounds too similar.
This would rank much higher if Jay would have been more fluid with stronger raps over this beach-at-night beat featuring Mrs. Carter-Knowles.
50. "Regrets"Reasonable Doubt
Surely one of his most depressing songs, it’s also one of the most honest.
48. "Allure"The Black Album
JD did just enough to survive trading verses with Jay. Still, when Jay scored the infamous “chain reaction” line on the third verse it was clear who was the real baller.
46. "Who You Wit II"In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Featured on the soundtrack to the Jamie Foxx movie Sprung, this joint lasted the entire summer of ‘97 and had everybody saying “either or.”
45. "Prime Time"Watch The Throne
A good and simple banger.
More people know all the lyrics to this song than you might guess. Look around next time you hear it at a club.
43. "Lucifer"The Black Album
Not many rappers can admit to shooting up and circling a drug strip while blasting Diana Ross from their car. And not only is it tolerated, but it also made you consider buying a pistol and a Supremes album.
Jay’s not lying about being the guy who started the whole “swag” thing. The beat’s kind of missing something, but the proper usage of Redding’s voice will ensure that this will be played in clubs for years to come.
39. "All I Need"The Blueprint
A perfect song for redlining your car on an open highway after cashing an unexpected bonus check.
38. "December 4th"The Black Album
37. "Say Hello"American Gangster
The God MC gets his Scarface (the movie) on and stands on honesty, even possibly calling Reverend Al Sharpton a bitch for trying to say rappers should stop saying the word.
You weren’t a big-time rapper in the ‘90s if MJB hadn’t sang on a track with you. Still, Jay didn’t slack on this timeless track.
35. "22 Two's"Reasonable Doubt
There actually were twenty-two usages of the number “two” in this crafty freestyle-esque creation.
34. "Kingdom Come"Kingdom Come
People slept on this Rick James-jacked beat. On another album it would have been better remembered, but being the title track to Jay’s lukewarm “comeback album” (how many of those did he even have?), it fell into sleeper status.
More people might admit to secretly liking this song, despite the universally panned video, if asked. It’s better than it’s been treated by history.
You didn’t want to like this song as much as you did, but the gritty guitar riff, pounding drums, Rihanna hook and Kanye quotes came together to make magic.
30. "D'Evils"Reasonable Doubt
Talk to someone who actually made money from street business and they’ll tell you this is as close as a song can get to describing the paranoid lifestyle of the dopeman.
28. "Song Cry"The Blueprint
A breakup song from the man too busy for romance. You wonder who it was, as it sounds way too true to be made up, but no matter the name of the lady who inspired it, many men could relate.
Made during the phase when we all thought Jay was in the Illuminati (wait, that’s over, right?), the repeating ghost chamber chanting and down-drilling 808 bass groove brought out S-Dot’s colder side with such lines as, “Baby I’m a boss / I don’t know what they do / I don’t get dropped -- I drop the label.”
Conversational, and playable anywhere at any time with slicked-back mackery and fly talk, this is million-dollar Cognac rap.
With a “L’Chaim” shout-out to his Jewish peeps, Jigga celebrates the good life over this flashy, horn-heavy club hit. This is what it sounds like when Goldman Sachs traders get their annual bonuses. Straight ballin’.
23. "Feelin It"Reasonable Doubt
Back in the day, Jay pretended he was too focused to smoke weed. He even remarked about how Biggie once got him so high while hanging at a hotel that he retreated to his room in paranoia (much to Big’s amusement). His line, “Okay, I’m getting weeded now / I know I contradicted myself; look, I don’t need that now,” was on par with saying “B*tch don’t kill my vibe” today, over a classy, easygoing piano-driven beat.
Though the video had damn-near the exact same psychedelic blue strobe lighting as Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” Hovito went rapid-fire with his rhyme scheme to remind other rappers he was no stranger to double-timing the flow.
Biz Markie, Q-Tip, and Slick Rick take turns on the hook while Jay breaks down every type of lady he loves. You can’t knock it.
The later public discovery that Jay and X weren’t really all that cool only made this clashing of rap titans stronger, and Jay knew with Swizz in his prime he couldn’t lose, even as he stated, on the song, his awareness that people would criticize the song’s subject matter. He also stated that he didn’t care and reminded us that he was a crook.
19. "Encore"The Black Album
18. "Ain't No N*gga" (feat. Foxy Brown)Reasonable Doubt
This simple, funk-laced track saw Jigga trading verses of romance and loyalty (while likely cheating) with Fox Boogie Brown back when she and Lil’ Kim were both equivalent to what Nicki Minaj is today.
17. "Takeover"The Blueprint
Jay-Z’s full-on assault of Nas and Mobb Deep shook New York and the entire rap world. Prior to releasing it as part of The Blueprint, he’d recently put a pic of a preschool prodigy -- wearing a street-cred melting children’s dance outfit -- on Hot 97’s Summer Jam screen. He used “Takeover” to push his agenda for King of New York status, and also scored direct hits on the Illmatic emcee by pointing out Nasir’s inconsistent talent while alluding to an allegedly true tryst with the mother of his child without actually saying it. The debate over who really won the battle rages on to this day, and while the majority said “Ether” won, it must be said that it was a nuclear response to a massive attack.
Rhythmic bass bumps, a poetic pan flute and the legendary mix of Pimp C and Bun-B provided pimpery that seems to have been banished from ever being performed again on stage, probably by Beyonce. You’ve gotta see her side when you hear Jiggaman say, “Me give my heart to a woman?! Not for nothing / never happen.”
You imagine this song was specifically written for Beyonce. With Pharrell on the hook and Luther Vandross-jacked chorus vocals, this song is basically a musical guide on how to mack the hottest chick in the game, gentleman-style.
A slowed-down Jackson 5 track and an approachable Hov explaining his drug-dealing past to listeners made for a great feel-good track.
Though it’s an equal contribution between Jay and ‘Ye, there’s no denying Jay’s upper-deck impression on Yeezy’s bravado, and there’s no use in pretending this song wasn’t an instant classic.
Sampling Gladiator was a little gutsy, but there was little left to doubt when Jay began his rap, explaining his noted affinity for putting the late Notorious B.I.G.’s rhymes in his own songs (“I say a Big verse, I’m only biggin’ up my brother...”), and hinting at his realization of reaching a level where explanations of anything he said were no longer necessary. We’ll see what happens when he no longer exists.
As soon as you hear how producer Mark the 45 King matched voices from Annie with a street-certified bass line and that boom-bap, you feel the slow-burning impact of one of Shawn Carter’s most popular songs.
Kanye produced this bluesy anchor to The Blueprint, which took us to church via a hook featuring Bobby “Blue” Bland’s vocals and lyrics that longed for days when rappers weren’t haters while dealing with the realities on the ground. The Fugees breakup, Richard Pryor’s “burnout,” and the fall of The Fat Boys are all mentioned as signs of the new times. Where is the love? All over this track.
People were beginning to write Timbaland off as a chubby dude whose best work was relegated to Missy Elliot tracks (which still stand the test of time). With this bouncy breakbeat he provided the exact right platform that would later inspire none other than President Obama to brush the dust from his top torso bones as an answer to his own haters. You’re now tuned to the MF greatest.
8. "Can I Live"Reasonable Doubt
Over a soul-stirring Isaac Hayes sample, Jiggaman goes through the emotions of being an ambitious street pharmacist in search of higher ground. Over the beat he shows early integrity as not just a drug dealer but also a financial advisor, dropping jewels like, “We don’t lease, we buy the whole car / As you should!” Ch-ch-cheeeeaaaa!!
Dave Chappelle admitted to blasting this song before contract negotiations during his $50 million valuation days. That intro: “Allow me to reintroduce myself! My name is HOV!” You can hear your greater self in Jay’s lyrics as he spits fact-based raps over this gospel-licious, organ-driven gangster groove.
Front all you want; you love this song. Your Grandmother loves this song, which is disturbing but still kind of cool. Everyone loves this song.
With this cut, and help from Swizz Beats’ wife, Iceberg Slim became the new Sinatra.
Two Brooklynites (Biggie and Jay attended the same high school) go head-to-head over a hardcore track with both dropping classic lines including “N**** please / like short sleeves I bear arms,” (Jay) and Big’s scene-stealing wife/nemesis diss: “If Faye have twins she’ll probably have two Pacs... Get it? Tu... Pacs?” Brooklyn, stand up!
Jay-Z meets Rick Rubin. Beasties-level Rick Rubin, who people didn’t know still existed under all that beard. You busted some serious moves to this song, and you still do.
The lyrically remixed album version of DP, Jay’s very first promotional single, was featured on his debut, Reasonable Doubt, and is great on its own with a soul-on-steel melody sampled from jazz musician Lonnie Liston Smith; its braggadocious drug dealer quotables (“Patna, I’m still spending money from ‘88”), recall NYC’s infamous crack explosion, and Jay’s delivery is as slick as a surfboard riding a Champagne wave. Still, the true gem is the original version, which features lyrics that’ve since become part of the modern (bum) rapper’s study guide, including “Everything was all good just a week ago.” Word to Bobby Shmurda’s entire rap career.
This is Peak Hova -- a sonic exclamation point on the classic Blueprint album. It starts with a commandment to increase the volume, draws you in with its “One million, two million, three million, four…,” couplet chant where he explains navigating his way to what’s now a half-billion-dollar fortune, then just after the climactic “I… Will… Not... LOSE” moment it explodes with a power-scream at the end. Sure, Jay flexes power, influence, wealth, status, hustle, and flow on many other songs, but you feel everything and more over this powerhouse Just Blaze beat. There’s no Biggie Smalls, Kanye West, or Beanie Sigel to lean on, no Damon Dash, no models, and no R&B. It’s a one-man declaration of independence and dominance, which causes listeners to publicly pump their fists in the air as if they were beating down invisible barriers to Jay-Z’s level of wealth. Above every other song he’s made, “U Don’t Know” might be “The Blueprint” in and of itself.
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Mike Jordan, who was Thrillist Atlanta's founding editor, lives in East Point, Ga., which makes him the third member of OutKast and the Shogun of Southwest Atlanta. Help him reach 35k Twitter followers at @MichaelBJordan, but please don't ask about his character from The Wire--that's another guy. .