10 Best Jay-Z Songs of All Time (2023)

So, we all know that Jay-Z has been killing it in the hip-hop scene for over two decades. I mean, c’mon, the guy is a legend! Shawn Carter, as he was born, has not only shown off his top-notch lyricism and excellent production skills but also his ability to tackle complex and evolving subject matter. Plus, he’s got a sharp eye for talent.

Now, let’s get to the point, picking Jay-Z’s best songs is no easy feat. That being said, we’ve put together a list of our ten favorite Jay-Z songs. Of course, this list is subjective, and others may not agree. But, without further ado, here are our top picks.

10. “Dead Presidents II” (Reasonable Doubt, 1996)

Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents II” is a classic track that dates back to 1996. It was one of his earliest songs and remains a fan favorite to this day. The original version of “Dead Presidents” never made it onto an album, but the sequel did. The beat is the same, but the lyrics are different. In this song, Jay-Z talks about his obsession with making as much money as possible.

Interestingly, Jay-Z initially asked fellow New York City rapper Nas to be part of the remix. But when Nas declined, Jay-Z decided to sample him on the hook instead. While it was never officially proven, this move is said to have sparked a years-long feud between the two icons of NYC rap.

Despite the rumors of a feud, “Dead Presidents II” remains a classic example of Jay-Z’s early work. The song’s catchy beat and lyrics about chasing money continue to resonate with fans today.

9. “4:44” (4:44, 2017)

If you’re a fan of Jay-Z, you’ve probably heard of his 2017 album “4:44”. This album is particularly significant because it was released after news of his alleged infidelity came to light, causing a media frenzy. Beyoncé even released an entire album, “Lemonade,” which addressed the issue head-on.

The title track of “4:44” is the centerpiece of the album and serves as a mea culpa for Jay-Z’s past mistakes. It’s a heavy song, tackling difficult topics like infidelity and miscarriage with raw honesty. Jay-Z doesn’t hold back – he apologizes openly and unreservedly. It’s rare to see such vulnerability from a heavyweight rapper like Jay-Z, which is what makes “4:44” such a powerful and moving song.

Overall, “4:44” is a must-listen for fans of Jay-Z and anyone who appreciates heartfelt music. It’s a reminder that even the most successful and powerful people make mistakes, and it takes courage to own up to them.

8. “Never Change” (The Blueprint, 2001)

If you’re a fan of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaboration, you know that The Blueprint album is a must-listen. And if you haven’t heard it yet, “Never Change” is one of the standout tracks that deserves your attention.

Sure, the song’s message isn’t exactly groundbreaking for Jay-Z, but his confident delivery and the soulful production from Kanye West make it a comforting listen, like a warm blanket on a cold day. And let’s not forget the David Ruffin sample that anchors the track – it’s a perfect touch that elevates the song to another level.

When Jay-Z says “I never change, I’m too stuck in my ways,” he’s not saying it to brag. Instead, he’s emphasizing that his street credibility remains intact, despite his immense success. And even in 2023, he can still make that claim.

So, if you’re looking for a classic hip-hop track that stands the test of time, give “Never Change” a listen. It’s a reminder that some things never go out of style.

7. “Empire State of Mind” (The Blueprint 3, 2009)

Did you know that Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” is the only solo track he’s ever had reach No.1 on the Billboard charts? Crazy, right? I mean, the guy has an impressive collection of music, awards, and influence, so you’d think he’d have more chart-toppers to his name.

But let’s talk about this iconic track. If you’re in the Big Apple, you can’t escape it. From sports games to festivals, you’re gonna hear this jam that pays homage to everything NYC. Jay throws out references to Sinatra, the Knicks, and other New York staples. It’s a bit corny, sure, but it still holds up.

And don’t even get me started on Alicia Keys’ killer chorus. When she belts out “NEW YOOOORRRK!!” you just gotta sing along. It’s infectious.

So next time you’re in the city that never sleeps, keep your ears open for “Empire State of Mind.” It’s a classic track that’s sure to get you in the New York state of mind.

6. “N—-s in Paris” (Watch the Throne, 2011)

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “N—-s in Paris” is an epic collaboration that celebrates living life to the fullest and overcoming adversity. The song features references to popular figures such as Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Blades of Glory, Prince William, and the Brooklyn Nets, adding to its playful and fun vibe.

The catchy beat is undoubtedly one of the catchiest hooks ever made by both rappers. It’s clear from their performance that they love performing “N—-s in Paris,” often repeating it five or more times in a row, which never fails to get the crowd hyped up and excited. The song’s lyrics are provocative, with the memorable line “You escaped what I escaped/You’d be in Paris getting f—-d up too” adding to its edginess.

Overall, “N—-s in Paris” is a wild ride of a song that’s perfect for celebrating life’s triumphs and letting loose.

5. “Takeover” (The Blueprint, 2001)

There’s been some serious beefs in the rap game, but nothing compares to the heat that Jay-Z brought in his dis track aimed at Nas. Titled “Takeover,” this track takes no prisoners, with Jay viciously attacking Nas’ lyrics, street cred, and even his commercial success. He even took shots at Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, poking fun at his past as a ballet dancer.

What’s crazy is that these two rivals eventually buried the hatchet, but not before several other dis tracks were released. “Takeover” still stands as a testament to Jay’s lyrical prowess and the consequences of crossing him.

The beat for the track features a sample from the Doors, which only adds to the intensity of Jay’s flow. Whether you’re a die-hard hip hop fan or just someone who appreciates a good beef, “Takeover” is a must-listen.

4. “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” (Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life, 2009)

Let’s talk about Jay-Z’s iconic 1998 single, “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem).” Now, we all know that sampling is a big part of rap music, but this track surprised everyone by using a sample from the classic Annie showtune. That’s right, you heard it correctly – Annie! It was a major departure from the usual jazz, soul, and pop songs that producers interpolated.

With this song, Jay-Z went from “lukewarm to hot” – in his own words – and it really put him on the map. It became a top 15 single, earned him Grammy recognition, and it’s the kind of song that everyone still remembers decades later.

3. “Big Pimpin'” (Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter, 1999)

Back in the 90s, rap feuds were all the rage, and artists didn’t often venture beyond their own turf. That’s why Jay-Z’s collaboration with UGK, hailing from Texas, was such a big deal. Their song, “Big Pimpin’,” was a true breakthrough.

And let’s talk about that beat! Jay-Z and producer Timbaland used a sample from Hossam Ramzy’s “Khosara Khosara” that was absolutely mesmerizing. Unfortunately, they ended up getting sued for using it, but that didn’t take away from the impact of the song.

Nowadays, Jay-Z might cringe a bit at the lyrics, which celebrate the “pimpin'” lifestyle. But for many of us, “Big Pimpin'” was a much-needed escape from reality. Plus, it introduced a lot of people to UGK, one of the greatest Southern rap groups ever.

2. “99 Problems” (The Black Album, 2003)

If you’re a fan of hip-hop, you’re probably familiar with Jay-Z’s hit song “99 Problems” from his album “The Black Album” in 2003. One of the main reasons this track stands out is because of the producer behind it – Rick Rubin. Although he had moved on from producing rap music, Jay-Z convinced him to work on this song, and the result was a classic joint that’s still popular today.

The song’s instrumentation is what makes it so unique. With crunchy guitars and drum samples, the sound is reminiscent of old-school rap, but with a modern twist. And of course, the catchy hook “I’ve got 99 problems but a b—- ain’t one” has become a cultural phenomenon that’s been referenced in countless movies, TV shows, and other forms of media.

But did you know that the second verse of the song has become the subject of academic study and legal writing? Apparently, it tells the story of a traffic stop where Jay-Z outsmarts a corrupt cop, leading some people to speculate whether he had legal training or not. It’s an interesting tidbit that adds another layer of intrigue to an already fascinating track.

Overall, “99 Problems” is a must-listen for any fan of hip-hop or music in general. With its catchy hook and classic production, it’s no wonder that it has stood the test of time and remains a beloved track to this day.

1. “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” (The Blueprint, 2001)

You gotta admit, “First the Fat Boys break up, now every day I wake up/Somebody got a problem with Hov” is a pretty dope opening line. And it’s just the beginning of Jay-Z’s sickest song yet, where he takes on the haters and naysayers who think he’s on his way out.

And let’s not forget about Kanye’s genius sample from Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” That beat is straight fire, and Jay-Z spits with such ease, brushing off his critics as minor annoyances. He reminds everyone that he’s been at this since ’96, and he’s not going anywhere.

It’s been over 20 years since The Blueprint dropped, but Jay-Z is still going strong and proving why he’s one of the greatest of all time. “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” is a classic that’ll never get old.

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