One of the biggest debates in Hip Hop is who you got “The Blueprint” or “Reasonable Doubt”? But what about his third or forth best? How do the other albums rank? One thing is for sure with twenty-one years in the game and over 100 million albums sold even the worst Jay album is far above average. With no further delay, her is my list of the top Jay-Z albums.
13) Kingdom Come (2006)
The hype around “Kingdom Come” reached Floyd/Connor levels. After “retiring” for 3-years, Jay started off strong from the opening bell with “The Prelude”, “Oh My God”, the title track, “Show Me What You Got” and “Lost One” But the mishandling of tracks with Beyonce, John Legend and Usher almost KO’d the album in the middle rounds. Nevertheless, Jay was able to salvage a majority decision with “30 Something” and “Minority Report.
12) The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse (2002)
Proof that not even a legend like Jay-Z could withstand the issues of making a double CD. On the heels of a classic, “Blueprint 2” failed all expectations. It had moments of greatness with “Excuse Me Miss”, “Hovi Baby”, “Show You How” and “I Did It My Way” but overall it was weighed down by too many filler tracks. By the time he trimmed the fat with “Blueprint 2.1”, the damage could not have been undone.
11) The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)
Jay-Z brought along his team of R.O.C. bandits -Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil- to form The Dynasty. Not credited as a Jay-Z album but widely considered one, Jay had verses on 14 out of 16 tracks to include hits “I Just Want To Love You (Give It To Me)” and “Guilty Until Proven Innocent”. And who can forget the drug dealer call-in “1-900-Hustler” or the Scarface tearful verse “This Can’t Be Life”. Bonus points for introducing the world to Freeway and Kanye West.
10) The Blueprint 3 (2009)
The third installment in the Blueprint trilogy had Jay getting his grown man rap on. He still showed the ability to crank out hits with “Run This Town” and the Big Apple anthem, “Empire State of Mind”. However, his lyrics began to show signs of age with his transition to suit and tie rap.
9) Magna Carter Holy Grail (2013)
Musically, “MCHG” was a work of art. Tracks like “Tom Ford”, “Picasso Baby” and “Heaven” had brilliant production that other rappers would give their right hand for. Lyrically, Jay seemed to have lost a some of his touch with a simplistic, old man flow. He also alienated core fans with rhymes about being in a higher tax bracket.
8) Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life (1998)
With over 10 million albums sold, “Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life” is often considered just short of a classic. Jay-Z career skyrocketed with his third album led by the super hit “Hard Knock Life”. “Vol. 2…”is still Jay’s highest selling album to date with bangers like “Money, Cash, Hoes”, “Nigga What, Nigga Who”, “Money Aint a Thang” and “Can I Get A…” still keeping people off their seats.
7) Vol. 3… The Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)
Even though he was stepping out of the shiny suit era, Jiggaman still had more hits to add to his resume. For those that only remember “Vol. 3…” for “Big Pimpin’” check “Come and Get Me”, and “Do It Again”. He kept the momentum going with “It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot)” and “There’s Been a Murder”. Street tales of the ghetto “NYMP”, “So Ghetto”, and “Dopeman” were all highlights on the most underrated Jay-Z album to date.
6) 4:44 (2017)
If rap had a “Confessions”, this would be it. “4:44” is one part therapeutic and one part response. Jay opens up like never before as he exposes his faults and vulnerabilities all throughout but especially on “Smile”, “Family Feud” and the title track. If there were any doubts, Jay’s latest, further continues his legacy.
5) American Gangster (2007)
After the missteps of “Kingdom Come” Jay returned to his gangster roots. Narrated by Idris Elba, this unofficial soundtrack to the Denzel Washington movie of the same name was a scene for scene retelling of a true American Gangster. “Party Life”, “No Hook” and “I Know” paints pictures as real as 3D TV. Shaky production and continuity issues aside, “American Gangster” more than holds its own with the top Jay-Z albums.
4) The Black Album (2003)
This was supposed to be it. Had Jay stayed retired, this would have been the perfect way to go out. Powered by the hits “99 Problems”, “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” and “Change Clothes”, Jay-Z had a lot to say before his venture into a business man. “What More Can I Say”, “Encore”, “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” and “Lucifer” rounded out the bangers as Jay-Z attempted to leave the game on top.
3) In My Lifetime Vol. 1 (1997)
Many consider this to be one of the worst in Jay’s collection. Yes, it was a sharp left from “Reasonable Doubt” and it has three of the God-awfullest tracks in Jigga’s career, but any album with “Where I’m From” gets at least a two slot curve up. The bangers far outweigh the low points with “Friend or Foe ‘98”, “Imaginary Player”, “Rap Game/Crack Game” and the classic “Streets is Watching”
2) The Blueprint (2001)
One classic album makes you hot, two makes you legendary. Not many albums can hit all the points and maintain continuity. Tracks flowed just as easy as hot knife through butter. He was combative on “Takeover” and a player on “Girls, Girls, Girls. He brought the heat on “U Don’t Know”. Not to be forgotten are the reflective tracks “Never Change”, “Heart of the City (Aint No Love)” and the ultra- affectionate “Song Cry”.
1) Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Every rapper has a story to tell but Jay used elite lyricism to put a new perspective on his tales of drug dealing. A hustlers soundtrack, “Reasonable Doubt” is not the first ‘coke rap’ album but it should be a mandatory listen for anyone in the game. Jay-Z provided a Bible for any gangster on the street. From the Pain In Da Ass opening Scarface interpolation to the somber final track “Regrets”, Jay-Z did not exploit or brag but rather he was like a preacher handing down commandments.
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