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FEATURE: Follow the Leader

Jay-Z’s influence on hip-hop culture is powerful, and the God MC isn’t ashamed to let folks know. On “Lyrical Exercise,” a bonus track off of his 2001 classic The Blueprint, Hov went on to brag, “best flow, most consistent, realest stories, most charisma, I set the most trends and my interviews are hotter, Holla!” Well, if you picked up the October 2009 issue of XXL, then you know the last part is true. And while there are some folks who may argue some of Jay’s boasts, there is one thing that is undeniable, no one in rap sets more trends.

Have you ever rocked a platinum chain? That’s Jay-Z. Dicthed your jersey for a button-up? Credit Jay. Drank Cristal? Thank Hov. He put Iceberg on the map, popularized Bentleys and Maybachs and regulated BMW’s X5 to baby mama status. Even on his latest The Blueprint 3, Jay is still bragging and boasting with no signs of slowing down. On “Empire State of Mind,” he rhymes, “Shit, I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.” Absurd right? Not really. XXLMAG.com explores 10 of Jay-Z’s greatest trends.—Compiled by Matt Barone, Carl Chery, Jesse Gissen, Clover Hope and Rob Markman


Platinum Jewelry: “I mean like I gotta be the pioneer to this shit…wearing that platinum shit when all you chicks thought it was silver and shit.” Jay ain’t never lie. Before hopping on the scene the average rapper’s jewels looked more like Mr. T than Mr. Weezy F. Baby. You can thank the original Mr. Carter for making your trip to Zales that much more expensive.

No Pad, No Pen: Jay-Z has always bragged about not owning a rhyme book, he always was able to hash out his song on the spot, using a combination of his wit and immense memory. The technique spawned a lot of imitators, namely Lil Wayne, Kanye West and T.I., among others, who have all also bragged about using the same song writing method.

The popularization of Cristal: Prior to the summer of 2006, Jay-Z hadn’t come across an opportunity to drop a Cristal reference in a verse that he could pass up. His high-end champagne of choice, the gold-labeled drink—which has been available commercially since 1945, though its creation dates back to 1876—made nearly as many cameos in Jigga’s songs as Memphis Bleek. From “Dead Presidents II” (“The icon, baby, you like Dom/Maybe this Cristal’s, to change your whole life”) to “Imaginary Player” (“I was popping that Cristal when y’all niggas thought it was beer and shit”), his incessant brand-name-dropping gave the company tons of mojo.


Bentleys: Mr. Carter has long been outspoken regarding his appreciation for Bentley automobiles. He lovingly called out the Bentley Azure on “Jigga That Nigga” (off of The Blueprint), and, most recently, he dropped the top-of-the-line whip brand’s name on The Blueprint 3’s closer, “Young Forever” (“Slamming Bentley doors, hopping out of Porsches/Poppin’ up on Forbes lists, gorgeous”).


Icerberg: Name-checking the brand in several lyrics, Hov helped popularize Iceberg in the late ’90s. At one point, the BK MC became so synonymous with the line that his shows were filled with concert-goers donning Loney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck on their sweaters.

Sped Up Soul Sampling: With relatively new producers Kanye West, Just Blaze and Bink producing most of The Blueprint, the God MC helped end the syntheziser era and resurrect soul sampling in the same breath. Taking a cue from Wu-Tang Clan’s the RZA, who had made a trademark out of sprinkling vocals onto his tracks, Yeezy and Just sped up the samples to give it a new twist. Sure, Hov didn’t actually bang on the MPC or the ASR-10, but he had the foresight to usher in hip-hop’s new sound. Soon, everybody from T.I. to Cam’ron benefited from Roc-A-Fella’s chipmunk sound.


Killed Throwback Jerseys: “And I don’t wear jerseys, I’m thirty plus/Give me a crisp pair of jeans, nigga button up.” Founded in 1904, it took decades for Mitchell & Ness to become hip-hop’s brand du jour. Yet, with only two lines off “What More Can I Say” from The Black Album, Jigga made throwback jerseys irrelevant in a matter of weeks.

Button (Up) Down Shirts: It’s not like MCs never wore button down shirts before, they just hardly ever did it in a casual fashion. Following Jay’s fashion advice, the throwback jersey set took to colorfully loud button down shirts as their go-to attire. Change clothes, and go!


Maybach: Way before Rick Ross was making Maybach Music, Jiggaman had already traded in his benz for the ultra luxurious ride. Ever since you couldn’t watch an episode of Cribs without rappers and celebrities alike bragging about their new miracle whip. Too bad the six-figure price tag doesn’t also include a verse from Jay.

D.O.C. (Death of Cristal): Mojo that Hov quickly eradicated come June 2006, however, when he staged an all-out boycott against Cristal. In an interview with The Economist, Frederic Rouzad—managing director for Louis Roederer, the company that produces Cristal—responded to a question about the brand’s feelings toward an association with hip-hop’s “bling lifestyle” with, “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.” Viewing the quote as racist, Jay-Z subsequently put his once-beloved drink on ice, omitting “Cristal” from all of his lyrics and discontinuing sales of the champagne at all of his 40/40 venues. Three years later, Cristal’s visibility rivals that of Zima.


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