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FEATURE: Super Lyrical

Jay-Z hardly wastes any lines—making him the type of artist you can’t skim through, but have to listen to. In the course of his storied 13-year career, whether spitting bragadocious (“Money Ain’t a Thing”), getting introspective (“You Must Love Me”), cinematographic (“Friend or Foe”), offering club-friendly joints (“Do It Again”), or even getting outshined  (“Renegade”), the God MC hasn’t taken too many bars off.

His verses usually feature clever similes (“Like short sleeves, I bear arms”), metaphors (“She said the taste of dollars were shitty so i fed her 50s”)  or double entendres (My pops knew exactly what he did when he made me/Tried to get a nut and he got a nut and what”). And when he does rely on lines that appear a bit more simplistic, the verse is usually enhanced by agile cadences. Simply put, there are too many dope Jay-Z verses to list. Still, XXL attempted the impossible and compiled Hova’s best verses. Some are super lyrical, while others showcase impeccable flows. Here are Jay-Z’s Top 20 verses (not ranked) in chronological order. –Compiled by Matt Barone, Carl Chery, Jesse Gissen, Clover Hope and Rob Markman

[Editor’s Note: All lyrics are provided courtesy of OHHLA]
1. “Can’t Knock The Hustle” Verse 3, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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Yo, y’all niggaz lunchin, punchin the clock
My function is to make much and lay back munchin
Sippin Remy on the rocks, my crew, somethin to watch
Nothin to stop, un.. ..stoppable
Scheme on the ice, I gotta hot your crew
I gotta, let you niggaz know the time like Movado
My motto, stack rocks like Colorado
Auto off the champagne, Cristal’s by the bottle
It’s a damn shame what you’re not though (who?) Me
Slick like a gato, fuckin Jay-Z
My pops knew exactly what he did when he made me
Tried to get a nut and he got a nut and what
Straight bananas; can a nigga, see me?
Got the US Open, advantage Jigga
Serve like Sampras, play fake a rappers like a campus
Le Tigre, son you’re too eager
You ain’t havin it? Good, me either
Let’s, get together and make this whole world believe us huh?
At my arraignment, screamin
all us blacks got is sports and entertainment, until we even
Thievin, as long as I’m breathin
Can’t knock the way a nigga eatin – fuck you even!

2 & 3. “Dead Presidents II” Verse 1 & 2, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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Verse 1
Ahh, who wanna bet us that we don’t touch leathers
Stack cheddars forever, live treacherous all the et ceteras
To the death of us, me and my confidants, we shine
You feel the ambiance, y’all niggaz just rhyme
By the ounce dough accumulates like snow
We don’t just shine, we illuminate the whole show; you feel me?
Factions from the other side would love to kill me
Spill three quarts of my blood into the street, let alone the heat
Fuck em, we hate a nigga lovin this life
In all possible ways, know the Feds is buggin my life
Hospital days, reflectin when my man laid up
On the Uptown high block he got his side sprayed up
I saw his life slippin, this is a minor set back
Yo, still in all we livin, just dream about the get back
That made him smile though his eyes said, “Pray for me”
I’ll do you one better and slay these niggaz faithfully
Murder is a tough thing to digest, it’s a slow process
and I ain’t got nothin but time
I had near brushes, not to mention three shots
close range, never touched me, divine intervention
Can’t stop I, from drinkin Mai-Tai’s, with Ta Ta
Down in Nevada, ha ha, Poppa, word life
I dabbled in crazy weight without rap, I was crazy straight
Potnah, I’m still spendin money from eighty-eight… what?

Verse 2
Geyeah, know what? I’ll make..
you and your wack mans fold like bad hands
Roll like Monopoly, ad-vance you copy me
like white crystals, I gross the most
at the end of the fiscal year than these niggaz can wish to
The dead presidential, canidate
with the sprinkles and the presidental, ice that’ll offend you
In due time when crime fleas my mind
All sneak thieves and playa haters can shine
But until then I keep the trillion cut diamonds shinin brilliant
I’ll tell you half the story, the rest you fill it in
Long as the villian win
I spend Japan yen, attend major events
Catch me in the joints, convinced my iguanas is bitin
J-A-Y hyphen, controllin, manipulatin
I got a good life man, pounds and pence
Nuff dollars make sense, while you ride the bench
Catch me swinging for the fence
Dead Presidents, ya know

4. “D’Evils” Verse 2, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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We used to fight for building blocks
Now we fight for blocks with buildings that make a killing
The closest of friends when we first started
But grew apart as the money grew, and soon grew black-hearted
Thinkin back when we first learned to use rubbers
He never learned so in turn I’m kidnappin his baby’s mother
My hand around her collar, feeding her cheese
She said the taste of dollars was shitty so I fed her fifties
About his whereabouts I wasn’t convinced
So I kept feedin her money ’til her shit started to make sense
Who could ever foresee, we used to stay up all night at slumber parties
Now I’m tryin to rock this bitch to sleep
All the years we were real close
Now I see his fears through her tears
Know she’s wishin we were still close
Don’t cry, it is to be
In time, I’ll take away your miseries and make ’em mine, D’Evils…

5. “22 Two’s” Verse 1, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Can I kick it? (Yes you can!) *repeat 3X*
Y’all motherfuckers musta hear that Tribe Called Quest, let’s do it again
Can I kick it? (Yes you can!) *repeat 3X*
Well I’m gone… check this out
Too much West coast dick-lickin, and too many niggaz on a mission
Doin your best Jay-Z rendition
Too many rough motherfuckers, I got my suspicions
that you’re just a fish in a pool of sharks nigga, listen
Too many bitches wanna be ladies, so if you a hoe
I’ma call you a hoe, too many bitches are shady
Too many ladies give these niggaz too many chances
Too many brothers wannabe lovers don’t know what romance is
Too many bitches stuck up from too many sexual advances
No question; Jay-Z got too many answers
I been around this block, too many times
Rocked, too many rhymes, cocked, too many nines, too
To all my brothers it ain’t too late to come together
Cause too much black and too much love, equal forever
I don’t follow any guidelines cause too many niggaz ride mine
so I change styles every two rhymes, hah, what the fuck
That’s 22 too’s for y’all motherfuckers out there, yaknahmean?
Shall I continue? Check it out, what?


6. “Can I Live” Verse 2, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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My mind is infested, with sick thoughts that circle
like a Lexus, if driven wrong it’s sure to hurt you
Dual level like duplexes, in unity, my crew and me
commit atrocities like we got immunity
You guessed it, manifest it in tangible goods
Platinum Rolexed it, we don’t lease
we buy the whole care, as you should
My confederation, dead a nation, EXPLODE
on detonation, overload the mind of a said patient
When it balls to steam, it comes to it
we all fiends gotta do it, even righteous minds go through this
True this, history school us to spend our money foolish
Bond with jewellers and, watch for intruders
I stepped it up another level, meditated like a buddhist
Recruited lieutenants with ludicrous, dreams of
gettin cream let’s do this, against T-D-S
So I keep one eye open like, C-B-S, ya see me
stressed right? Can I live?

7.”Friend or Foe,” Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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Friend or foe yo, state your biz
ya tend to dough, ah , there it is
me, i run the show, oh, and these kids
don’t like nobody commin around here fuckin wit they doe for shit
you enterprisin though,
and i like it
but fuck with the big dogs though, i gotta bite ya,
look, its out of my hands
and you gettin money round here, its not in the plans
so hop yo ass out of that van, head back to kansas
i’m sendin niggas back up in campuses
chance is slimmer than that chick in calvin klien pantses
let me guess, they said it was money round here
and the rest is me stoppin you from gettin it, correct?
sorry to hear that, my guess is you got work at the hotel
i’ll take care of that , you’ll see, now please
give me the room key
you’re twitchin, don’t do that, you makin me nervous
my crew, well, they do pack, them niggas is murderous
so would ya, please put your hand back in sight
they don’t like to see me nervous you can understand that, right?
you draw, better be picasso, y’know the best
cause if this is not so, ah, god bless
you leave me no choice, i leave you no voice
believe me son i hate to do it just as bad as you hate to see it done
now calm your boys,
cause i’m findin it a little hard to concentrate with all the noise
get the point, i’ll let ya go,
before ya leave,i guess i aughta let you know, i need those keys
and promise you never, no matter the weather
evaevaevaevaevaevaevaevaeva come around here no mo’

8. “Imaginary Player” Verse 1, In My Lifetime Vol.1 (1997)

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I spit that other shit
That’s the nice motherfucker shit
Fed time follow me around, deep cover shit nigga
You beer money, I’m all year money
I’m popping, you ain’t got to count it, it’s all there money
I never change money ’cause niggas got strange money
NARC’d up, marked up, fucked up in the game money
I got bail money, XXL money
You got flash now, one time we’ll reveal money
I spit the hottest shit, you need it I got it shit
That down South Master P, Bout It Bout It shit
I got blood money, straight up thug money
That brown paper bag under your mattress drug money
You got show dough, little to no dough
Sell a bunch of records and you still owe dough
I got 900 and 96 plus 4 more dough
You crazy, you fugazy I’m loco with dough papo

9. “Streets Is Watching” Verse 3, In My Lifetime Vol.1 (1997)

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My street mentality flip bricks forever, know me and money
we like armed co-defendants, n*gga we stick together
Sh*t whatever for this cheddar ran my game into the ground
Hustle harder to see it if indictment time came around
And you can look up and down the streets and I can’t be found
Put in twenty-four hour shifts but, that ain’t me now
Got a face too easy to trace, n*ggaz mouths got slow leaks
Had to hide between my workers, couldn’t play those streets
She out of space like Mercury you jerkin me? Hectic
Had to call upon my wolves to send, n*ggaz the message
I said this: ‘Let’s play fair and we can stay here
I’m trying to transform you Boyz II Men like daycare’
Hey there’s money to be made and, n*ggaz got the picture
Stopped playing with my paper and, we got richer
Then hard times fell upon us, half of my staff
had warrants, the other half, in the casket lay dormant
I felt like life was cheating me, for the first time
in my life I was getting money but it was like my concious was eating me
Was this a lesson God teaching me? Was he saying that?
I’m playing the game straight from Hell from which few came back
like bad coke, pimp or die, was my mindframe bad
Was n*ggaz thinkin simplify was turning cocaine crack?
Ain’t a whole lot of brain to that, just trying to maintain a stack
and not collide like two trains that’s on the same track
But, get my life together like the oars I bring back
In the bottom of the pot where no, water gets hot
Got my transporter take it ‘cross the border then stop
To set up shop with a quarter of rock – here’s the plan!
For three straight weeks, n*ggaz slaughtered the block
But you know the game is ‘lluted, f*cked up me and my dues
One drop can wipe a n*gga out, faster than the cops
and this unstable way of living just, had to stop
Half of my n*ggaz got time, we done real things
By ninety-four became the subject of half of y’all n*ggaz rhymes
Public apoligies to the families of those caught up in my street
But that’s the life for us lost souls brought up in the streets
The life and times of a demonic mind, excited with crime
And the lavish luxuries that just excited my mind
I figured, ‘Sh*t why risk myself I just write it in rhymes
And let you feel me, and if you don’t like it then fine’
The mindstate, of a n*gga who boosted the crime rate
so high in one city they send National Guards to get me
Ya dig?

10. “Where I’m From” Verse 2, In My Lifetime Vol.1 (1997)

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I’m from the place where the chruch is the flakiest
And niggas is praying to god so long that they Atheist
Where you can’t put your vest away and say you’ll wear it tomorrow
Cause the day after we’ll be saying, damn I was just with him yesterday
I’m a block away from hell, not enough shots away from straight shells
An ounce away from a triple beam still using a hand-held weight scale
Your laughing, you know the place well
Where the Liqour Store’s and the base well
And Government, fuck Government, niggas polotic themselves
Where we call the cops the A-Team
cause they hop out of vans and spray things
And life expectancy so low we making out wills at eight-teen
Where how you get rid of guys who step out of line, your rep solidifies
So tell me when I rap you think I give a fuck who criticize?
If the shit is lies, god strike me
And I got a question, are you forgiving guys who live just like me?
We’ll never know
One day I pray to you and said if I ever blow, Let ’em know
Mistakes ain’t exactly what takes place in the ghetto
Promise fulfilled, but still I feel my job ain’t done
Cough up a lung, where I’m from, Marcy son, ain’t nothing nice


11. “You Must Love Me” Verse 2, In My Lifetime Vol.1 (1997)

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We used to fight every night
but I never would suffer
just smile my big brother’s
tryna make me tougher
As we grew fussing and fighting continued
as I plundered through ya stuff
and snuck ya clothes to school
Got intense real intense
as we got older
Never believed it would lead
to be popped in one of ya shoulda
With my rings knew you had it
’cause you took too long
as Mickey, Andy, and the girl that bought it looked on
Huffin’ and puffin’ gun in my hand
told you step outside
Hoping you said no but you hurt my pride
made our way down the steps
maybe you thought it was just a threat
or maybe ya life was just that crazy
and you was beggin’ for death
try to justify this in my young mind
but ya drillin’ it
and my ego hurt combined
drove me berzerk
Saw the devil in your eyes
high off more than weed
confused I just closed
my young eyes and squeezed
What a sound
opened my eyes just in time
to see ya stumbling to the ground
Damn what the fuck I done now
runnin’ around in a circle
thinking I’m assed out
hot gun burnin’ my waist
ran straight to Jazz’ house
Like a stranger damn I just shot my nigga
and ran off into the night as if it was not my nigga
Left the scene how could I go out that way
Still you asked to see me in the hospital ya next day
You must love me.

12. “Nigga What Nigga Who (Originator 99)” Verse 2, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998)

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Got a condo with nuttin but condoms in it
The same place where the rhymes is invented
So all I do is rap and sex, imagine how I stroke
See how I was flowin on my last cassette?
Rapid-fire like I’m blastin a Tec, never jam though
Never get hot, never run out of ammo
Niggaz hatin and shit cause I slayed your bitch
You know your favorite, I know it made you sick
And now you’re, actin raw but you never had war
Don’t know how to carry your hoe, wanna marry your hoe
Now she’s mad at me, cause Your Majesty
just happened to be, a pimp – what a tragedy
She wanted, us to end, cause I fucked her friends
She gave me one more chance and I fucked her again
I seen her tears as she busted in, I said, “Shit..
there’s a draft, shut the door bitch and come on in!”

13. “Pre-Game,” Sauce Money Feat. Jay-Z, Belly Soundtrack (1998) & Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U (1999)

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Jigga, what the fuck?
As a youth explosively, clappin off the roof
Shootin guard like Kobe, raised up slay smears and bo’e
Back then, Gil was my codiene, Spanish Jose
showed me how to get the money niggaz owed me
Fast forward, no kids, six cars and three Role’s
Two cribs, trips to Cuba, sippin on Uba
Got rap in a stupor, first to clap your group up
from the Range with the ski rack, or six with the Ruger
Shit, I light the motherfuckin soundproof booth up
New shit, y’all say the same shit like you’re looped up
Your rap’s all lazy, Jigga the Black Scorcese
What your album lack is more Jay-Z
Code name: Jay-hovah, all praise me
Y’all don’t paint pictures, y’all all trace me
You’ve yet to see the day when my squad be done
I represent that shit nigga, Marcy son, what?

14. “Do It Again (Put Your Hands Up)” Feat. Beanie Sigel, Vol.3…Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)

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How the fuck you gon’ talk about MC’s on our heel?
When we just cop them things homie the chromey wheels
Both arms are chunky the sleeves on chill
Any given times a hundred G’s in your grill
Don’t talk to me ’bout MC’s got skills
“He’s alright, but he’s not real”
Jay-Z’s that deal, with seeds in a field
Never fear for war, hug, squeeze that steel
Fuck, you gotta a flow that’s cool with me
You got a little dough that cool with me
You got a little cars, little jewelries
But none of y’all motherfuckers could fool with me
You know the wrist frostbit minus two degrees
Bout as blue as the sea the way I manuever the V
Hat cocked can’t see his eyes, who could it be?
With that new blue Yankee on, who but me?
Niggaz shipped two million, then I blew the three
Then I skated the four, ‘fore I went on tour
I came back and it’s plain, y’all niggaz ain’t rappin the same
Fuck the flow, y’all jackin our slang
I seen the same shit happen to Kane
Three cuts in your eyebrows tryin to wild out
The game is ours, we’ll never foul out
Y’all just better hope we gracefully bow out
Throw yo’ hands up – niggaz, bitches, bustas
Hustlers – FUCK THAT (throw the hands up)

15. “Come and Get Me” Verse 2, Vol.3…Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)

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I remove your roof nigga let the sun shine in
Thirty-eight waist, enough to put one nine in
Really a thirty-six without the gun I’m thin
but when the gat is tucked, I’m fat as fuck
Ignorant bastard, I’m takin it back to day one
No kids, but trust me I know how to raise a gun
For niggaz that think I spend my days in the sun
well here’s the shock of your life, the glock not the mic
Homey I’m not into hype; trust me, I’m still street
You still fuckin up then trust me I still creep
Yeah I know the platinum chain be lookin real sweet
but reach and I bury niggaz sixty feet deep
S dot Carter turn rappers into martyrs
Seperate fathers from they daughters, why bother
I’m a crook like you, I took like you
I disobeyed the law threw out the book like you
How dare you look at Jigga like I’m shook like boo
I keep the fifth with me nigga, come and get me..


16. “Is That Yo Chick?” Verse 1, Vol.3…Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)

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Uh, yo don’t get mad at me
I don’t love ’em I fuck ’em
I don’t chase ’em I duck ’em
I replace ’em with another one
You had to see she keep calling me BIG
(And another one!)
And my name is Jay-Z
She be all on my dick
Gradually I’m taking over your bitch
Coming over your shit
Got my feet up on you sofas, man
I mean a hostess for my open hand
You coming home to dishes and empty soda cans
I got your bitch in my Rover man
I never kiss her, I never hold her hand
In fact I diss her I’m a bolder man
I’mma pimp her, it’s over man
When I twist her in the Gold sedan
Like I’m Goldie man, you’ve been chosen man
Jigga man, ice burg with the frozen hands
Wedding bands don’t make it rosey man

17. “Takeover” Verse 3, The Blueprint (2001)

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I know you missin all the – FAAAAAAAME!
But along with celebrity comes bout seventy shots to your frame
Nigga; you a – LAAAAAAAME!
Youse the fag model for Karl Kani/Esco ads
Went from, Nasty Nas to Esco’s trash
Had a spark when you started but now you’re just garbage
Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all
to your bodyguard’s “Oochie Wally” verse better than yours
Matter fact you had the worst flow on the whole fuckin song
but I know – the sun don’t shine, then son don’t shine
That’s why your – LAAAAAAAME! – career come to a end
There’s only so long fake thugs can pretend
Nigga; you ain’t live it you witnessed it from your folks pad
You scribbled in your notepad and created your life
I showed you your first tec on tour with Large Professor
(Me, that’s who!) Then I heard your album bout your tec on the dresser
So yeah I sampled your voice, you was usin it wrong
You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song
And you ain’t get a coin nigga you was gettin fucked and
I know who I paid God, Serchlite Publishing
Use your – BRAAAAAAAIN! You said you been in this ten
I’ve been in it five – smarten up Nas
Four albums in ten years nigga? I can divide
That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due
One was – NAHHH, the other was “Illmatic”
That’s a one hot album every ten year average
And that’s so – LAAAAAAAME! Nigga switch up your flow
Your shit is garbage, but you try and kick knowledge?
(Get the fuck outta here) You niggaz gon’ learn to respect the king
Don’t be the next contestant on that Summer Jam screen
Because you know who (who) did you know what (what)
with you know who (yeah) but just keep that between me and you for now

18. “U Don’t Know” Verse 1, The Blueprint (2001)

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I’m from the streets where the
hood could swallow a man, bullets’ll follow a man
There’s so much coke that you could run the slalom
And cops comb the shit top to bottom
They say that we are prone to violence, but it’s home sweet home
Where personalities clash and chrome meets chrome
The coke prices up and down like it’s Wall Street homes
But this is worse than the Dow Jones your brains are now blown
all over that brown Brougham, one slip you are now gone
Welcome to hell where you are welcome to sell
But when them shells come you better return ’em
All scars we earn ’em, all cars we learn ’em like the back of our hand
We watch for cops hoppin out the back of van
Wear a G on my chest, I don’t need Dapper Dan
This ain’t a sewn outfit homes, homes is about it
Was clappin them flamers before I became famous
For playin me y’all shall forever remain nameless
I am Hov’

19. “Renegade” Verse 1, The Blueprint (2001)

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Motherfuckers –
say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels (bling bling)
Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?
See I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined
That same dude you gave nothin, I made somethin doin
what I do through and through and
I give you the news – with a twist it’s just his ghetto point-of-view
The renegade; you been afraid
I penetrate pop culture, bring ’em a lot closer to the block where they
pop toasters, and they live with they moms
Got dropped roasters, from botched robberies niggaz crotched over
Mommy’s knocked up cause she wasn’t watched over
Knocked down by some clown when child support knocked
No he’s not around – now how that sound to ya, jot it down
I bring it through the ghetto without ridin ’round
hidin down duckin strays from frustrated youths stuck in they ways
Just read a magazine that fucked up my day
How you rate music that thugs with nothin relate to it?
I help them see they way through it – not you
Can’t step in my pants, can’t walk in my shoes
Bet everything you worth; you lose your tie and your shirt

20. “Ignorant Shit” Verse 2, American Gangster (2007)

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They’re all actors
Lookin at themselves in the mirror backwards
Can’t even face themselves, don’t fear no rappers
They’re all weirdos, DeNiros in practice
So don’t believe everything your earlobe captures; it’s mostly backwards
Unless it happens to be as accurate as me
And everything said in song you happen to see
Then, actually, believe half of what you see
None of what you hear, even if it’s spat by me
And with that said, I will kill niggaz dead
Cut niggaz short, give you wheels for legs
I’m a K-I-double-L-E-R
See y’all in Hell, shoot niggaz straight through the E.R.
Whoa~! This ain’t B.R., no
This S.C. CEO, the next Lyor, no
The next leader of the whole free world
And the first thing I’ma do is free Sigel, go

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