Today marks the 44th birthday of one of Brooklyn's Finest, Jay Z, the hustler-turned-rapper from the Marcy Projects who grew out of the shadows of Jaz-O, Big Daddy Kane and The Notorious B.I.G. to stake a credible claim to being the best rapper alive for more than a decade. Over a career that has spanned 17 years and 13 No. 1 albums—including this year's Magna Carta...Holy Grail—Jay has helped redefine the borders of rap, collaborating with singers, pop stars, designers and corporate execs to form one of the most varied and lucrative resumés the music industry has ever seen. But for Jay, it's always come back to the music; even when he officially "retired" after releasing The Black Album in 2003, he couldn't stay away, making his official triumphant (of sorts) comeback with 2006's Kingdom Come. He hasn't slowed down since. To help celebrate Hova's big 44th on December 4th, XXL has compiled his 44 best songs, laid out roughly in chronological order. Happy birthday, Jay. Keep up the hustle. Dan Rys, Eric Diep, Miranda Johnson, Christina Kelly, Sheldon Pearce, Mike Madden and PChopz