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44 Of The Best Jay Z Songs

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“Can’t Knock The Hustle” featuring Mary J. Blige
Album: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

The track that kicked off Jay’s debut album, “Can’t Knock The Hustle” became a catchphrase that has endured throughout the years. He grabbed Mary J. Blige to sing the hook—an inspired choice—and launched the whole manifesto with a monologue sketching the myth of Jay Z through a Scarface lens, letting everyone know that this was not a man to fuck with.—Dan Rys

“22 Two’s”
Album: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Reasonable Doubt-era Jay Z was a lethal technician, an MC so proficient his flows and schemes seemed conversational, and there is no finer example of his exemplary lyrical skill than the homophone-flipping “22 Two’s,” which lays out 22 different uses of the words “to,” “too,” and “two” in a display of phonetic mastery. Ski Beatz provided the Brooklyn boy with a dark, hi-hat heavy track to lace, and Jay came through in spades with one of the most effectively structured first verses in rap history. The second verse isn’t one to sleep on, either. —Sheldon Pearce

“Feelin’ It”
Album: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Reasonable Doubt saw Jay exuding an ineffable cool, a confident, low-key swagger, and this is one of those songs that fits that feel perfectly. Hova reminds everyone that he’s not just making this up—he’s the realest out, though he can’t help but have a few reservations about the drug game. And, of course, his mother gets a shoutout, a reassurance that all her fears were just nightmares, Mom. Things were always going to get better after that. —DR

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“Can I Live?”
Album: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Irv Gotti’s draping beat is like something Curren$y would rap over 15 years later, but “Can I Live?” is one of the more definitive rap songs of the 1990s, a reflection about watching your own back. “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant,” decides Jay, just beginning to make his way in the high-stakes but increasingly dangerous rap industry. Lucky for us, the success of Reasonable Doubt wouldn’t be his last. —Mike Madden

“Brooklyn’s Finest” featuring Notorious B.I.G.
Album: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

What better way to intro a Jay and Biggie collab than with a slight remix to the iconic words of Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way? “OKAY, I’M RELOADED!/You motherfuckers think you big time?/Fuckin’ with Jay Z, you gon’ die, big time!” The Brooklyn kings spend the entire track literally boasting about their undefeated repertoires of being the best lyricist. —Christina Kelly

“Dead Presidents” (I and II)
Album: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Reasonable Doubt saw Jay lift hooks from a number of other rappers, from Snoop to A Tribe Called Quest to Nas, who lent the hook to maybe Jay’s best song of all time. It would later come to be another thorn in the two rap gods’ early-2000s feud, but the track, the first single off Jay’s debut album, became iconic as one of his earliest songs that helped tell the story of his early days. The creeping paranoia, earnest storytelling and raw representation of trying to navigate the drug game—combined with Nas’ money-chasing hook—made it one of his first songs to go Gold, and a staple in his catalog as well. –DR

“Coming of Age”
Album: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Hailing from Jay’s first album, this song introduced the world to Memphis Bleek. Giving the world an inside look at life in the Marcy projects, the track shows off the early signs of both Jigga and Bleek’s talents. —Miranda Johnson

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