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44 Of The Best Jay Z Songs

“Where I’m From”
Album: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997)

Jay painted some of the most detailed pictures of the hood with “Where I’m From,” where he tells of the ills and thrills of growing up in one of the grittiest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Rapping over the Amen-Ra and The Mad Rapper-produced track, which is undeniably one of the most iconic hip-hop beats of all time, Jay Z really solidified himself as a hip-hop legend, even alluding to status in his lyrics: “I’m from where niggas pull your card, and argue all day about/Who’s the best MCs, Biggie Jay Z, or Nas.” Sound familiar, Kendrick Lamar fans? —CK

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“Can I Get A…” featuring Ja Rule and Amil
Album: Rush Hour Soundtrack (1998)

Remember when movie soundtracks were a thing? Of course you do, and there is no way you could forget this classic Hov cut featuring Amil & Ja Rule from the Rush Hour soundtrack. Jay floated on his verses and the hook is something of pure brilliance that most will still recite to this day. —PChopz

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“Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)” featuring Big Jaz
Album: Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life (1999)

Long before Magna Carta…Holy Grail, Jay Z and Timbaland were crafting transcendent rap hits of the late 1990s. “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)” was the first. When Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life dropped in late 1998, Hov was already the commercial success that had abandoned his slick-talking, lyrically dexterous approach to rap for a more universally palatable one, but he stepped back into his old role to fill the spacious, unorthodox Timbo beat. “Nigga What, Nigga Who” is a display of lyrical acrobatics that showed Jay still hadn’t lost his touch, and as his syllables tumbled behind each other he flashed a bulletin to the the rap universe that he still wasn’t to be trifled with.—SP

“Money Ain’t A Thang” featuring Jermaine Dupri
Album: Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life (1999)

This song reigned in 1998, even receiving a Grammy nomination at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards. Although Jay Z’s verse is just a feature on the track that appeared on Jermaine Dupri’s Life in 1472, the record ultimately appeared as a bonus track on Jay’s Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life. —MJ

“The Dynasty (Intro)”
Album: Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)

Has a better song ever been recorded than to walk into a room to? We really don’t think so as Jay Z and Just Blaze gave us yet another classic with the Intro to The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. This is one of those songs that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world and we thank Hov for that. —PChopz

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“1-900-Hustler” featuring Memphis Bleek and Freeway
Album: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)

Arguably one of the best hustler’s anthems ever to be put out by the East Coast, this Bink!-produced track hosted not only Jay but also fellow Brooklyn native Memphis Bleek and Philly native Freeway.  A great Roc-A-Fella collaboration, this being the first for the then newly-signed Freeway, “1-900-Hustler” provided not only great lyricism from all parties, but a playful dialogue that let the people know what it takes to be a real bonafide hustler. —CK

“Big Pimpin’” featuring UGK
Album: Vol. 3… Life And Times Of S. Carter (2000)

Around the time his daughter was born, Jay said “Big Pimpin’” is one of the songs he doesn’t want Blue Ivy to hear. It begins, after all, with deliberate misogyny: “You know I thug ’em, love ’em, fuck ’em, leave ’em/But I don’t fuckin’ ‘need em.” No matter the topic, though, the Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter smash would’ve made major waves if only for Timbaland’s beat, a swinging and spidery thing built from a piece by Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi. As for the Underground Kingz, Pimp C inevitably shines—the track literally has his name on it—while Bun drops off a particularly funny verse. “Go read a book, you illiterate son of a bitch, and step up your vocab,” advises the guy who just used the five-syllable monster “impresario.” —MM

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