jayhands.jpgWe never really believed him. Retirement? Sure, the day job at Def Jam made it more convincing, but this is Shawn “I can’t leave rap alone, the game needs me” Carter we’re talking about. He might have spent more time in flip-flops in the South of France, but nobody had to tell Hova to phone home. After he released two albums within a year of announcing his leave (Collision Course with Linkin Park and Unfinished Business with R. Kelly), we knew his “retirement” would be more like a sabbatical. Besides his album releases, Jigga selected a lucky few artists whom he would grace with his presence, dropping a surprising number of verses throughout the last three years. The results range from downright rusty to classic Hov. With his official comeback single dropping, we decided to take a look at Jay-Z’s retirement canon. Step back!

Young Gunz feat. Jay-Z “Never Take Me Alive” (2004)

In these two verses (which were probably recorded prior to the retirement) Jay sounds like he’s going through the motions. After this, he took the rest of the year off before coming back strong in ’05.

Quotable: “The Commission was our vision/We ain’t see it come to fruition/We ran out of time, damn.”

Jay-Z “Dear Summer” (2005)

543 was the title of the album, but it also ended up being the number of people who bought it for anything other than the Jay-Z song sandwiched between 13 forgettable Bleek tracks. It was worth it, though. This sentimental ode to his favorite season is Hov at his most thoughtful.

Quotable: “Niggas back up, they know I’m not no fronta/I don’t talk shit, I just flip and ‘Un’ ya/Sorry Lance, I’m just tryin’ to advance my quotes/I ain’t makin’ you the butt of my jokes.”

Snoop Dogg feat. Jay-Z & Pharrell “Drop It Like It’s Hot (Remix)” (2005)

Fresh off the tour with R. Kelly that ended with the infamous pepper-spray to the face incident, Jay flips Snoop’s “izzle” style and tells Kells to take his civil case and “drop it like it’s hot.”

Quotable: “Now I’m so fresh, you can smell me through a zip lock/Mr. S-Dizzot, it’s not gon’ stizzop/Too much pizzazz for these piss-ass niggas to get past/Too cool for cizzops to cuff his izz-ass”

Kanye West feat. Jay-Z “Diamonds Are Forever (Remix)” (2005)

Hova tries to hold the Roc together on one of his most memorable verses ever.

Quotable: “I ain’t a businessman, I’m a business, man/Let me handle my business, damn!”

Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z “Go Crazy (Remix)” (2005)

Hova gets back to his d-boy roots and reminds the Snowman’s fans that he had Cristal in his speedboat before Puff was in that tub spillin’ Mo’. Go do your research!

Quotable: “More than a hustler, I’m the definition of it/Master chef, Lord of the kitchen cupboard.”

Mariah Carey feat. Jay-Z & Young Jeezy “Shake It Off (Remix)” (2005)

With run-of-the-mill punchlines and a dated reference to How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Jay seems to be missing some of his usual swagger on this white label–only remix.

Quotable: “The Emancipation of M-I-M-I/I spray Lamas rrrah, rrrrah/
Twenty worldwide nigga get your plaques/Guess who the fuck got his swagger back?”

Aztek & Jay-Z “Back Then (Freestyle)” (2005)

The Prez got in on ’05’s Houston craze by co-signing Roc-La-Familia’s new H-Town MC over Mike Jones’ whirling “Back Then” beat. Too bad for Aztek, because Hova still stole the show with an average verse.

Quotable: “You don’t want no problems nigga, be honest/Beyond this killer flow I gotta gotta piece I will squeeze on.”

Bun B feat. Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, Pimp C & Z-Ro “Get Throwed” (2005)

Jay continues his Houston infatuation, but again, only manages to muster up an average verse in the midst of these Down South heavyweights.

Quotable: “I started with the block, hit it brick by brick/Then I charted with the ROC nigga, hit by hit/I'm retarded with the glock nigga, clip by clip.”

The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Jay-Z “Whatchu Want?” (2005)

Jay tries to rekindle the Commission magic on this Duets track and delivers a solid performance (even if Biggie still murders him with an old verse).

Quotable: “You based on us, you fiction/Your eights don’t bust, you a constant contradiction/Ladies please use contraception/Deception’s at an all-time high when sexin’.”

Jay-Z “44 Fours” (Live) (2006)

At the Reasonable Doubt 10th Anniversary concert Jay debuted this update on the clever “22 Twos” concept, which is rumored to also be a track on his new album.

Quotable: “Debut classic, first album 4 mics/I should have got a 5 but niggas lacked fore-sight.”

Rick Ross feat. Jay-Z & Young Jeezy “Hustlin’ (Remix)” (2006)

He might have never responded to Cam’s disses, but the subliminal references to Cam’s “chancletas” diss make this the next closest thing. Too bad he was too busy flipping Rick Ross’ lines to get truly focused.

Quotable: “We don’t resort to violence/We on resorts and islands.”

Pharrell feat. Jay-Z “Young Girl” (2006)

On another song that could have been recorded prior the retirement, this odd verse should have been used on an R. Kelly duet.

Quotable: “You’re 19?/No, you’re lightning in a bottle/I’ll give you a ring tomorrow.”

Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z “Déjà Vu” & “Upgrade You” (2006)

Hands down, two of Jay’s most awkward, cringe-worthy verses of all time. He alternates between jacking 50’s flow (the second verse on “Déjà Vu”) and rhyming like he’s been watching too much Sex & The City.

Quotable: “I don’t make the list, don’t be mad at me/I just make the hits like a factory.”

Lupe Fiasco feat. Jay-Z “Pressure” (2006)

Jay’s attempt to relate to Lupe’s dork rap persona sounds like a stretch, referencing Andy Warhol paintings and boasting about how he considers himself an “artiste.”

Quotable: “So the pen is mightier than the sword my lord/My first picture was a lineup, now I’m on the Forbes.”