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» Jay Z
producer Reasonable Doubt (1996)

All 285 Jay-Z Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best
All-time classics, unfortunate clunkers, and more.

By John Kennedy

Illustration by: Jaya Nicely/Vulture
If Jay-Z had his way back in 1996, this list would be too brief to warrant compiling. The skinny kid from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects intended to drop just one album — a musical I was here statement — before partnering with a major label and falling back into a comfy executive role, becoming a vessel to launch hopeful Roc-A-Fella acts like Memphis Bleek and Christión into orbit.

But the industry had different plans. Def Jam, impressed with Roc-A-Fella’s early independent success, agreed to sign a joint venture with the young imprint on one condition: They needed seven albums from Jay. And now, two decades (and two dozen solo LPs) later, Jay-Z has become one of music’s all-time most important voices. His catalogue contains some of the most potent imagery and lucid storytelling about poverty and the desperation that it breeds, all while dominating mainstream pop music, in a delicate tightrope act that almost no one else has ever been able to manage for the span of time that Jay has. His merging of thinking-man street raps with commercial hits paved the way for artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole to do the same today.

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Jay-Z’s adolescence coincided with the Reagan ’80s. He’d spend his time banging on the kitchen table at his 534 Flushing Avenue apartment, rhyming to the percussion he created. But as an adolescent, he put his hobby on the backburner and crack sales on the front. But he continued to develop his craft, taking stock of hip-hop’s evolving aesthetics and mastering hyperspeed raps in the vein of East Coast rap duo Das EFX. Jay moved in and out of rapper circles in the late ’80s and early ’90s, popping up on songs with his mentor, Jaz-O, and Big Daddy Kane. He’d adopt a slower, more conversational pace for his 1996 masterpiece debut LP, Reasonable Doubt, a project that was self-released after his undeniable talent was denied by every major label he approached.

He followed that with the inconsistent, overly polished In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, which took more than a few cues from the flashy rap aesthetic that Puff Daddy had been proliferating through his Bad Boy label. The sound fit Jay just as well as one of Biggie’s oversized Coogi sweaters might have — there are hints of genius, but he was clearly still finding his voice and place in the art form.

From 1998 through 2003, Jay was unstoppable. He released at least one project annually, while nurturing promising new talent like Philadelphia-based rappers Freeway and Beanie Sigel. With the help of brilliant music minds like Kanye West, Just Blaze, and the Neptunes, Jay dictated the course of hip-hop and emerged as a keen songwriter who knew exactly how to maximize the strengths of his collaborators. He released his career-defining LP The Blueprint in 2001 and released the excellent retirement fake-out The Black Album just two years later.

But Jay never really committed to his retirement. From 2004 on, he seemed hell-bent on proving that he still had what it took to keep the No. 1 spot. Every release from this period of his career had a strategic selling point, whether it was a marquee collaborator like R. Kelly, Kanye West, or Linkin Park, or a calculated buy-in — Kingdom Come and Budweiser, American Gangster and the film American Gangster, Magna Carta … Holy Grail and Samsung. These albums range from lyrically and musically progressive, to painfully awkward and unfocused.

The confessional 4:44, released in 2017, seemed to be the start of a new phase in the rapper’s career. It’s a human album that builds on familiar topics like black nationalism, infidelity, and money phones, but here, he handles these topics with more maturity and sophistication than ever before.

The expensive, No I.D.–chopped samples — Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sister Nancy, the Fugees — are significant in their own right, creating a mature and well-worn ambiance unlike anything else streaming on Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist. 4:44 is the late-career big-budget home run that Hov needed. Everything Is Love, his 2018 collaborative album with Beyoncé (billed as The Carters), builds on that graceful maturation, doubly celebrating their romance and riches.

So what’s next for Jay-Z, who this week turned 50 and re-gifted Spotify with his full discography to celebrate? It’s never been harder to predict where he’s headed musically — which is why it’s the perfect time to look back on his entire body of work. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive listing of Jay-Z’s songs with some parameters for manageability: no freestyles over someone else’s beats (sorry “Young, Gifted and Black”), no song in which Jay-Z is not the lead artist (unless it appears on a DJ compilation). No leaked tracks, no mash-ups, and no remixes — a tricky restriction given Jay’s penchant for sequels.

Before we get into it, props are due to Sean Fennessey — and by extension, DJ Clark Kent — whose 2008 Jay-Z songography for Vibe magazine was a crucial cornerstone of this list’s creation.

Here’s Jay-Z’s full canon (so far), from most regrettable — two albums with R. Kelly! — to most remarkable.

285. “Anything,” Kingdom Come (2006): Jay-Z’s first ever collaboration with Usher is an ode to amateur night at the strip club.

284. “Tru Life Intro,” Tru York (2007): Hov spends two minutes firing spoken subliminal shots at Cam’ron and Jim Jones, and introducing the world to rapper Tru Life. The final minute features some struggle patois and one of Jay’s most throwaway of throwaway freestyles.

283. “Bitches & Sisters,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): At best, this N.W.A-sampling cut is a misguided attempt at celebrating stand-up women and shaming shady ones. At worst, it’s an indefensible cocktail of misogyny and respectability politics that Jay for some reason made sure to retain as a bonus cut on the abridged rerelease Blueprint 2.1.

282. “Nickels and Dimes,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Hov expresses his side in a squabble over social responsibility with civil-rights icon Harry Belafonte that should’ve never happened. We could’ve done without this song, too.

281. “I Know What Girls Like,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): Ah, yes, the phase when Jay-Z was blinded by Puff Daddy’s shiny suits. Who decided it was a good idea to crate dig in the Waitresses’ catalogue?

280. “La Familia,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Keep the phrase “facts only” and Lil Wayne jab, delete the rest.

279. “Pretty Girls,” Unfinished Business (2004): In 2002, Jay-Z and R. Kelly joined forces for The Best of Both Worlds, an unprecedented duet album uniting two hip-hop and R&B giants. The project was doomed, though, once a video that allegedly shows the Chicago singer having sex with (and urinating on) an underage girl began making the rounds — Jay wisely fell back from the project like Homer Simpson sinking into a bush. The controversy seemed to be simmering down two years later (despite 14 then-pending child-pornography charges against Kelly in Chicago) and the two stars gave it another go. Still, after “that VHS tape,” the title and subject matter of this generic song should’ve raised a red flag.

278. “As One,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): A rip-off of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” that serves as a roll call for Roc-A-Fella’s newly bolstered roster. Maurice White deserved better.

277. “Shorty,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): R. Kelly sings about sexing “pretty girls” from coast to coast — and specifically cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. The following year, Kelly was actually arrested in Miami after police found 12 images of a nude, underage girl in his Florida home. Those child-pornography charges were later dropped after a technicality deemed the photos inadmissible in court. But yeah, this song is okay, I guess.

276. “2 Many Hoes,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Jay’s second Blueprint album is weighed down by filler songs like this male groupie shooing.

275. “Reminder,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): Hov re-reintroduces himself by running down his résumé in a meticulous manner and demanding that fans, peers, and bloggers put some respek on his name. Singer K. Briscoe’s hook is robotic and irksome.

274. “Hollywood,” Kingdom Come (2006): A stripped-down, Beyoncé-led version of this track appears on the deluxe version of her album B’Day, which dropped months earlier. “Hollywood” fits much better there — too much woe-is-me fame bemoaning from Jay on an already out-of-touch Kingdom Come.

273. “Jockin’ Jay-Z (Dopeboy Fresh),” B-side (2008): Even Jay’s most loyal fans act as if this holdover from The Blueprint 3 never happened. Kanye’s hyperventilating synths and Run-DMC sample are ill-fitting for Hov. If nothing else, the track delivers a needed response after Noel Gallagher disparaged his 2008 Glastonbury Festival headlining slot: “That bloke from Oasis said I couldn’t play guitar / Somebody shoulda told him I’m a fucking rock star.”

272. “Venus vs. Mars,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): Jay may have been reading too many self-help books.

271. “Things That U Do,” Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): Long before Future and Drake made the flute hip-hop’s hottest instrument of 2017, Swizz Beatz programmed this basic woodwind melody for a contrived attempt at a hit record.

270. “She’s Coming Home With Me,” Unfinished Business (2004): An unnecessary revisiting of the stronger “Somebody’s Girl” from two years earlier.

269. “S. Carter,” Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): From the music to the lyrics, this song feels limp. Aside from being a vehicle to showcase Amil, who already has two other appearances on this album, it really has no reason to exist.

268. “Off That,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): In the early 2000s, Jay-Z popularized and then killed the trend of wearing retro Mitchell & Ness jerseys in favor of another fashion fad: button-up shirts. He must’ve become a bit high on his own influence. It’s the only way to explain this silly Drake-sponsored attempt to buck some more trends — from Timberland boots to money showers at the strip club.

267. “Young Forever,” The Blueprint 3 (2009):

In this song’s defense, it goes down much smoother when performed live, with Beyoncé singing the hook in place of Mr. Hudson. Still, Jay should stay away from ’80s pop samples. And Mr. Hudson.

266. “Break Up (That’s All We Do),” Unfinished Business (2004): Another recycled concept from The Best of Both Worlds that adds nothing new to its predecessor (“Break Up to Make Up”). Even the titles are nearly identical, ugh.

265. “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour),” Hope for Haiti Now (2010): A charity track in support of survivors of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Jay-Z syncs up with Rihanna and U2’s Bono and the Edge for a sincere dedication. Musically, the sum is not greater than its parts.

264. “Versus,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Jay nods to A Tribe Called Quest on this quickie of an interlude that has promise, but is too brief to ever really establish itself.

263. “The Return,” Unfinished Business (2004): Jay has better Slick Rick impressions in his catalogue.

262. “H.O.V.A.,” The Desert Storm Mixtape: DJ Envy Blok Party Vol. 1 (2003): Yet another name-based anthem that uses a hollering vocal sample to big-up Jay, who in return drops a freestyle that sounds like he’s just fooling around.

261. “Dig a Hole,” Kingdom Come (2006): This retort to Cam’ron’s caustic “You Gotta Love It” puffs out its chest and builds the anticipation for a dismantling, but in the end it’s just a slap on the wrist.

260. “Lookin’ at My S Dots” (2003): To think, this glorified Reebok ad would’ve graced The Black Album in place of the legend-making “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” if not for an eleventh-hour spurt of inspiration from Just Blaze. “Lookin’ at My S Dots” is fine as a one-minute short, but it would’ve dated the LP with of-the-moment references to NBA ballplayers Kenyon Martin and Shawn Marion.

259. “Blue’s Freestyle/We Family,” 4:44 (2017): Come for Blue Ivy’s mumble raps (that flow, though!); stay for Jay deriding Trump and pledging the importance of kin while a sample of Colombian singer Totó la Momposina’s voice plays in the background. This bonus track is a decent addition to 4:44, but sits among the project’s weaker material.

258. “Heard About Us,” Everything Is Love (2018): Jay-Z and Beyoncé remind you that they make up one of the world’s most prominent power couples without offering much new substance about the price or responsibility of fame.

257. “Big Chips,” Unfinished Business (2004): After canceling their first collaborative album, Jay and Kelly never came close to recapturing their magic from classics like “Fiesta (Remix),” although this horn-laden single tries its best.

256. “Pussy,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): Songs like this make you wonder what was discussed during this album’s in-studio brainstorming sessions. After Kellz and Jay tell cautionary tales about man’s carnal weakness, Devin the Dude shares an anecdote about losing his virginity at age 7.

255. “You’re Welcome” (2008): “This is much more than marketed music,” Jay-Z raps on a languid Mary J. Blige–featuring track recorded to boost anticipation for their co-headlining Heart of the City tour that year. You might believe him, if a usually high-energy Swizz didn’t sound so dry on this overall meh loosie.

254. “We Got Em Goin,” Unfinished Business (2004): Memphis Bleek and Jay add some flair to an insipid album cut with a bridge in which they complete each other’s rhymes for four bars over a beat switch-up.

253. “Pop 4 Roc,” Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): A passable Roc-A-Fella posse cut that feels more like a team-building exercise. Check out Amil’s “4 Da Fam,” released one year later for the real deal.

252. “Shake Ya Body,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): Trackmasters’ synth chirps and Lil Kim’s repetitive chorus make this a guilty-pleasure earworm.

251. “Nice,” Everything Is Love (2018): The Carters team up with Pharrell Williams for a feel-good record that toes the line between motivation and hubris.

250. “For My Thugs,” The Tunnel (1999): A lukewarm Roc-A-Fella family affair that unites Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z, and Amil. As it’s title suggests, it’s a gritty episode, best depicted by this callous threat from Hov: “Running the streets, lawless, blastin’ police / Sticking Furby’s out the window, snatchin’ your niece.”

249. “Roc Army,” Paid in Full Soundtrack (2002): A sparse Roc cross-pollination designed to unite Cam’ron with State Property, under Jigga’s supervision. The verses are choppy and the song is mostly bloated with soundbites from older material.

248. “Trouble,” Kingdom Come (2006): There’s some pretty harsh subliminal sniping at unnamed targets in the closing verse, but this song is probably best remembered as a hint of the impending release of “4:44,” 11 years early. “If my hand’s in the cookie jar, know one thing / I’ma take the cookie, not leave my ring,” he rhymes over Dr. Dre’s staticky instrumental.

247. “(Always Be My) Sunshine,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): Foxy Brown and Jay-Z’s glitzy follow-up to “Ain’t No Nigga” misses its mark, badly. The song reeks of trendy pandering; the polychromatic music video, with its fish-eye camerawork, is a Top 10 corniest Hov moment.

246. “Feelin’ You in Stereo,” Unfinished Business (2004): Well, this sure is meta. R. Kelly sings about trying to conjure the sexiest lyrics and music possible for this actual song, and Jay enables him by dropping eight bars of metaphors about waistlines and bass lines. It’s not terrible, though, just too goofy for anyone’s sex playlist.

245. “Lift Off,” Watch the Throne (2011): Kanye West and Jay-Z held a listening session for Watch the Throne at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. As the album played, attendees watched an outer-space light show, with shooting stars zipping across an overhead screen. The setting particularly amplified this galactic Beyoncé-guested track, despite Kanye’s verse sounding like placeholder vocals and Hov not saying much of anything, either.

244. “Mo’ Money,” Unfinished Business (2004): Another phoned-in update of a superior Best of Both Worlds track (“Get This Money”) and a spectacular example of why sometimes more is less.

243. “What They Gonna Do” / “What They Gonna Do Part II,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Shawn Carter flirts with dancehall — at the time a scalding-hot mainstream fascination — but stops short of fully committing musically. The alternate version retains his verses, but backpedals by swapping out Sean Paul’s vocals and adding a Timbaland beat that possesses not even a sprinkle of jerk seasoning.

242. “Stop,” Unfinished Business (2004): Kellz reignites an odd R&B beef with Sisqo, while Foxy and Jay drop solid verses without a single mention of Bonnie or Clyde.

241. “I Made It,” Kingdom Come (2006): A saccharine dedication to Jay-Z’s mother that’ll make you say “aww” but probably will never listen to again.

240. “All Around the World,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): While there’s nothing especially wrong with this atlas-scanning cut, it’s the type of bland fodder that prevented The Blueprint² from living up to its predecessor.

239. “Fuck All Nite,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): A Pharrell-guested track that’s good for a nice, mindless two-step and not much else.

238. “Holy Grail,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013):

Justin Timberlake’s melodramatic singing about the pitfalls of fame borders on comical.

237. “Nigga Please,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): A checklist of riches, accolades, and overall bragging rights over a forgettable beat from Pharrell and Chad Hugo.

236. “Tom Ford,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford” is one of rap’s great non sequiturs.

235. “20 Bag Shorty,” The Projects Presents: Balhers Forever (2000): Jay’s braggadocio is impeccable on this deep cut that’s likely only recognizable to stans.

234. “Don’t Let Me Die,” Unfinished Business (2004): An impassioned soul-baring prayer from Robert Kelly — who’s obviously been battling demons for some time now — on an otherwise uninspired project.

233. “BBC,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Nas, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Jay-Z put their heads together and came up with this tepid ode to ’80s drug-dealer paraphernalia.

232. “They Don’t Love You No More,” I Changed a Lot (2015):

Sports fans gave Jay (perhaps unwarranted) shit for the line, “Boy, you know you soft as a lacrosse team” — a perceived Drake diss — pointing out that lacrosse is indeed a full-contact sport. Still, Hov fit right in over ringing gongs on his first proper DJ Khaled collaboration alongside Rick Ross, French Montana, and Meek Mill.

231. “Girl’s Best Friend,” Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): Jay personifies diamonds to fit the plot of the cop comedy Blue Streak (this song also appears on the soundtrack). But this cut seems more like cubic zirconia compared to harder Swizz-produced singles of the era (i.e., “Money, Cash, Hoes”).

230. “Wishing on a Star,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): The cover of Rose Royce’s song of the same name sounds flat, but this is a warm recollection of childhood’s innocent days. There’s no talk of Jay’s hustler past here — a rarity — but instead he recalls cutting school, playing run, catch and kiss, and imitating his favorite rappers in the mirror, armed with a brush as a microphone.

229. “Paper Chase,” Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998): On wax, Foxy Brown makes for a convincing Bonnie to Jay-Z’s Clyde. Still, it’s awkward to listen back on their old collabos now that she’s been replaced by his real-life spouse, who also happens to be the world’s most famous pop star.

228. “Justify My Thug,” The Black Album (2003): This revision of Madonna’s “Justify My Love” fittingly gets flack as The Black Album’s weak link. It is a curious choice for a remake, but DJ Quik’s synthesizer rounds out the album with a catchy Cali bounce.

227. “Friends,” Everything Is Love (2018): Two decades after “Friend or Foe,” Jay-Z can convincingly differentiate the two. He and Beyoncé celebrate their small circles on a mellow song that plays like a musical friendship contract (and offers a belated explanation for their no-show for Kanye and Kim’s 2014 nuptials).

226. “Beach Is Better,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): At under a one-minute runtime, this is a missed opportunity for a playful, fly-on-the-wall look inside the Carter household. Still, “Girl, why you never ready?” is a delicious “They’re just like us!” moment.

225. “Hate,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): Some of the inflections are weird, but Kanye wins this kooky pre–Watch the Throne track with some amusing laser-gun and car-engine onomatopoeias.

224. “Hello Brooklyn 2.0,” American Gangster (2007): Lil Wayne and his idol address the borough of Brooklyn as a woman, with help from a significant Beastie Boys sample. Not quite the best-rapper-alive lyrical showdown that rap heads craved in ’07 (that’d come via Weezy’s “Mr. Carter” the following year) but this still has a nice bounce to it.

223. “A Dream,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): The allure of this dialogue from beyond with the Notorious B.I.G. wears off after the first listen, but props to Jay for finding new ways to keep Biggie’s legacy alive.

222. “Get Your Mind Right Mami,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000): Singer Rell was an underused member of the Roc; but here he helps Snoop, Bleek, and Jay’s pimp talk go down easier.

221. “F.U.T.W.,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Jay-Z sure knows how to blow his own horn. Here he presents his unlikely success as a disruptive force, likening himself to Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How could you not root for this guy?

220. “Real Niggaz,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): There’s a historical significance here: Jay invites Too $hort along as his first rap collaborator from beyond the Big Apple, following a model Biggie established on Life After Death (which also features the Bay Area rapper, among other regional stars). Still, this beat is plodding, and the track slows the momentum of Vol. 1’s back half.

219. “Boss,” Everything Is Love (2018): Hov seems to be in the creative driver’s seat for this jazzy ode to self-employment and middle finger to the Man, landing some subliminal digs at Drake and Kanye West in the process. But does the Carters’ wealth flaunting ever get old? Somehow, no, especially not when Bey is kicking convincing boasts like, “My great-great-grandchildren already rich / That’s a lot of brown chil’ren on your Forbes list.”

218. “I Did It My Way,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Frank Sinatra is one of Hov’s favorite figures to emulate; he likens himself to the legendary singer with Mafia ties by sampling his 1969 classic “My Way” — albeit the less-popular Paul Anka version (it was cheaper to clear than Sinatra’s).

217. “A Star Is Born,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): This song finds Jay chronicling the rise and runs of his peers and neophytes. It approaches gimmicky ground when he introduces his own rap prospect, but J. Cole seizes his moment with the song’s hottest internal rhyme: “The flow’s cold as the shoulders / Of gold-digging hoes / When a broke nigga approaches.”

216. “The Game Is Mine,” Creative Control (2010): Green Lantern recorded and jumbled sounds from a live tennis match for what was intended to be a Reebok ad on wax. Instead it became a stand-alone short that finds Hov announcing his partial ownership of the Brooklyn Nets.

215. “Get This Money,” The Best of Both Worlds (2004): This sounds like every song about life on the other side of the club’s VIP rope.

214. “History,” More Than a Game Soundtrack (2008): Somewhere within this muddled and vague extended metaphor about success, defeat, victory, death, and history, Jay is trying to congratulate Barack Obama for becoming America’s first black president, I think.

213. “Moonlight,” 4:44 (2017):

There are some important messages about the struggle of being a black creative on here, mixed with ideas on acceptable Instagram etiquette, according to Shawn Corey Carter. Unfortunately, the Fugees-sampling beat is the Ambien-induced version of DJ Khaled’s “Nas Album Done,” and Jay raps like he’s reading Blue Ivy a bedtime story.

212. “It Ain’t Personal,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): Jay and R. Kelly express the confusion that comes with fake friends, both sounding conflicted. This simile from Hov still evokes a chuckle, though: “And your mom got it twisted, she think Hov changed / Nope, Hov’s still here like Rogaine.”

211. “Guns and Roses,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Rap-rock hybrids can be tricky to pull off, but Lenny Kravitz blends in nicely on this one (their 2004 collabo “Storm” is even funkier). Unfortunately, Hov tries to kick knowledge but instead offers questionable optimism: “Even a garbage can gets a steak,” he raps, a failed offer of encouragement.

210. “Black Effect,” Everything Is Love (2018): Everything Is Love is a statement of two megastars’ affection for each other — and for hip-hop. You can hear the latter here in references to Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def), late Atlanta trapper Shawty Lo, and ’90s rap duo Das EFX, amid Hov and ‘Yonce’s declarations of blackness and insistence that they’re good in any hood.

209. “Don’t U Know,” Paid in Full Soundtrack (2002): This originated as a Nas diss before it hit the public — according to Just Blaze, Jay adapted it into a more general single for the streets. The final draft retained some subliminal shots, but ultimately sounds like Hov is shadowboxing with himself. Jay’s punch lines and puns show he’s as light on his feet as ever.

208. “Do U Wanna Ride,” Kingdom Come (2006): An open letter — or, as it’s depicted here, a collect call — to Jay-Z’s then-incarcerated friend Emory Jones, looking back on their poor upbringings and painting an image of the riches and good life that awaits once he’s released.

207. “Green Light,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): R. Kelly sing-raps a warning to naysayers and fellow R&B crooners over a gnarly electric guitar. Beanie Sigel and Jay-Z lend their support by splitting a verse.

206. “MaNyfaCedGod,” 4:44 (2017): If 4:44’s climax is its title track, in which Jay reveals and apologizes for his marital wrongdoings, then this two-part song is the resolution. On it, Hov discusses the healing and reconciliation process, candidly remembering the ways the turbulence in his marriage played out in the public (“Look at all we been through since last August / Skating through the rumors like, ‘Aw, shit!’”). He’s not as somber as he sounds on “4:44” — at times he’s even playful and a little cerebral — but Jay conveys the difficulty of continuing a relationship after someone majorly messes up.

205. “A Ballad for the Fallen Soldier,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): For the first half of his career, Jay-Z didn’t get enough credit for the conscious content implanted in his rhymes. This is one of his more overt examples — over a dreary piano backdrop, he compares the plight of soldiers to that of street hustlers. It’s not the most novel analogy, but this post-9/11 metaphor is especially resonant: “Bin Laden been happenin’ in Manhattan / Crack was anthrax back then, back when / Police was Al-Qaeda to black men.”

204. “Spiritual,” Tidal (2016): The unfortunate reality about this plea for an end to police brutality is that it was recorded years before it hit the public, yet felt timely when it finally dropped as a response to the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. “I am not poison / Just a boy from the hood that / Got my hands in the air / In despair don’t shoot,” he rhymes.

203. “What We Talkin’ About,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): Jay clears the air to open his 11th solo studio album, shrugging off insignificant chatter over futuristic keys.

202. “Crown,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): It’s crazy to think that Jay-Z went from ducking police and clashing with enemies in the streets to participating in hip-hop battles that seemed ready to erupt into real-life violence to songs like this Travis Scott–assisted affair, in which he taunts a corporate rival: professional sports agent Scott Boras.

201. “The Streets,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): If anyone out there has a doctored, R. Kelly–free version of Best of Both Worlds, please tweet it to me @youngJFK. Thx!

200. “Salud!” B-Side (2018): Why this song was omitted from Everything Is Love’s track list is anyone’s guess. Production duo Cool & Dre creates a woozy ambience on which the Carters stunt about the fruits of their success as only they can. “Your president tweeting about Hov like he knows us / My road to the top was to take what you owe us / I give a fuck what that man find vulgar / Just look in my eyes when you toast us,” Jay raps — an effective political clapback in under 280 characters.

199. “Crew Love,” Belly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1998): Jay-Z is relegated to hook duty here, supervising Roc underclassmen Memphis Bleek and the newly signed Beanie Sigel, who packs his verse with a bevy of clever Monopoly references.

198. “Face Off,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): Jay-Z’s lyrics about love have evolved since releasing this hump-and-dump anthem with Sauce Money. They’re a formidable tag team no matter the subject matter, and the fun they’re having here is palpable.

197. “Minority Report,” Kingdom Come (2006): A sullen, time-capsule take on the socioeconomic injustice of the U.S. government’s piss-poor Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Jay’s words make the song cry and Dr. Dre’s piano keys sound like teardrops.

196. “Snoopy Track,” Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): Jay-Z’s fourth studio album continued hip-hop’s growing shift away from regionalism. He’d already shown love to burgeoning New Orleans star Juvenile by blessing his breakout single, “Ha,” with a complementary remix verse the previous year. Juvie returns the favor here, sing-rapping a gruff hook over Timbaland’s revved-up instrumental, while Jay’s tempered flow panders to Dirty South listeners, insisting, “It’s for the black culture.”

195. “There’s Been a Murder,” Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): Jay-Z brings you back to the days before he was a world-known star, recalling shoot-outs and high-speed cop chases, and summing up his plight with this simile-metaphor hybrid: “See my life is like a seesaw/ And until I move this weight it’s gon’ keep me to the floor.” It’s a morose three-and-a-half minutes that sink an often upbeat LP.

194. “Only a Customer,” Streets Is Watching Soundtrack (1998): This song is built around an unexciting Mary J. Blige sample. But Jay’s lyrics are sharp as he contemplates whether the need for the finer things in life is worth the risks attached to selling weight.

193. “Anything,” The Truth (2000): Jay hijacks a bonus slot on Beanie’s debut to house this heartfelt dedication to his mom, nephews, and musical and business partners. But it’s docked for it’s Oliver! sample, a formula jacked from “Hard Knock Life” that didn’t pay dividends the second time around.

192. “30 Something,” Kingdom Come (2006): This was an awkward stage in Jay’s career. He boasts about his maturity, which entails everything from smoking Cuban cigars to maintaining an excellent credit score. Congrats? It’s elitist, but still, Jay’s lyrical interplay with Dr. Dre’s simple piano riff works.

191. “Somewhere in America,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): A rumination on cultural and socioeconomic politics — basically, the tanning of America — over a funky horn loop.

190. “Break Up to Make Up,” The Best of Both Worlds (2001): Why angry, intense sex is the best: a special report by R.
Kelly and Jay-Z.

189. “Legacy,” 4:44 (2017): Breezy horns add a sweet, mellow ambience to a track about maximizing generational wealth and erasing inherited family traumas.

188. “Party Life,” American Gangster (2007): This song sounds nothing like its title suggests. Hov spits some fly-ass talk about his couture, superstar wife, and overall cool-guy quintessence, as he’s been known to do so effortlessly.

187. “Honey,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): Knowing R. Kelly’s real-life vices really reframes these collaborative projects, even making once-gleaming standouts like this one unlistenable.

186. “100$ Bill,” The Great Gatsby: Music From Baz Luhrmann’s Film (2013): Over a frenetic E*Vax beat, Hov points out the hypocrisy behind man’s relationship with the almighty dollar. Unsurprisingly, there’s coke talk too. It’s a wonder that Jay is still finding new ways to rap about moving weight, playing on everyone from Albert Einstein to Marvin Gaye to Taylor Swift to metaphorically describe his past life.

185. “Top Off,” Father of Asahd (2018): DJ Khaled just can’t help himself — he’ll return to the well again and again once he finds a fruit-bearing formula. The producer rounds up his “I Got the Keys” and “Shining” collaborators for this frenetic ode to convertible Maybachs that feels a bit too familiar (Future’s hook is unbearable). A then-incarcerated Meek Mill receives shoutouts from Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

184. “8 Miles and Running,” 8 Mile: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture (2002): Jay throws his success in the faces of those who doubted he’d find a fruitful career in music.

183. “Stop,” Blueprint 2.1 (2003): Making hits seemed so easy for Hov around this time. This one might be forgotten among the surplus of turn-up tracks if it weren’t still a mainstay in the throwback portion of New York City DJs’ party playlists.

182. “Oh My God,” Kingdom Come (2006): A high-energy Just Blaze banger that feels like it’s seeking the combustible high of “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” — there’s that same buildup to hard drums and guitar stabs. On the track, Jay skims through his life story, from growing up without a father to sonning his rap competition.

181. “The City Is Mine,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): The eulogy to late friend Biggie Smalls feels heartfelt, but Jay’s posturing as rap’s next in line here is unconvincing.

180. “Jigga That Nigga,” The Blueprint (2001): A rare but necessary deviation from the soul samples that shaped Jay-Z’s second classic LP. Poke and Tone cue up a catchy synth-based beat perfect for Jigga’s flossy rhymes (sample: “I am, killing ’em out there, they needing first aid / Cause the boy got more 6s than first grade”).

179. “That’s My Bitch,” Watch the Throne (2011):

The Throne’s version of romance: Kanye lays claim to his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose, while Jay-Z offers Beyoncé the ultimate compliment, insisting that her beauty belongs on the walls of museums (and simultaneously advocating for brown women to be exalted just as their white counterparts are already). The two rappers, with their different yet harmonious approaches, conquer a bubbly curveball of a beat by Q-Tip.

178. “Who Gon Stop Me,” Watch the Throne (2011): Jay completely obliterates this erratic Flux Pavilion sample, sounding not at all amazed when recalling how he ascended from the dirt to rolling in dough.

177. “Ride or Die,” Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (1998): Without saying his name, Jay snapped back at Mase here, addressing some of the Harlem rapper slash pastor’s disrespectful talk on 112’s “Love Me.” It’s an early indication of Hov’s battling ferocity, along with a glowing self-endorsement: “S. Carter, ghostwriter / And for the right price, I can even make yo‘ shit tighter.”

176. “Celebration,” Streets Is Watching Soundtrack (1998): The opening lines of Jigga’s blistering diss “Takeover” originated on this Roc-A-Fella 1.0 posse cut. He, along with Memphis Bleek, Sauce Money, and Wais P of Da Ranjahz, does this Commodores track of the same name proud.

175. “Open Letter,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Jay-Z almost got Obama in trouble with this loosie that addresses his trip to Cuba with Beyoncé to celebrate their wedding anniversary (before travel restrictions were lifted). Jay gloriously trolled Republicans: “Boy from the hood but got White House clearance,” causing former press secretary Jay Carney to hold a press conference denying that the former president had communicated with Hov about his travel arrangements.

174. “Gangsta Shit,” The Professional (1998): Before the stick-up anthem that put 50 Cent on the map, Jay-Z dropped this graphic track alongside Ja Rule teaching you how to rob.

173. “Show You How,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): A seminar for the swaggerless on how to live your life like Shawn Carter, over a warped Just Blaze instrumental.

172. “Dope Man,” Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): Ironically, Jay ended up in trouble with the law around the time of the release of this extended metaphor comparing his musical rise to a high-profile criminal trial. He’d stabbed producer and executive Lance “Un” Rivera at New York City’s Kit Kat Club — reportedly over his alleged bootlegging of Vol. 3 — and was soon facing 15 years in prison if convicted. But life didn’t completely imitate art. Unlike his dramatic victory in “Dope Man,” Jigga copped a plea deal for three years of probation.

171. “Can I Live II,” Reasonable Doubt (1996): Despite being a forced continuation of the legendary original, Jay and Bleek get some solid lines off, so we’ll let them live.

170. “If I Should Die,” Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (1998): An optimistic look at life and death over a beat by Swizz that shifts away from the delightfully simple chord patterns that defined his early productions.

169. “Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2),” The Blueprint (2001): Kanye picked the perfect Persuaders sample to bless this glorified remix that’s smoother than its more popular original. Jay nods to classic Lil Kim and Biggie lines while describing his ideal woman — “pretty, witty, girly, worldly” — criteria that still grace Instagram bios to this day.

168. “Come and Get Me,” Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): The one-minute intro to this song shines brightest, as Jay makes clear just how comfortable he is with handling and using his gun. Timbaland’s hard, bouncy beat regrettably switches up into something a bit smoother; still, Jay invites all challengers eyeing his crown, insisting they’d have to take it in blood.

167. “People’s Court,” Backstage: A Hard Knock Life (2000): The most clever of Jay’s songs based on the judiciary system, “People’s Court” flips courtroom terminology in a primer on street justice (“Save your opening arguments, hope you understanding / Two guns, right over left, that’s how I crossexamine”). The song samples the theme music from its titular TV series, but Jay neglects to name-drop another Brooklyn-born hardass: the Honorable Judge Judy.

166. “Some People Hate,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Known for quoting Biggie throughout his career, Jay borrows lyrics from Tupac Shakur on this one, as he lashes back at those who’ve resented his success. Kanye West’s sped sample adds some sunniness.

165. “Oceans,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): This song’s concept is interesting enough — Jay juxtaposes the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and indentured servitude with the life of luxuriousness that he’s living in the 21st century. The radical thoughts and ideas here can sound disjointed at times, like a concept that’s not fully fleshed out.

164. “Beach Chair,” Kingdom Come (2006): This deep musing set to Chris Martin’s spacey instrumental is the most experimental track in Jay-Z’s catalogue. Penned in part as a letter to his unborn daughter, “Beach Chair” is a meditation on happiness, karma, and life’s purpose.

163. “Family Feud,” 4:44 (2017): Jay-Z has done his share of old-man cane shaking at hip-hop’s younger generation in the second half of his career, but here he comes to a place of acceptance, calling for unity among hip-hop artists, and, more generally, black people. Beyoncé’s background vocals shine through as well.

162. “Sweet,” American Gangster (2007): There’s a cycle that can permeate impoverished communities — one that finds a younger generation following in the footsteps of older figures who go illegal to live regal. Jay examines that repetition, mulling over the influence of his own criminal activities on the nephews who look up to him.

161. “The Bounce,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Kanye West doesn’t squander his first full verse alongside his rap idol. Timbaland provides a funky instrumental that beats at your eardrums, and Kanye takes full advantage, warping in and out of character, stretching his voice and flow with a rubber band’s elasticity, and staking claim to past beat-making contributions to hip-hop history [“Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Takeover”].

160. “The Ruler’s Back,” The Blueprint (2001): A proper homage that re-creates Slick Rick’s 1988 song of the same name over a new set of trumpets, setting a celebratory tone for The Blueprint; it’s like a premature victory lap.

159. “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Jay-Z reportedly lifted his verse from a shelved Watch the Throne track called “Living So Italian” for this luxury rap meets trap knocker that’s likely to blow out your AirPods.

158. “Summer,” Everything Is Love (2018): Jay-Z has long been obsessed with outworking his competition during the summer months. Yet this hot-and-heavy track evokes a lazy, lovemaking vacay in a remote location, thanks to lustful songwriting, funky bass strings, and sleepy brass.

157. “Kill Jay Z,” 4:44 (2017): This isn’t the first time Jay-Z has killed himself, or rather his likeness, via his art. He depicts his assassination in the video for “99 Problems,” and repeats “Jay-Z is dead” in “There’s Been a Murder.” But this song is different. Jay singles out his ego, separating himself from the persona that led him to shoot his own brother as a young teen, or cheat on his wife. It’s an interesting lens through which to observe the indiscretions he details on 4:44 — he’s taking accountability while simultaneously distancing himself for his most shameful actions, emerging on the other side a new and better man.

156. “Illest Motherfucker Alive,” Watch the Throne (2011): In case you can’t tell by this song’s title, modesty is not the Throne’s strong suit. “Basquiats, Warhols serving as my muses / My house like a museum so I see ’em when I’m peeing,” Jay rhymes, humble as ever, over a deep cello and sparkling keys.

155. “Stick 2 the Script,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000): This tough-talking duet between Beanie Sigel and Jay-Z feels redundant on The Dynasty — the similar but stronger “Streets Is Talking” appears three tracks earlier — but it’s still dope.

154. “Already Home,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): In one of Jay’s strongest rap performances on The Blueprint 3, he explains, in an impressive variety of ways, how he’s several levels above any other living rapper.

153. “The Watcher 2,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Jay really likes sequels. This one finds him in the driver’s seat, inviting Rakim and Dr. Dre, who recorded the original track, along for the ride. Perhaps the rehash was a passive-aggressive play by Hov, though — Nas is rumored to have written Dre’s 1999 prequel.

152. “Picasso Baby,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Probably the best product of Jay-Z’s art-collecting obsession. The electric guitar-powered beat during the second half would sound at home on Vol. 1, in the best way.

151. “Poppin’ Tags,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): You might’ve felt short-changed when this long-awaited Hova and OutKast collaboration finally happened — and André 3000 was absent. But Twista and Killer Mike join Jay and Big Boi for a knocking ode to shopping sprees over a brilliantly chopped Marvelettes sample, courtesy of the Louis Vuitton Don himself, Kanye West.

150. “I Know,” American Gangster (2007): Leave it to Jay-Z and Pharrell to record a song about heroin and the destructiveness of addiction, and turn it into an entirely different kind of hit.

149. “Rap Game / Crack Game,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): Hov puts up the split screen once again, drawing parallels between the two vocations he knows best. Turns out, they’re not all that different.

148. “Blue Magic,” American Gangster (2007): Rakim guests here, too, albeit only in spirit. Over a minimalist Neptunes beat, Jay pays homage to Rakim Allah with several references to the hip-hop legend’s song “My Melody.”

147. “Shining,” Grateful (2017): This song marked Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s first collaboration since 2013’s “Drunk in Love.” On this joyous, up-tempo DJ Khaled cut, they toast to their extensive winning streaks, offering not even the slightest hint of the sobering 4:44 that would follow months later.

146. “Hovi Baby,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Jay-Z took a month-long vacation in the South of France between the 2002 releases of The Best of Both Worlds and The Blueprint². He returned home to a mess. Roc-A-Fella co-founder Damon Dash made a bunch of personnel changes at the label without Jay’s consent — most notably, promoting Beanie Sigel and Cam’ron to vice-presidents, a point of contention that placed a wedge between the former partners. Also, Nas had tried to lynch an effigy of his former rival at Summer Jam before being blocked by Hot 97. One of Jay’s first orders of business after coming home was to visit Funkmaster Flex at the radio station and drop a ceremonial freestyle on the airwaves, previewing the second verse of this song. He keeps that same rejuvenated timbre on “Hovi Baby,” also injecting the sternness of an annoyed king displeased with the state of his kingdom and threatening to go full tyrant. “In my absence / cats get / absent-minded,” he rhymes, dropping the gavel over a Just Blaze instrumental that sounds like it belongs on an ’80s TV game show.

145. “The Best of Both Worlds,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): This song’s title rings true as Jay and Kellz trade the mic back-and-forth, ringing in their first duet album. R. Kelly’s singing is over-the-top at times, but it works.

144. “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000): Jay raps about the injustice of being a celebrity undergoing a criminal trial — his felony assault charges for stabbing Lance Rivera were still outstanding — and invited R. Kelly, of all people, to sing about innocence.

143. “Caught Their Eyes,” 4:44 (2017): Jay acknowledges how the same intuition that’s kept him one step ahead of peril in the streets now helps him navigate the corporate world, in the process ripping into the head of Prince’s estate, taking to a peppy No ID beat to address some Tidal beef.

142. “Apeshit,” Everything Is Love (2018): There are relationship goals, and then there’s the way Mr. Shawn Carter plays hype man for his better half on this standout from Everything Is Love. “She went crazy!” Hov ad-libs in the background, after bearing witness to Beyoncé’s acrobatic flow and mind-blowing breath control. It’s intriguing to consider how their musical chemistry has expanded from emcee/singer duo to rap counterparts, and this made-for-Migos single is proof of their sustained potency.

141. “Hova Song (Intro)” / “Hova Song (Interlude)” / “Hova Song (Outro),” Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): Jay accomplishes a lot in the space of three brief free-form rhymes over an eerie K-Rob instrumental: He snaps at 50 Cent, compares himself to a pre-Russiagate Donald Trump, and maintains his stance as a rap deity, asking, “Do you believe? It’s Hova the God.”

140. “Squeeze 1st,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000): Jay’s flow is super loose over this Rick Rock loop, which sounds like it’s straight out of a video game from the ’90s. He goes at it for less than four minutes, but I could listen to Hov spit over this beat for hours.

139. “A Week Ago,” Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (1998): Jay-Z is a master at humanizing tales from the hood. Here, he opens up about a close friend and fellow hustler who snitched once he got snagged by police. Jay’s delivery when rapping about his turncoat friend — reportedly estranged homie DeHaven Irby — is cold, but you get the feeling he’s hurt by the betrayal. “When he called collect and I heard his name / I quickly accepted, but when I reached the phone / He’s talking reckless, I can sense deceit in his tone,” he rhymes. It’s a needed personal touch on an album stacked to the brim with hits.

138. “American Dreamin,’” American Gangster (2007): This song sounds just as dreamy as its title suggests, with its delightful Marvin Gaye sample. Jay is a ghetto griot here, sharing a story about how a group of tenacious kids with big aspirations and limited options find themselves in the coke game.

137. “Watch Me,” Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): There’s an endearing carpe diem outlook here, although present-day Jay-Z probably cringes listening back on sterling financial advice like “Save for what? Ball till your days is up.”

136. “It’s Alright,” Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life/Streets Is Watching Soundtrack (1998): Some posturing from Memphis Bleek and an on-the-verge Jay-Z that’s amplified by cool whirring sounds lifted from Kraftwerk’s “The Hall of Mirrors.”

135. “Primetime,” Watch the Throne (2011): A gratuitous Watch the Throne bonus track that showcases a complex numerically themed verse from Jay alongside the usual improper humor from Yeezy over No I.D.’s shimmery piano.

134. “Soon You’ll Understand,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000): This feels like a first draft of “Song Cry,” particularly this track’s middle verse, which wrestles with themes of love, loyalty, and maturity. It’s one of three fictionalized scenarios that Jay delivers with believable emotion over a haunting instrumental; the common thread is a plea for empathy.

133. “Adnis,” 4:44 (2017): Like a page out of Jay-Z’s diary — or an exercise assigned by his therapist — this open letter asks his late father questions that have no answers, over a piano melody that seems to trip over itself. “Must’ve been some pain in your past, too / Must’ve been a karma that was past due,” he rhymes. The song ends in a place of peace, acceptance, and forgiveness.

132. “NYMP,” Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter (1999): A knocking dedication to Marcy Projects that plays like a lite sequel to “Where I’m From.”

131. “Parking Lot Pimpin,’” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000): Why waste time within the confines of a crowded club when you can create your own scene in the parking lot? Jay, Beans, and Bleek indulge their love for hot wheels over a thumping beat, saluting the road warriors and auto aficionados who know the real party goes down at the let out.

130. “Pray,” American Gangster (2007): This introduction to American Gangster plays on the parallels between Jay-Z’s hustler past and the Denzel Washington–starring film of the same name (itself based on the life of Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas). Close your eyes and listen to Jay’s narrative; it’s like a movie in itself.

129. “Real As It Gets,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): This triumphant record was originally intended for Young Jeezy’s TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition before Hov snagged it for his own project. It’s a nice score, a bright spot on an uneven third Blueprint album.

128. “Streets Is Talking,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000): Aside from maybe Sauce Money, no one brings grittier street reportage out of Jay-Z than Beanie Sigel. What could’ve been an underwhelming update to “Streets Is Watching” shines as Sigel raps right up until the beat ends, closing with an aggressive a cappella.

127. “Say Hello,” American Gangster (2007): Jay plays the villain role here, taking a defensive tone as he justifies the criminal route he chose while evoking the moments just before Tony Montana (Scarface) and Frank Lucas (American Gangster) began their respective falls from drug-lord glory. DJ Toomp provides a stirring, cinematic backdrop — these two really should work together again.

126. “Welcome to the Jungle,” Watch the Throne (2011): Kanye allows Jay to take the lead here, rapping from his therapist’s couch about loss and depression — a surprising turn on an album that’s often preoccupied with excess and grandiosity.

125. “I Got the Keys,” Major Key (2016): On paper, Jay-Z and Future make for curious collaborators. But music matchmaker DJ Khaled paired them up proper, allowing Hendrix to lay down an inescapable hook and Hov to spit cloth talk of only the highest thread count.

124. “LoveHappy,” Everything Is Love (2018): Everything Is Love completes an unofficial trilogy of albums by Beyoncé (2016’s Lemonade) and Jay-Z (2017’s 4:44) that publicly (and artistically) deals with the fallout of infidelity. And this final song on the collaborative album is a neat, bow-wrapped resolution that leaves the past in the past. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for dark humor. “You fucked up the first stone, we had to get remarried,” Bey jibes over a hard drum pattern, to which Jay responds, “Yo, chill man!” Those jabs likely never get old — depending on whom you ask.

123. “No Hook,” American Gangster (2007): The-Dream made it a hot line; Jay made it a hot song. Hov lifts a memorable lyric from “Shawty Is Da Shit” to tie together three tough verses of his own.

122. “Gotta Have It,” Watch the Throne (2011): Even more impressive than Jay rapping about planking on a million dollars or the palpable chemistry he shares with Kanye on the mic is that ’Ye and Pharrell chop up three (!) different James Brown samples and lay them down over a mesmerizing loop for one of Watch the Throne’s most enjoyable tracks.

121. “713,” Everything Is Love (2018): Between hooks that interpolate Dr. Dre’s 1999 single “Still D.R.E.” (which was ghostwritten by Hov) and rhymes borrowed from Common Sense, Jay opens up about his courting of Beyoncé and a “foolish mistake”: bringing a third wheel along for their first date. Doh!

120. “Thank You,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): This song closes with an extended metaphor about rappers whose album sales are not up to snuff; despite needlessly evoking 9/11 imagery, it’s wonderful.

119. “Success,” American Gangster (2007): Nas and Jay-Z have yet to deliver a truly classic duet, but this No I.D.–produced heater comes damn close. Over a crescendoing organ riff, the two rap legends grumble about the misfortunes that come along with being filthy rich. Nas sneaks in a subliminal potshot about his newfound friendship and business alliance with his former archnemesis (he signed to the Jay-Z-led Def Jam Records in 2006): “Worst enemies wanna be my best friends / Best friends wanna be enemies like that’s what’s in / But I don’t give a fuck, walk inside the lion’s den / Take everybody’s chips, about to cash them in.”

118. “So Ambitious,” The Blueprint 3 (2009): The Neptunes and Jay-Z make magic more often than not. These horn flourishes and xylophone taps are the perfect sound-bed for a retelling of how a kid from Marcy Projects massively succeeded against all odds.

117. “People Talkin’,” Jay-Z: Unplugged (2002): Ski’s pounding boom-bap and Jay-Z’s endless lyrical warning shots make the perfect marriage for this bonus track that really belongs on a proper studio release.

116. “Hola Hovito,” The Blueprint (2001): An upbeat Timbaland-produced banger that tempers The Blueprint’s heavy soul offerings and panders to Latino listeners without completely butchering the Spanish language.

115. “Somebody’s Girl,” The Best of Both Worlds (2002): Jay-Z may have been the original Mr. Steal Your Girl — this catchy track from his ill-fated duet LP with R. Kelly is all about the art of being “the other guy.” The song is savage, bumped up five notches for the heavy allusions to Martin Lawrence’s classic stand-up comedy film You So Crazy in verse three.

114. “Smile,” 4:44 (2017): This track is immediately important for its powerful revelation that Jay-Z’s mother identifies as a lesbian. But what’s most impressive is the extended closing verse, in which Jay runs down the many ways he’s prevailed in various industries simply by being his own boss.

113. “Jay-Z Blue,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Before the fateful elevator ride gone viral, Jay gave a peek at the cracks forming in his family life. It’s the most candid four minutes on the album — Jay goes through a range of emotions, from wanting more time with his wife and daughter to needing a three-week vacation from it all to wondering if his own dad’s bad (or absent) parenting is hereditary. Jay is nervous, unsure, maybe even neurotic — a type of vulnerability previously unseen, a tip of the transparency iceberg that was to come.

112. “American Gangster,” American Gangster (2007): Producers Sean C & LV, along with Diddy, steered the majority of the music on American Gangster, creating a moody atmosphere for Jay to deliver his Frank Lucas–inspired storyline. The sonic parameters are appropriate, but on this bonus cut — over Just Blaze’s sunny Curtis Mayfield sample from the same era — Jay sounds like an emcee unleashed, rapping with more energy than anywhere else on the entire project.

111. “Some How Some Way,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): Putting Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z, and Scarface on the same track had already proved to be a promising formula after the release of “This Can’t Be Life” and “Guess Who’s Back.” They keep the winning streak going with this mellifluous retrospective about escaping poverty.

110. “Glory (B.I.C.)” (2012): A heartwarming track celebrating Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s first child, Blue Ivy Carter, who was born just days before this song’s release. The Neptunes provide soothing synths and keys that are lullaby-ready, while Jay raps pure joy, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s dedication to his daughter on “Isn’t She Lovely.” Hov alludes to some heavy moments as well — a past miscarriage, and the deaths of his dad and singer-friend Aaliyah — but by the end of the runtime you’re left marveling about how adorable (and spoiled!) Blue Ivy is gonna be.

109. “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise),” The Blueprint (2001): A bout of wordplay aerobics using workout terms; will help get you through leg day.

108. “Heaven,” Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013): Hov questions religion in a truly curious way, examining the morality and validity of denominational teachings. It’s a tension he’s played with throughout his career; here he evokes religious symbolism with lines like, “Y’all dwell on devil shit, I’m in a Diablo,” and “Fresh in my Easter clothes feeling like Jesus.”

107. “From Marcy to Hollywood,” The Players Club Soundtrack (1998): Sauce Money, Memphis Bleek, and Jay-Z are three the hard way. The Marcy lyricists narrate scenarios that prove in the streets, wolves can take on many different forms.

106. “What the Game Made Me,” I Got the Hook-Up Soundtrack (1998): Three the hard way come harder over twinkling chimes, although Bleek shines brightest this time.

105. “Who You Wit”/“Who You Wit II,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997): This is just a bunch of slick pimp talk over Ski’s jazzy piano and guitar sample. The opening gambit — “I love bitches, thug bitches, shy bitches / Rough bitches, don’t matter you my bitches” — recalls Ice-T’s “99 Problems,” which Jay would later recreate in 2003.

104. “Ignorant Shit,” American Gangster (2007): Just Blaze whips up a timeless Isley Brothers track for Jay to clap back at hip-hop detractors and mock listeners who find his thoughtful songs too sophisticated. Most memorable, though, is his confirmation that most rappers are faker than a $4 bill, not unlike WWE wrestlers: “Don’t fear no rappers / They’re all weirdos, De Niros in practice.” Then, with a wink, Jay includes himself in the assessment. “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 niggas dead.” The 2005 leak of this song is the best version, though, adding an alternate closing verse from Jay in place of Beanie Sigel.

103. “Diamond Is Forever,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): The type of chant-along Roc-A-Fella anthem that’s perfect for throwing your diamond in the sky if you feel the vibe.

102. “Money Ain’t a Thang,” Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (1998): This is a soundtrack for bad financial decisions, and the aspirational hit single with Jermaine Dupri that set the stage for Jay-Z’s impending hip-hop takeover. To think, at the time of this song’s release Jay was probably pulling somewhere in the ballpark of one percent of his estimated 2017 $810 million net worth (that is, $8.1 million).

101. “Fallin’” American Gangster (2007): Jay evokes the misery of a crumbling criminal empire — the typical tale of a hustler who doesn’t know when to stop pushing his luck — over a melancholy piano-based melody by JD.

100. “The Joy,” Watch the Throne (2011): Jay and Kanye, as usual, take different approaches over this peak nostalgia Pete Rock track (somehow, it’s the legendary producer’s first collaboration with Hov). While Kanye rotates women and extols the merits of birth-control pills, Jay gives all glory to Gloria Carter, his mom.

99. “Blueprint 2,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): An overlooked attack in Jay’s battle with Nas. There are some effective blows here (he calls Nas’s brother, Jungle, a “garden”), but Hov gets docked for the dated and silly Austin Powers references in the hook.

98. “Show Me What You Got,” Kingdom Come (2006): A fun, youthful introduction to the maturity and grown-folks business that comprises much of Kingdom Come.

97. “Bam,” 4:44 (2017): With Brooklyn’s dense West Indian demographic, it’s shocking how seldom Jay-Z has collided with reggae artists or hopped on dancehall-inspired riddims. Sure, Sean Paul appeared on The Blueprint² and yeah, he tacked a verse onto the remix of Mavado’s “On the Rock” in 2008, but this majestic Damian Marley duet — with nods to Sister Nancy and Inner Circle classics — is as Kingston as you’ll find on this list. It’s a welcome voyage.

96. “Kingdom Come,” Kingdom Come (2006): Back when hip-hop’s King of New York crown still meant something, Hov returned from his pseudo-retirement to lock it down once again. Just Blaze scrambled up a ridiculous sample of Rick James’s “Super Freak” for Shawn Carter to announce his return — and namedrop a bunch of comic-book heroes in the process.

95. “Meet the Parents,” The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002): This piano-sprinkled allego

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