JAY-Z is obviously one of the most successful hip-hop artists ever. He's been charting hits since the mid-1990s and the world anxiously awaits the release of his upcoming 14th album 4:44.
But you could arguably split Jay's career in two; divided by the early years when he was poppin' bottles and rockin' jerseys with Dame Dash and the latter years--when he became a pop culture influencer, married Beyonce and evolved into rap's most famous husband and father.
From a musical standpoint, Jay's latter years have been kind of all over the place. There have been huge commercial triumphs (the annoyingly inescapable "Empire State of Mind") and critical lows ("Young Forever" won't ever not be cringe-worthy). But we decided to corral the 10 best tracks Jay has dropped since he split from Dame, started rockin' Tom Ford and became Mr. Beyonce.
"Show Me What You Got" (2006)Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come may not have been the greatest comeback album ever, but "Show Me What You Got" was a helluva way too announce that you're back to rappin' full-time. Such was the case with Jay in 2006. After three years of "retirement," during which he dropped more collabs than most "active" artists, Jay dropped the first single from his ninth album. Backed by a live band, Jay reaffirmed his status as the "Mike Jordan of recordin'" even if it was just for a lil while.
"As Real As It Gets" w/Jeezy (2009)The Blueprint 3
Another ballerific anthem, Jay and Jeezy sound like they're on top of the world on this underrated track from the lukewarm Blueprint 3. Produced by Lee Majors (as The Inkcredibles), it's one of the best songs on the album--better than the singles that got endless spins on radio.
"Hello Brooklyn 2.0" w/Lil Wayne (2007)American Gangster
A flip of the 1989 Beastie Boys track that features Jay and Weezy at the height of their respective powers, it's one of the best odes to Jay's home borough. Bigg D masterfully flipped the Beasties' classic, and this became one of the most popular songs on Jay's acclaimed American Gangster album.
"Blue Magic" w/Pharrell (2007)American Gangster
Part of why American Gangster was so well-received was because Kingdom Come was such a middling effort. But ...Gangster featured a reinvigorated Jay, and one of the best examples was this inspired effort with Pharrell. Over the slow-rolling beat, Skateboard P references En Vogue's 1990 hit "Hold On" and Jay spits fire. It was the first single from the album and served as announcement that Jay was re-focused, man.
"Lost One" w/Chrisette Michele (2006)Kingdom Come
Jay has always been more introspective and personal than his critics seem to want to give credit for; and one of the best examples is this heartfelt and slightly bitter tribute to relationships gone bad. Featuring one of the most glaringly vulnerable verses he ever wrote about Beyonce, airing out his grievances with old friend Dame Dash and mourning the death of his nephew, Jay sets his cockiness to the side (mostly) and let's the world in on his hurt feelings. Oh and Chrisette Michele's hook is perfection.
"Empire State of Mind" w/Alicia Keys (2009)The Blueprint 3
It's very a much a "love it or hate it" song, but you can't deny how huge this song has become. It's one of Jay's most well-known songs and it's become the unofficial anthem of 2010s New York City. Alicia Keys' soaring chorus became a fixture at virtually any sporting event in the Big Apple and it cemented Jay as the city's greatest contemporary ambassador. Even if you've heard it 1,298,543 times over the past several years.
"Picasso Baby" (2013)Magna Carta...Holy Grail
Magna Carta Holy Grail was intensely hyped in the weeks leading up to it's release, and while the album isn't one of Jay's best, this single was peak "luxury rap" Jay. Some critics complained about Jay's One Percent raps, but hey--the guy always liked the finer things. By this point, he just liked the finest things. And this was one of the better examples. That rollicking beat (produced by Timbaland) was everything.
"Run This Town" w/Rihanna and Kanye West (2009)The Blueprint 3
The chanting, stomping chorus. The apocalyptic feel of the beat. This was an anthem. Jay, Rih-Rih and Kanye united as three of the biggest artists in the world and delivered this shot of brilliance. Co-produced by West and No I.D., it was one of the better selections from The Blueprint 3. And it was one of the most inescapable songs of 2009.
"Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...)" (2007)American Gangster
One of the fiercest anthems Hov ever released, this classic track was inspired by Jay's own rags-to-riches history and the 2007 drama American Gangster. The track was produced by Diddy and the Hitmen, and the video featured everybody from Nas to Mariah Carey poppin' bottles like bosses.
"Niggas In Paris" w/Kanye West (2011)Watch the Throne
Jay and Kanye joined forces on the blockbuster Watch the Throne album in 2011. As to be expected the release was one of the biggest of the year--and this monster hit was one of the biggest hits of the 2010s. You couldn't go virtually anywhere and not hear that percolating intro. The lyrics were constantly quoted. The Blades of Glory sample. It was a phenomenon unto itself. And extra fun because people were always nervous about saying the title in "mixed company."