Let’s get the most important point out the way—your favorite Jay-Z song says more about you than it does Jay. Curating and ranking a top song list for any artist proves vexing and guilt-inducing, but this is especially true the Jigga Man. Why? Because he means such different things to such different people. Best rapper alive, sure, but maybe you really love Jay because he inspires your own hustler ambition to be a businessman and a business, man; perhaps it’s his smooth flow, his hitmaking ability, his party anthems; it’s possible you simply love Hov’s bars, those double entendres or pround lines you post as Instagram captions or Twitter clapbacks. The list goes on.
Mr. H to the Izzo has vacillated between being an album artist and a singles artist throughout his career. His best records deftly combine his business and artistic impulses (Blueprint, The Black Album) while his worst efforts feel stuck in between accomplishing neither (Unfinished Business, Magna Carta Holy Grail). Jay’s discography can be usefully described as sprawling, a convenient documentation the genre’s various trends, values, and missteps. Sometimes he captures the zeitgeist, other times tries to emulate what’s hot and gets burned. The bulk his best material debuted more than ten years ago, when social media didn’t even exist.
Why are we ranking Jay-Z top 25 songs then? Mostly because it’s fun as hell, an excuse to lose yourself within the music produced by one the best rappers all-time. But also because Jay-Z’s career deserves reappraisal—with the success his 13th studio record 4:44, Hov continues to prove he can succeed where other rappers can’t. Jay is 48 years old and remains a supremely captivating artist, gracefully transitioning into aged-man rap that retained its cultural impact where other hip-hop luminaries have failed. Now, Jay-Z is about to partner with Beyoncé for the On The Run II Tour, co-headlining the biggest summer concert this year. It’ll only be the umpteenth time he’s owned the summer; after all, they go together like Nike Airs and crisp tees.
What more can he say to you? Not much. If you haven’t been convinced Jay’s greatness by now, you haven’t been listening. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the songs below.