Before Jay-Z slung apps and signed NBA All-Stars, he was simply Brooklyn’s finest. Now, he’s back with his twelfth studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, which has us getting all nostalgic for his non-entrepreneur, hip-hop activities, specifically his other 11 albums. And similar to the second half of The Throne a few weeks back, it wasn’t an easy task putting together a list of Top 20 songs — far more difficult, in fact.
There’s just so much style, substance, and context at hand. Whether it’s his diamond-encrusted Rolodex of collaborations or his blank check towards royalties, there’s almost a whole library’s worth of material to pine over. That we did, though to keep us level-headed, we paired each of our favorite tracks with comparable smart phone apps. You know, in honor of Jigga’s whole Samsung deal?
Don’t ask, just listen and (possibly) download.
20. “Can I Get A…”
Whether the pairing of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker was annoying or like Martin and Lewis with karate, this song helped launch Jay-Z’s career (along with “Hard Knock Life”). And it’s no wonder that this is one of Hov’s most commercially successful singles (peaking at a respectable #19): it’s got some of his most memorable wordplay (“If I couldn’t flow futuristic would ya/ Put your two lips on my wood and kiss it – could ya”), and screaming its chorus whilst driving or at a party remains a musical highlight for this writer to this day. But its most impressive feat of all? Somehow giving us a Ja Rule verse that wasn’t totally awful. Can I get a what what?! -Chris Coplan
App to Download: Andy (Siri alternative) — or, Andy, Jay-Z Edition: It’ll help you put events in calendars and find restaurants, but will scream “Fuck you!” if you ask, “Can I get a?”
19. “Run This Town”
Hov’s love of Annie (“Hard Knock Life”, anyone?) really boils down to how he perceives himself as a kind of rap game Daddy Warbucks, using his money and influence to help out a youngster he’d become smitten with. And in Hov’s case, that little ginger orphan appeared in both Rihanna and Kanye West, each of whom he guided and helped, to paraphrase another song, “move in a room full of vultures.” As such, “Run This Town” is a kind of celebration, a declaration of their domination over some weirdly post-arena rock banger tailor-made for their flippant insults and mounds and mounds of ego. Some might argue that RiRi and ‘Ye outshined Jigga, but you can imagine he would’ve only reacted with pride about what his little family has accomplished. -Chris Coplan
App to Download: Foursquare — Why control an empire through power and greed when you can just be the mayor of every Starbucks?