Today, we celebrate Shawn Corey Carter’s 44th Birthday. Jay-Z has seen his reign in hip-hop go mostly unchallenged despite it being a young man’s sport. So in celebration, I decided to rank Jay-Z‘s 13 solo studio albums from worst to best. This won’t include any collaborative efforts (re: Best of Both Worlds 1 & 2, Watch The Throne). Check it out below and let me know what you think.
12. Kingdom Come
Oh, Shawn. You retired on the high note that was The Black Album and then you returned with… this. Is is that bad? Probably not. Is it a good Jay-Z album, definitely not. It doesn’t help that the singles he chose were some of the worst to play on the radio in 2006. “Show Me What You Got?” Really? I get that you’re a 30-something rapper, but I didn’t want to hear this. At all. Maybe I’ll love you if you stayed faded to black.
10. The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
Not quite a solo album, Jay-Z allowed his whole team some shine on his 5th solo album. Beanie Sigel shined more than anyone (read: Memphis Bleek is still one hit away) with standout contributions in “This Can’t Be Life,” “Streets Is Talking,” and “Dynasty.” R. Kelly made an appearance on the radio friendly “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” The fate of this album was sealed once we all realized Dynasty would never be a real group. I mean, where is Amil? I dare you to listen to this album front to back and enjoy it, forreal.
9. Vol. 3… Life and Time of S. Carter
Outside of providing us the name of Jay’s brilliantly curated website Life+Times, this album really gave us nothing. I mean, yes there’s “Big Pimpin‘” and “Do It Again” but I challenge you to name another song. Even deep cut Jay-Z fans would rank this as one of his worst, track for track. Jay was still stepping into his lyrical dexterity with this album, but I found Vol. 2 much more interesting.
8. Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Who asked for this album, exactly? After dropping a certified classic, Jay-Z followed up with this hodgepodge of cutting room floor cuts. As with most albums, there were some standout tracks, but as a 25 track double disc, Jay could’ve purged about 2/3 of the tracks, named it “Diamonds is Forever” and kept it moving. Instead, we get odd tracks like “Nigga Please” & “Fuck All Nite” that were far from the proper follow up for The Blueprint.
7. In My Lifetime Vol 1.
Why is this album better than Vol. 3? Let’s think about where Jay was. This is post Reasonable Doubt – essentially battling the sophomore slump. More people pay attention to his first album now than they did when it dropped, Jay has said that before. In My Lifetime Vol. 1 found an introspective, yet motivated Jay-Z. And he was having fun. And no one can deny “Streets Is Watching” which led to a hood film of the same name.
7. Magna Carta, Holy Grail
When a rapper is well-traveled and influenced by a variety of sounds and experiences, you get an album like this one. Does it suck? Nah, not at all. Was it phoned in? Definitely. This album didn’t crack my top 5 for a lot of reasons. One of them being the hype surrounding the release and the subsequent disappointment. The real star of this album is easily the production. Kudos to all involved. But Jay’s lyrics have been far more interesting and complex. Extremely timely – not timeless, this album will sit comfortably in a conversation revolving around the year of twerking and North West. Beyond that, not quite. There is “Beach is Better” though…
6. American Gangster
This album stopped me in my tracks. When I first heard, it was I was confused. Is this a soundtrack to the movie of the same name or nah? Was this Jay going back to his dope boy roots or was he playing a character? With samples from the actual movie, I think a lot of people dismissed this album as a soundtrack. It’s so much more than that. And so underrated to me. The simplicity and crispness of “No Hook” can’t be lost. Treat this entire album like a nouveau version of “The 10 Crack Commandments.” From the hustling to the success to the end, the story of most American Gangsters.
5. Blueprint 3
I feel like an anomaly because of my love for this project. It felt worldly (like MCHG) yet fun (like Vol. 1). Jay was really flexing his wealth besides the usual Rolls Royce, Bentley, Gucci mentions. It’s a feel-good album you can play from beginning to end without skipping a track. I could definitely live happily never hearing “Empire State of Mind” again, but in the grand scheme of the album, it completely flows. This album caused you to react. How often does music do that? There was “D.O.A.” then “Run This Town” then “Empire State of Mind” and the infectious “On to the Next One.” It’s just a good fucking album.
4. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
Top 4 status? Yup! This album is so underrated. I can listen to this album top to bottom and enjoy the whole ride. With tracks like “Hard Knock Life” and “Nigga What, Nigga Who” and “Money, Cash, Hoes,” and “Can I Get A…” and “Paper Chase,” how can you not agree. It’s so late 90’s but still stands up against Jay’s entire catalogue. Listen to it today. Just choose the tracks I picked and play your best 5 tracks from any of his other albums and tell me I’m wrong. It’s not his most street-sounding album, but this is the beginning of radio-friendly Jay, but that street appeal was still there. Still hard for your favorite rapper to do.
3. Reasonable Doubt
Jay’s first album doesn’t deserve top 3 status just because it’s his first album. It deserves top 3 status because it was a good rap album. Think about what other artists released albums in 1996. 2Pac, Busta Rhymes, Outkast, The Fugees, and Redman to name a few. And this album was able to cut through the clutter and produce one of the greatest rap debut albums of all time… OF ALL TIME! Even still, it didn’t go platinum until 2002, after the release of The Blueprint. Late listeners were exposed to a younger and more street savvy Jay-Z, pre “I’m a business, man!” I always feel a little more hood when listening to this album – can I live?
2. Black Album
Shawn you tricky mu’fucka you! You had us all believing that after 7 solo rap albums, it was all over. My mother copped me the limited edition blacked out joint because I was legitimately sad that it was all over. My favorite rapper was fading to black and presented us with his magnum opus featuring the best producers of the early 20o0s. If you’ve ever seen Jay in concert, you know these tracks go harder (in a stadium full of people) than the rest of his discography. Go just to hear to “Interlude/PSA” and “What More Can I Say” and your life will be changed. This man makes interludes an entire moment in your life!
1. The Blueprint
Undisputed. Or at least I’d like to think so. Where were you when you first pressed play on The Blueprint? I was sitting on my twin-sized bed, legs crossed, leaning in to my Aiwa stereo trying to catch every lyrical dip and flip and smiling at the diss to Nas. I was never a Nas fan and to hear that my favorite rapper wasn’t a fan of his either? Pure bliss. This album went on to catapult Jay (and Kanye’s production) into the spotlight more than any other album his previously released. It’s probably one of the most quoted albums from Jay including the now infamous “We don’t believe you, you need more people!” Tell me you can’t listen to “Takeover” and smile a bit at the cleverness of his poetic disses to Prodigy and Nas, even now. The Blueprint is a certified classic and comfortably sits atop the lists of many a critic’s top rap albums of all time. It deserves the top ranking. This album finds Jay at his peak, perfectly marrying his streeet savvy and his pop chart dominance.
Whew! That was hard. I moved albums around as I was listening and writing and thinking. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know!
*UPDATED* Jay-Z released his own ranking of his albums on his website. Check it below.
1. Reasonable Doubt (Classic)
2. The Blueprint (Classic)
3. The Black Album (Classic)
4. Vol. 2 (Classic)
5. American Gangster (4 1/2, cohesive)
6. Magna Carta (Fuckwit, Tom Ford, Oceans, Beach, On the Run, Grail)
7. Vol. 1 (Sunshine kills this album…fuck… Streets, Where I’m from, You Must Love Me…)
8. BP3 (Sorry critics, it’s good. Empire (Gave Frank a run for his money))
9. Dynasty (Intro alone…)
10. Vol. 3 (Pimp C verse alone… oh, So Ghetto)
11. BP2 (Too many songs. Fucking Guru and Hip Hop, ha)
12. Kingdom Come (First game back, don’t shoot me)
10 years ago, Jay-Z proclaimed that he was retiring from rap. He did so via his magnum opus The Black Album. Jay-Z ushered in an era of button ups and dismissed the era of tall tees and oversized throwbacks – pre “Suit & Tie.” This album contained excerpts from Shawn’s mom detailing his birth and upbringing, President Obama brushed dirt off his shoulders because of this album, and a well-received The Grey Album all came from this body of work.
My mother bought me the limited edition release of The Black Album. The entire case, CD (front and back), and packaging was blacked out. It was all black everything before Jay-Z proclaimed he “might wear black for a year straight.” My car got stolen (and returned) in college and so did that CD. I guess the thieves knew the value of that album, to me and to hip-hop. If you don’t own the documentary detailing what Jay-Z thought would be his final solo album and it’s subsequent concert dates, I feel bad for you son. Fade to Black is easily one of the best concert films I’ve ever seen and I still find myself watching it on a lazy Saturday. Catch one of my favorite clips featuring Kanye, below.
The Black Album was equally traditional and groundbreaking. It had pop singles that got radio spins [Change Clothes, 99 Problems] without sacrificing lyricism. Jay-Z has navigated that lane better than any other modern rap artist.After eight studio albums, the best rapper of the past decade told us all he was throwing in the towel. So we scooped up the album, went to see him on tour, and purchased the documentary. We all know now he would go on to release 5 more albums including a collaborative album with Kanye West. But it’s okay, because at that time, we all believed and wanted to believe that this was his final piece of work. I was left wondering how I would function when my favorite rapper “no longer exists.” This album was stadium music before rappers were making stadium music. So press play and fall in love again, or for the first time.
The last solo Jay-Z album was 2009’s Blueprint III. In between, he’s dropped Watch the Throne with Kanye West and been featured on a few more G.O.O.D. Music offerings. Jay-Z gave us about a month to accept the fact that he was dropping an album out of nowhere. With a blockbuster announcement during the NBA Finals in the form of an extended commercial featuring Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, and Rick Rubin, Jay ignited the interest of fans like only he can. Ushering in #NewRules, Jay proclaimed his album would be dropped to Samsung users exclusively a few days before the general release. He even forced the RIAA to change how they certify an album as platinum. Despite the presumed exclusivity to Samsung users, most of the public was able to secure the album the same day. Check my review below.
Naming an album Magna Carta Holy Grail seems right in vein with the theme of Watch The Throne, but this is a very different album. Jay-Z is proud to be Blue Ivy’s father. He’s happy with his wife, Beyonce. And he’s a billionaire. But the album is decidedly a bit deeper than that. With no “traditional” promotion- meaning no singles or music videos, few artists could conjure the same organic interest. Kanye West comes to mind. As does Beyonce who’s on a full world tour performing songs we’ve been listening to for three years. Let me start by saying, the production is the true standout. Timbaland served as an executive producer of the project. And if you thought Timbaland was having a good year with the release of The 20/20 Experience, this just catapulted him as the go-to producer of the year. Check him discussing his role in the project, below.
The album contains 16 tracks, no bonuses. The first half of the album is much more enjoyable to listen to, in my opinion. “Holy Grail” features a gritty Justin Timberlake honing in on his southern roots crooning like he’s singing the blues. This story isn’t about the blues of being broke or losing the love of your life though. Instead, Jay and Justin are reflecting on the pitfalls (and peaks) of being famous. And rich. A little Nirvana helps to drive that theme home. Jay admitted to not owning a Picasso, but he can dream and spit his art shit like the best of them, as evidenced on “Picasso Baby.” The next track, “Tom Ford,” could easily transition to radio plays, including Beyonce‘s whispered ad-libs and Timbaland’s almost signature beat change. Listen below.
(Editor’s Note: Beyonce’s adlibs are credited as “Third World Trill.” Hilarity.)
One of the most infectious tracks on the album features Rick Ross. “FuckwithmeyouknowIgotit” opens with a declaration from an uncredited contributor about Black history and the culture’s desire to have gold and “shiny things.” Because of this opening, the track feels abbreviated. “Oceans” was reportedly recorded two years ago. Which would make sense since Frank Ocean is included and he’s been noticeably absent in the past year and a half. This is the album’s first appearance by Pharrell as a producer. The overall theme of the track explores Jay’s visceral thoughts in regards to our history and The Middle Passage v. his current success. These are the Jay tracks that I enjoy. On the surface, it seems like your standard shit talking affair. Then you tune in and listen to Frank Ocean singing for his life and it clicks.
The next three tracks, (F.U.T.W., SomewhereInamerica, Crown) all feature Jay discussing how it feels to be wealthy when he started from the projects. Oh, and he makes fun of how scary that is to 1% of America. In the first “interlude” of the album, Jay hilariously tells Miley Cyrus to twerk even though high society is looking down on him for his new money. “Crown” sounds the most like a track Kanye would be featured on (or Travis $cott, if you’re paying attention). We all know it was produced by 16 year old producer WondaGurl by now. The auto tune and haunting feel of the track could’ve slid right in Yeezus (or Owl Pharaoh). Skip a track and an interlude and you have “Part II (On the Run)” featuring Beyonce. This tracks serves as the 10 years later follow-up to “03 Bonnie and Clyde.” Though we’re all still waiting for a new Beyonce album, she’s busy crooning about her love for Jay and how she’d hold his heart and his gun. And I believe her. It was rumored this track was originally going to be featured on her album, but it works here. It’s a feel good track that comes at just the right time. Check it below.
Easily one of my favorite sounding tracks is only 56 seconds long. Mike Will Made It produced it and features lines like, “Girl why you never ready, for as long as you took You better look like Halle Berry. Or Beyonce” and “I brought sand to the beach, cause my beach is better.” And then “BBC” happened. I get it. They’re having fun. Nas randomly shows up. But it doesn’t fit for me. The next three tracks are the most personally introspective of the entire album. One discusses his struggles as a fatherless child who finds himself a father. The other discusses his pressure to be successful and take care of his entire family. The last track on the album follows both themes. It’s a familiar Jay that harkens back to pre-billionaire Jay with problems and concerns we can all relate to. Listen to my favorite interlude “Beach is Better,” below.
In the current state of music with reviews being boiled down to Twitter posts, if an album isn’t a classic upon first listen, it’s garbage. Let me start by saying that most albums can’t be deemed classic within a year of being released, much less within a few hours. good kid, m.A.A.d city is the only recent album that I feel was deserving of this praise. That being said, Magna Carta Holy Grail is a good album. One of Jay’s best? Nah. Better than your favorite rapper’s though? Probably. As his 12th studio album, I don’t think this is one to be ashamed of (see: most of Kingdom Come, Blueprint 2). With that being said, I still find that the true highlight of the album is the sound and production, not the content. Kanye West is noticeably absent, as was Jay-Z on on Yeezus. During his Twitter takeover yesterday, Jay hinted at Watch the Thorone 2 coming soon. Thank God… or Hov… or Yeezus. Whatever.
Standout tracks: Holy Grail, Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit, Oceans, Part II, Beach is Better
The Dream released a new track from his new album. This time featuring Jay-Z. Roll your windows down, open your sunroof, and check it out below.
This made me feel good. I’m so ready for the summer. And I’m ready for this new album that’s set to feature Beyonce, 2 Chainz, Kelly Rowland, Fabolous, Big Sean, Pusha T, and more. IV Play drops May 28th. You copping?
Jay-Z is reminding you that he’s still here. And can still shut the internets down. He released a new track “Open Letter” where he addresses a number of things including his recent trip to Cuba with Beyonce. Check it.
The White House even fielded a question regarding their recent trip. Ha!
I love TDE and how they come off as one big happy family. Their behind the scenes clips are also some of my faves. Today, they shared a clip of Kendrick Lamar being surprised by the addition of Jay-Z‘s verse to his remix to “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Check it below.
Aw, I love his excitement and saying, “Jay though?” The humility of this crew is amazing. If you haven’t heard the full remix because you’re living under a effin rock, you can hear it HERE.
Well surprise, surprise. After 7 years of virtual silence, Justin Timberlake shocked and delighted fans when he announced the release of new solo material. And not just that, but a collaboration and tour with Jay-Z. AND Timbaland was once again his partner in crime. Check my review below. *Note* This is a review of the standard album without the deluxe tracks.
If you were a fan of the sound and feel of FutureSex/LoveSounds, you’ll find The 20/20 Experience borrows a similar structure, but with a more mature sound. This is completely fitting since Justin has grown up and he’s a married man now.
It doesn’t make for a boring listening experience, at all. Each track displays Justin‘s falsetto and the dual listening experience of a beat drop after you think the song is complete. This leads to 95% of the album consisting of songs longer than 6 minutes. To that, he said
When we were making the record I said, ‘If Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin can do 10-minute songs and Queen can do 10-minute songs then why can’t we?’ We’ll figure out the radio edits later.”
But it works. The album starts with “Pusher Love Girl.” Justin open the album comparing love to the best drugs money can buy. The beat drops into a more bass-heavy breakdown of the song. The polarizing “Suit & Tie” makes an appearance next. And sandwiched between other tracks of the album, it sounds great. Jay-Z serves as the only feature on the album, outside of some Timbaland adlibs.
Skip “Don’t Hold the Wall” and revel in “Strawberry Bubblegum” a little bit. Swim in it, immerse yourself in the sounds. Justin croons about how much he loves the taste and the smell of… It’s a feel good, finger-snapping track about how Justin loves you just the way you are. Yup, he’s talking to you. Well at least, I thought he was talking to me. “Tunnel Vision” picks up the pace a bit, but then an appearance of “Spaceship Coupe” slows everything down again and is an early favorite. The breakdown gives me life! The album continues to show that Justin isn’t making music for TRL-aged teenagers anymore. He’s making the music for those of us that actually remember TRL. He’s grown up with us. “That Girl” is a great example of this. Check “Spaceship Coupe” below.
The album kinda takes a turn I wasn’t expecting or asking for with “Let the Groove Get In.” And the lackluster “Mirrors” follows. If it weren’t for “Blue Ocean Floor,” I’d tell you to end the album after “That Girl.” But the fluid “Blue Ocean Floor” ends the non-deluxe version of the album nicely. It’s like placing a shiny blue bow on the entire package of an experience. All in all, Justin Timberlake has made such a departure from his N’Sync days, I almost forget he was in a boy band. He has solidified himself as someone to pay attention to, in music, while still challenging the status quo of a radio hit. It was recently announced that another 10 tracks, presented as The 20/20 Experience 2, will premiere before the end of the year. I’m excited to hear the complete package.
My Overall Rating: 4/5… Justin Timberlake presents a matured package of songs with excellent production from Timbaland. It’s an entire listening experience meant to fully engage listeners.
Standout Tracks: Pusher Love Girl, Spaceship Coupe, That Girl
Skippable Tracks: Let the Groove Get In, Mirrors
You can download the album HERE.