Jay Z is the most powerful man in hip-hop. The man hasn't released an album in over a year and is still hands down the most influential figure in the game; I mean, he has the President and now, even better, The Rock quoting him. If you were to ask 10 people over the age of 50 to name a rapper, I bet all 10 would name Jay Z. He may not be the best anymore, but the man is still a force in the industry. Also, he can still rap his ass off, so there's that.
Still, somewhere between Basquiat auctions, trips to Cuba and zillion dollar tours, Jay has lost a step. There's no denying that. But to say he can't, or never could, rap is balderdash. The man has been consistently dropping dopeness for decades and still people throw shade. Well, I'm here to defend Jay Z like we have Big Sean, Kanye and Weezy, with another Prove They Can Rap. This time, I'll highlight four Jay-Z songs that prove the man is a legend and then pick a winner.
If you are new to the series, here's the deal. Somehow, someway, there's a person out there who loves hip-hop, but has never actually heard Jay Z rap, and doubts that he's very good. Your job is to prove to that person with one song, and one song only, that Jay is actually one of the best rappers walking the Earth and is worthy of his godlike status. Which record are you going with? No mention of the song's production, the album, nothing. We're talking just rapping. You have one song or guest verse to showcase Jay's lyricism, flow, delivery, and that special X-factor that every great rapper must possess. This isn't a "best song" debate. "Girls Girls Girls" might be your favorite, but you can't tell me that's his best rap performance. It's so hard to put just the verses in a vacuum, but that's what you have to do. Make that hater say, "Shit, I guess he can rap." Which song are you going with?
I have the tendency to shy away from this one because it's arguably his biggest hit, but there's a reason for that. Jay is known for his braggadocio, but here he displays some legendary storytelling. I think it's rare for a storytelling song to get this much widespread love. Obviously, hip-hop heads love "Ms. Fat Booty," but those kind of songs aren't usually commercially viable. "99 Problems" on the othe hand was radio-ready and told a pretty dope story. I think a lot of the song's success was due to Jay's intensity. He doesn't really rap super fast or "go in," but his flow is so powerful and commanding it really resonates. It's has plenty of memorable one liners ("bust a grape in a fruit fight") but still has that storytelling backbone that all great rappers must possess. After all, this is the art of spinning a story. Not necessarily my pick, as you'll see, but you must have this one in the discussion, right? Right.
"Public Service Announcement":
Now this shit right here?! This is some real, gritty rap. Literally every single line gives you that "oh shit," Deandre Jordan face reaction. Jay peppers you with bar after bar and the end result is an epic effort. There is no real hook, just a pun-heavy Jay Z killin' the mic. Trying to pick my favorite line is like trying to pick a favorite child; it's hard but everyone has a favorite and if they tell you otherwise they are lying. "CEO of the R-O-C," "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on, I'm complex" and "I check cheddar like a food inspector," are all memorable, but for me, "Got the hottest chick in the game wearin' my chain," takes the cake; and it's true now more than it was then. Flow-wise, Jay does a great job of going hard, while still maintaining that laid-back, fluid style. I love the little lean he has in his flow towards the end because it adds to the aura of being the coolest dude on the planet. I know this record word for word, and it wasn't hard to learn at all, each line just burns into you brain. This may just end up being my pick.
"U Don't Know(Remix)":
First off, I'm picking the remix because it's exponentially better than the original. Why? Because Jay is epic. I love how he can be so cool and relaxed yet have a "go hard" switch he can flip on in the blink of an eye and this remix is a prefect example. Most rappers would try to go bat shit crazy to match the beat from Just Blaze, but Jay seems so nonchalant about this one. The energy and passion are there, so too are the bars, but his delivery is what takes the cake. A perfect blend of style and substance. I think this approach shows just how great he is. He can get you so juiced up and really doesn't have to over-exert himself; there is a natural energy. Plus that ziti line is the stuff dreams are made of.
"Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)":
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Another day, another great Jay remix. Normally, Kanye is the one who raps circles around his guests, but here, he gets a dose of his own medicine. Jay kills Kanye and it's even more impressive because Kanye's verse is great. Granted, Jay's input isn't exactly as meaningful as Kanye's, but in terms of pure rapping, it's on another level. It's that trademark Jigga energy that pushes the effort over the edge. His passion and power really make his bars stand out; who even care's what he is saying when how he is saying it is so natural? In my eyes ears Jay has always been a very by-the-books emcee. I mean he's great, but his songs follow a more traditional arrangement. However, here, he rattles off a few extra bars and it really cranks things up to another level. I thought he was going to stop at, "Now the Louis Vuitton Don's timin' couldn't be better," but then we get that last little bit...
Okay, so what he says still matters, but you know what? Jay kills it lyrically too. I mean "I'm not a business man, I'm a business mannn" is one of Jay's signature lines. Plus, those few bars about how Bleek could basically live off Jay is awesome; Bleek may not like it, but I love it. I know I said "PSA" was my pick, but Jigga's determined verse here might be better.
"Dead Presidents II"- It's been re-done a million times, and nobody has touched Jay.
"Brooklyn's Finest" - Jay going bar for bar with Biggie. Yup.
"Seen It All"- Jay's best guest verse in years. Some Reasonable Doubt-esque shit.
"Diamonds" had a good run, but in the end there are just too many bars on "PSA" for me to be swayed. "PSA" all day erryday.
But who cares what I think? What is YOUR pick DJBooth Nation?
UPDATE: We flipped your most popular picks into a "15 Songs That Prove Jay Z is a Dope Rapper" playlist.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]