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10 Essential Jay-Z Songs Before Magna Carta Holy Grail

10 Essential Jay-Z Songs Before Magna Carta Holy Grail
Photo by Marco Torres

Ah, Independence Day. A day for celebration of pride and patriotism, and to go out back and fire up the grill with a couple of cold ones. Unfortunately, I'll have to get a raincheck on that one, because I have bigger plans this July 4th. This year I'll be settling in and spending the day with the brand new album from legendary rapper Jay-Z. You may have heard of him.

If you've heard of him, but haven't actually heard him, you've been living under a rock for the past 17 years. You've also been missing out on some of the greatest hip-hop ever made. So if this is your first experience with Hova and you want to visit the back catalogue first, here's ten to grab on iTunes before you get into Magna Carta Holy Grail.

10. "Show Me What You Got" An underrated jam from Jay-Z's first post-retirement effort, Kingdom Come, this one features an incredible beat from Just Blaze and Hov's typical larger-than-life verses.

9. "Ignorant Shit" Featuring another great Just Blaze beat and a great verse from longtime now-former collaborator Beanie Siegel, "Ignorant Shit" sees Jay-Z intelligently addressing his critics, especially the ones who blame him for other people's bad behavior and language. The Don Imus references are dated, but the overall message holds up today.

8. "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" If "Ignorant Shit" was the more intelligent response to critics, "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" is the "fuck the haters" response, and one of the best ever at that. It became so famous, it introduced the term to the masses and became accepted parlance.

 

7. "Murder to Excellence" One of the darkest, hardest-rocking tracks off Jay-Z and Kanye West's collaborative album Watch the Throne, "Murder to Excellence" features two parts with the two rappers trading verses about black life in America from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low. It's one of the most insightful tracks in either rapper's career, and it sounds like it should be in a Scorcese movie.

6. "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" The classic track from The Blueprint, featuring an awesome sample by the recently deceased soul/R&B singer Bobby "Blue" Bland. For many younger people, Jay-Z and Kanye West's collaborations on these soul beats was our introduction to artists like Bland, and it remains one of the greatest examples of that style in Jay-Z's discography.

5. "D'Evils" There's so much on Reasonable Doubt to choose from, but I'm going to pass by the canonized classics, even as good as they are, and suggest a deep cut: "D'Evils," one of Jay's smartest, most emotional examinations of the perils of street life. Plus, it features one of DJ Premier's best beats.

 

4. "U Don't Know" One more song from Just Blaze, originally off of the first edition of The Blueprint. It's typical Jay-Z subject matter of being a hustler, but on this track he's on fire with a sizzling beat that just keeps rising in intensity.

3. "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" Jay-Z's always claimed to be the king of the summer, and it's hard to argue with him considering hits like this, but I suspect it's really always been Pharrell that really rules the hottest months of the year. The "Get Lucky" singer dominates this classic track produced by his group the Neptunes.

2. "My 1st Song" "My 1st Song" was intended to be Jay's last song as a solo artist, and while that didn't happen, it is still one of his greatest. It's a straight recounting of his meteoric rise to fame, and it's pretty inspirational. Actually, so much so that President Obama listened to it often during his 2012 campaign.

 

1. "Big Pimpin'" Jay-Z's ultimate summer jam, regardless of how horribly misogynistic it is or the irony of Jigga claiming he'll never settle down with a woman. An Egyptian beat from Timbaland just evokes the summer sun and sandy beaches, and Southeast Texas guests UGK completely destroy.



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