When talking about the significant birthdays in hip hop, few mean more to the genre than Jay-Z’s. The Brooklyn-bred mogul has turned modest beginnings into a billion-dollar empire while doubling as one of the world’s most popular and influential entertainers. A product of Brooklyn’s Marcy projects, Hov has found success by being a forward thinker and staying ahead of the curve, something he has no problem reminding peers and fans alike. After all, who else could serve as Hip Hop’s “Big Brother?” So, as we wish him a happy 51st birthday, here are the top Jay-Z songs where he lets you know that he sets the trends, we just follow.
The fourth track off of his sophomore album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, “Imaginary Players” has stood the test of time as one of the premier “sh** talking” records in Hip Hop history. Hov spends nearly four-minutes reminding rappers that their records don’t sell as well as his, they’re not as fly as him and their money simply doesn’t stack up. As part of his earlier discography, it’s always fun to hear Jay – Z brag about cars, money and jewelry before his ascension to mogul status. The intro alone sets the tone for the whole record.
I gotta be like the pioneer to this sh**, you know
I was popping that Cristal
When all y’all n***** thought it was beer and sh**, you know
Wearing that platinum sh**
When all y’all chicks thought it was silver and sh**
I gotta really be the pioneer of this sh**
This is an interesting part of Jay – Z’s career. Hip Hop has always been driven by the youth, yet on this record, a 35-year-old Jay tried to convince the world that all the youthful materialism (rims, jewelry, gunplay) that had been a part of the rap culture for decades was now irrelevant.
I’m young enough to know the right car to buy
Yet grown enough not to put rims on it
I got that six-deuce with curtains so you can’t see me
And I didn’t even have to put tints on it
I don’t got the bright watch, I got the right watch
I don’t buy out the bar, I bought the night spot
I got the right stock
I got stockbrokers that’s movin’ it like white tops
It was certainly gaudy of him to believe that he could single handedly shift hip hop’s culture to fit where he was at in his own life. But, the fact that he was able to turn this train of thought into an entire album — Kingdom Come — and not get ridiculed is impressive in itself.
On to the Next One
One of the lead singles off of 2009’s The Blueprint 3 album, this record continues the trend of Jay – Z letting rappers know that they simply do not have the connections that he does, so the moves he make will always be of a higher plateau. The Swizz Beats assisted record sees Hov double down on his new way of thought, letting listeners know that he’s only moving forward and since he’s used to setting trends, this would just be another one that the masses would eventually follow.
I had Oprah chillin’ in the projects, Had her out in Bed Stuy chillin’ on the steps, Drinking quarter waters I gotta be the best,
M-J at Summerjam, Obama on the text,
Y’all should be afraid of what I’m gonna do next.
He also continues his hilarious vendetta against throwback jerseys, which have been and always will be a staple of Hip Hop culture.
Used to rock a throwback, balling on the corner
Now I rock a teller suit, looking like a owner
U Don’t Know
One of the very best records from one of the best album’s in Jay – Z’s discography, “U Don’t Know” is the 6th track off of the original Blueprint album. The record serves as a reminder that Jay – Z’s business acumen was crafted from his time on the street. Backed by thumping drums and horns, Hov reminds everyone that if he’s nothing else, he’ll always be a hustler. From selling crack cocaine, to records, to clothing, he’ll always find a way to remain on top.
I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell
I am a hustler baby, I’ll sell water to a well
His ambition alone should serve as motivation.
Could make 40 off a brick but one rhyme could beat that
And if somebody would of told ’em that Hov’ would sell clothing
Heh, not in this lifetime, wasn’t in my right mind
That’s another difference that’s between me and them
Heh, I’m smarten up, open the market up
I invented swag
One of the very best songs of 2011, “Otis” is titled after legendary soul singer Otis Redding because of the heavy sampling of his voice throughout. But make no mistake, this song is 2:58 of unabashed braggadocio. The opening line sets the tone and from there on Hov and ‘Ye take turns letting us know that they’re the hottest sh** out and the biggest trendsetters in the game (and who would argue?).
I made “Jesus Walks” I’m never going to Hell
Couture level flow, it’s never going on sale
Luxury rap, the Hermes of verses
Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive
I get it custom, you a customer
You ain’t customed to going through customs
You ain’t been nowhere, huh?
After years of turning up his nose at those who would brag about women, cars and jewelry, Jay – Z sounded rejuvenated on this record.
Poppin’ bottles, puttin’ supermodels in the cab, proof
I guess I got my swagger back, truth
New watch alert, Hublot’s
Or the big face Rollie I got two of those
Arm out the window through the city I maneuver slow
Cock back, snap back
See my cut through the holes
We don’t know if Jay – Z will release anymore music, but his historic longevity has allowed us to see the maturation of the most influential figure out of New York City and for that, we can be grateful. While a few of these attempts at leading the charge have been hilariously head scratching, the impact, innovation and hustler’s mentality is something to be revered. Happy Birthday Hova!