The 25 Best Jay Z Songs

Jay Z gets credit for being the shrewdest businessman (pardon me—business, man) in hip-hop history. He's applauded for being one of the richest rappers alive. He gets props for having the baddest chick in the game. But Hov rarely gets props for his songwriting chops. Yet, he has the proven ability to write about any topic imaginable, including some you wouldn't dare dream of. Like selling crack to your mother or shooting your brother (he detailed both on the same track). 

Over the course of his decades-long career, International Hov has touched on many topics over diverse beats. Give Jay Z a flute loop or bleeps of ukulele over drums and he'll give you a hit.

Here are the 25 best Jay Z songs of all time.

25
"Pump It Up (Freestyle)"

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Poor Joe Budden. He'll never forget the day Jay Z jacked his biggest song and made it his. Hov spazzed like a starving rookie on this one.

24
"Oceans" (Ft. Frank Ocean)

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The swirling waves, the coiling narrative and the stone-cold vocals from Frank Ocean help make "Oceans" one of Jay Z's best songs ever.

See Also: Jay Z -

23
"This Life Forever'"

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Jay blacked out on this sinister track from his early days. No syrupy hooks. No cameos. No bull. Just Jay reppin' the streets of Marcy and embracing the notion of being stuck in "This Life Forever."

22
"Meet the Parents"

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If anyone ever tells you that Jay Z is not an elite storyteller, don't cry "liar, liar." Just cue up "Meet the Parents" and moonwalk out of the room.

21
"No Hook"

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Jay-Z - American Gangster © Def Jam.

It's not every day that you get to hear Jay rap freely without a hook in sight. That rare occasion arrived on American Gangster highlight "No Hook." This track is also memorable for its drama. "Please don’t compare me to other rappers," Jay barks on "No Hook", "Compare me to trappers. I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris. And Luda's my dude, I ain’t trying to dis. Like Frank Lucas is cool, but I ain’t tryin’ to snitch." Lucas angrily replied, "Please tell Mr. Jay-Z to watch his mouth."

20
"Can't Knock the Hustle"

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"Can't Knock the Hustle" is a bonafide hip-hop classic, not just because of Jay's smug rhyming but also because Mary J. Blige's cameo is purely magical. 

19
"Brooklyn's Finest"

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In which two of the greatest MCs team up to up to salute their hood and throw barbs at rivals. Prime showcase of Brooklyn's finest hip-hop exports.

See also: Top 10 Rap Songs About Brooklyn | Top 10 Biggie Smalls Collaborations

18
"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"

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"Hard Knock Life" was a career-defining song for Jay. It's one of his most commercially successful hits to date. The single reached No. 15 on Billboard, earned a gold plaque, reached No. 15 and received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance. Ever the shrewd businessman, Jay capitalized on the song's popularity by naming his album Vol 2...Hard Knock Life. The album moved over 5 million units, making it Jay Z's best-selling album to date.

17
"Feelin' It" (Ft. Mecca)

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Jay Z rides a jazzy Ski beat, while Mecca works an earwormy hook. (Trivia: "Feelin' It" was originally designed for Camp Lo's Geechi Suede, flow, hook and all.)

16
"Dear Summer"

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Jay Z, a well-known ghostwriter, once bragged:"S. Carter, ghostwriter, and for the right price I can even make YO' sh-t tighter." But that deal wasn't confined to the discrete clientele. Jay openly enhanced Memphis Bleek's album by jumping on a whole track, arguably the most memorable cut on Bleek's 534.

15
"Big Pimpin'"

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UGK. Photo © Jive Records

Back when Dirty South was but a blip on the rap radar, Jay Z connected with UGK on a blockbuster Timbaland beat.

14
"Where I'm From"

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A hard-hitting ode to BK. And the song that marked a turning point in the Jay Z vs Nas feud: "Who's the best -- Biggie, Jay Z and Nas."

See also: History of Jay Z vs Nas Feud | Top 10 Rap Songs About Brooklyn

13
"You Must Love Me"

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A gripping tale in which Jay admits hurting his loved ones for selfish reasons. This is the side of Jay that was tucked away for years, but he opened up a real scab and created a gem in the process.

12
"Blue Magic"

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Jay-Z. © Def Jam

This pure, uncut slice of street hop triggered the campaign for American Gangster. "Blue Magic" wound up in the Bonus Tracks section, but it still jams harder than most lead singles.

See also: "Blue Magic" Video

11
"U Don't Know"

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LeBron James and Jay Z. (Photo © Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

A Just Blaze rocket from The Blueprint. Give Jay Z a hardbody beat and he'll reward you with quotable rhymes. 

10
"Rap Game/Crack Game"

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Jay-Z and Nas. © Scott Gries/Getty Images

The Nas sample on "Rap Game/Crack Game" would eventually overshadow Jay Z's performance on the song, thanks to its role in that famous battle. Still, Jay was putting on a clinic with surgical rhymes.

9
"Song Cry"

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Jay Z isn't the vulnerable type. He's not scornful, either. He rarely toes the "back then they didn't want me" trope. The one time he did, he emerged with a masterwork. "Song Cry" is one for the ages.

8
"99 Problems"

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Rick Rubin flips the calendar back to '86. Jigga takes it back to his smart-Alec crook days. A ferocious hit emerges.

7
"PSA"

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Jay-Z headlined the inaugural edition of Made in America. © Marco Torres/Village Voice Media

Focused and fierce. Arguably the greatest interlude in rap. And you haven't fully lived until you've witnessed "PSA" live. Venues basically pay Jay to show up and watch the crowd rap the entire song. 

6
"What More Can I Say"

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Jay Z. (Photo © Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Remember when Jay Z retired because he thought he'd said it all? He "went out" on a high note, but "the Michael Jordan of rap" would soon bounce back like round ball.

5
"Empire State of Mind"

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Jay Z dotes on the Big Apple and ends up with his biggest smash yet. You know you have a hit when everyone from Paris to Prague is singing along to a New York anthem. Imagine if he teamed up with Nas for a re-do.

4
"Can I Live"

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Word has it that "Can I Live" marked the last time Jay Z put pen to pad. It's easy to see why. The song is meticulously crafted with layers of internal rhymes and ruminative thoughts.

See also: 10 Great Hip-Hop Songs That Sampled Isaac Hayes

3
"D'evils"

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A highlight from Reasonable Doubt, "D'evils" is dark and deep - a harrowing tale of tragic ambition and lost friendships

2
"Takeover"

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Cooly riding a militant Kanye West beat, Jay Z. Jay lobs a string of venomous barbs at Prodigy and Nas. After two full verses of Mobb Deep disses, Jay Z turns his attention to Nas for the next 32 bars. With scholarly focus, Jay Z dismantles Nas' earlier attacks on "Stillmatic" Freestyle while launching a few insults of his own. "Takeover" is one of the most effective diss songs hip-hop has ever seen.

1
"Dead Presidents II"

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The road to "Dead Presidents II" was paved with trial and error; hopes and disappointment; toil and joy. The first, slightly subpar version of the song, didn't make the final cut for Reasonable Doubt. To add to the uncertainty, Nas is said to have been booked for a cameo but he never made it to the recording studio. In the end, Jay Z only needed a mic and a Ski beat to make his greatest song ever. Throughout the classic track, he spells out his lofty goals while kicking some of the illest lines he's ever coined. Jay may someday write a song better than "Dead Presidents II," but this is his best song to date.