Worst to Best: Jay Z's Albums Ranked

Jay Z is one of the greatest rappers of our generation. His catalog runneth over with hits. His albums aren't too shabby, either. What follows is a rundown of Jay's albums, ranked from worst to best.

This album shouldn't exist. Jay Z and R. Kelly weren't even on the same page when Unfinished Business arrived. Besides, many of the songs sounded like leftovers from the first installment. A career lowpoint for both stars.

Just before assuming the corporate mantle at Def Jam, Jay Z dusted off his mic for a collaborative album with Linkin Park. All the songs are mashups, which makes Collision Course a bit tricky to evaluate. The mash-ups weren't exactly terrible, but they didn't threaten the original songs, either.

Sure, it had a few fine moments, like the memorable, Devin the Dude-assisted "P***y," but overall this sounded like a quick cash-in by two artists in their peak.

History will vindicate Jay Z's first full-time shot at "corporate rap." As is the case with most firsts, Kingdom Come had its imperfections. Jay was still mastering the delicate dance between legitimate success and street credibility and stubbed his toe in the process.

In the heat of his battle with Nas, Jay Z was eager to demonstrate his industry clout. So he rounded up every big name with a rhyme book for the follow-up to his 2001 masterpiece. The result? A dizzying mess of songs, with more duds than gems. In a rare display of modesty, Jay would later trim the lengthy double-album to one compact compilation, The Blueprint 2.1. It was too little too late.
Ah...the good ol' days, before Jay Z learned to be more selective with his choice of collaborators. Despite his underlings' attempt to bog down The Dynasty, Hov's heavy-lifting kept it from going completely down the drain.

No, it doesn't live up to the original Blueprint. But that was never Jay's artistic goal with The Blueprint 3 anyway. If anything, Part 3 exists to reassure Hov disciples of his staying power. It also allowed Jay to test his strength against the rising stars of the day -- J. Cole, Drake, and even Kanye West who bodied him on "Run This Town."

The year is '99 and Jay Z is just starting to come into his own as a pop star. Vol 3 best exemplifies the hustler/entertainer duality that would ultimately propel him to the top of the charts for years. Hardbody production courtesy of Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and Rockwilder help give Vol 3 its unmistakable mainstream identity. Highlights include: "Big Pimpin'" and "Do It Again."

Twelve albums into his career, Jay Z now feels more comfortable trying new ideas—new beats, new concepts, new marketing schemes, and a whole lotta new ways to say "I'm paid."

I can't think of five rappers doing work today who can pull off a decent live rap album. Sure, Jay Z had The Roots to back him up, but he still had to deliver on his end of the deal. Unplugged brought many of Jay's familiar hits to life, giving some sorta soul to even the grimiest of his rhymes. That live collaboration with Mary J. Blige on "Can't Knock the Hustle" is still one for the ages.
Like an epic film, American Gangster follows a logical trajectory: The celebratory "Roc Boys," with its triumphant horns captures the glitz and glam that accompany success. Nas joins him to explore the spoils of "Success," and it all comes crashing down on the coda, "Fallin'." Concept rap album done right.

With Jay Z's hustler gruff now polished to utmost luster, Vol. 2 would become his first major commercial coup. The success made boastful tunes like "Money Ain't a Thang" and "Can I Get A..." seem that much more authentic. Here, Jay scores his first No. 1 debut, selling 5.5 million units and bagging a Gramophone for Best Rap Album.

Great chemistry. Potent production. Stellar songwriting. Curious storytelling. Expensive tastes. Sumptuous swag. Ugh..nice watch. Tom Ford suits. Sheepskin coats. New money. 808s and blueprints. It will be a while before we see another hip-hop pair as dominant -- culturally and artistically -- as these two. Bow down.
For a rapper who only set out to drop one album, In My Lifetime turned out to be a solid follow-up to Reasonable Doubt. This time, Jay turns up the braggadocio, while retaining the intelligent thug persona that underscored his debut, Reasonable Doubt. He's only two albums in at this point, but he already sounds like a veteran. Highlights include: "Where I'm From" and "Rap Game/Crack Game."
Put aside the hullabaloo around his retirement for a second; The Black Album was truly a career-defining album. If Jay Z had kept his promise to bury his mic after this album, he would have gone out on top. Album #8 produced instabangers like "99 Problems" and "What More Can I Say," as well as the Just Blaze-produced concert favorite "P.S.A."

It's impossible to exaggerate the significance of The Blueprint to Jay Z's career -- an album so great not even Osama bin Laden could stop its flight to the top. Blueprint arrived on the same day as the tragic terrorist events of 9/11/01. It solidified Jay's place as a contender for the New York crown. From power pop ("Izzo (H.O.V.A.)") to thug tears ("Song Cry"), Jay demonstrated range and versatility throughout the album. The Blueprint is easily one of the best albums of the 2000s -- in any genre.

By all creative standards, Jay Z's first album was his best. Jay Z often says that Reasonable Doubt took him an entire life to make, and it shows. His rhymes were sharper, his flow crispier. Before Reasonable Doubt, mafioso rap lacked nuance. Jay studied his peers and perfected their template, bringing a vulnerable side that personified the usual street characters. On one hand, Jay romanticized the materialistic life; on the other, he confronted the personal regrets that stemmed from said obsession with glamour. The result? An album that served both as an honest narrative of the ills of street life and an unrepentant defense of it. One of the best rap has witnessed.