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Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The best of Jay-Z

I just did some notes for a compilation for a friend who wanted an introduction to Jay-Z. If you're not that familiar with the greatest rapper of all time, then below is a good place to start:

1. Jay-Z – December 4th (The Black Album)
Fitting that we start with the voice of Gloria Carter, Jay-Z’s mother. Taken from what is undoubtedly Jigga’s best album, this is a proper introduction to Shawn Carter’s background, from his childhood, his parents’ divorce, his drug dealing and then into rap fame.

2. Jay-Z – Izzo (H.O.V.A.) (Blueprint)
Another intro to Jay-hova. This is one of many great tracks from the Blueprint album that was produced and written by an up-and-coming producer called Kanye West. A perfect blend of pop and street rhymes, a typical Jay-Z trick.

3. Jay-Z – Kingdom Come (Kingdom Come)
The innovative use of samples and interpolations by Jay-Z and his various producers is another example of what sets him apart. Here he bends Rick James’ Superfreak into a sinister, spooky backing track. He even gives a nod to the other famous use of that sample, with his line “let me dust off the hammer, damn you can’t touch this”.

4. Jay-Z – 99 Problems (The Black Album)
Arguably his biggest hit single, this was a masterstroke from producer Rick Rubin. You’ll of course know the explosive chorus, but the second verse, about an encounter with the police, is where the magic of this track’s at.

5. DJ Danger Mouse – What More Can I Say? (The Grey Album)
One of the many points that sets Jay-Z apart is that he attracts interesting people to work with him – the diversity of Coldplay, Rick Rubin and Linkin Park have really put him ahead of most other rappers. On this track, a new star, Danger Mouse, announced himself, by putting Jigga’s raps from the Black Album over myriad samples from The Beatles’ White Album, creating the internet-only and now rare, Grey Album. Danger Mouse has went on to be one half of Gnarls Barkley as well as producing Beck, The Shortwave Set, The Black Keys, Gorillaz and many more.

6. Jay-Z – Lucifer (The Black Album)
Another sample that most people are familiar with from an older song (this time Prodigy’s Outta Space), but again, Kanye West finds a new way to use it. Like Jay says at the top of this track, “Kanyeezy, you did it again”.

7. Jay-Z & UGK – Big Pimpin’ (The Life & Times of S. Carter)
A great club track, and one of My Wife's favourites. This was one of many highlights of his Hyde Park gig last summer.

8. Jay-Z – Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love) (Blueprint)
It’s the Kanye/Jay dream team again. The gospel-esque breakdown at the 2.10 mark is, as they say, sick.

9. Jay-Z – Takeover (Blueprint)
Another great sample, another great track, this time with The Doors’ Five To One. This is a straightforward diss track, with all five minutes aimed at Mobb Deep, except for the brilliant last line. The placing of this track as the first on the Blueprint album only serves to heighten its controversy and impact.

10. Jay-Z – You Must Love Me (Blueprint)
A genuinely poignant ballad for his mother, this is a rare case of a rapper getting sentimentality just right.

11. Jay-Z – Dirt Off Your Shoulder (The Black Album)
I think I’m right in saying that even Barack Obama used the ‘dirt off your shoulder’ gesture at some point in his campaign. Jay-Z’s influence knows no bounds! Produced by Timbaland by the way.

12. Jay-Z featuring Pharrell – I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me) (The Dynasty)
The Neptunes have been regular producers of Jay-Z and this is another straightahead party track.

13. Jay-Z – Girls, Girls, Girls (Blueprint)
This is about as timeless as hip hop gets. Definitely written before Beyonce was on the scene.

14. DJ Danger Mouse – Encore (The Grey Album)
The first time I heard this track was closely followed by the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth times. A stunning cut-up, especially the drum break at 1.24.

15. Coldplay featuring Jay-Z – Lost+ (Prospekt’s March EP)
The unlikely friendship between Jay-Z and Chris Martin has been much publicised, but when the music coming out of it is of good enough quality, then that’s all I care about. This track was on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida album, but then came out on an EP with Jay-Z’s rap added to it.

16. Jay-Z featuring Chris Martin – Beach Chair (Kingdom Come)
We’ll end with the first Jay/Coldplay collaboration, here with a great track from 2006. It’s a shame that this was the track that prompted Kanye and Jay to fall out, based around who had thought of recording with Chris Martin first. Poor old Chris, stuck in the middle.

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