Bagels' Note: I originally started this on Jay-z's actual birthday, December 4th, but got sidetracked with other stuff. Figured I might as well let it go now:
It's been said time and again, and with good reason, that hip hop is a young man's game. Like basketball and most other sports, the rap world is no country for old men. This is true for a number of reasons (the average age of rap fans, erosion of skills) but there are a few exceptions, chiefly everyone's favorite minority basketball owner, Brooklyn's own Shawn Carter aka Jay-z. Hov's been going hard for nearly 20 years now, something unheard of in modern music, let alone hip hop. It's safe to say that he's lost a tick off his fastball, but is still light years ahead of most of his much younger competition, never mind those other veterans his age still grasping to what's left of their career. Today is Jay's birthday (!), and in honor of this occasion we present the top 5 Jay-z verses of all time. I limited myself to only 2 verses from Reasonable Doubt since I could've basically made that entire album his top 50 verses or whatever. Hov!
5) Where I'm From (second verse)- In My Lifetime Vol.1
Jay's done a few Brooklyn anthems (Hello Brooklyn, Brooklyn We Go Hard), but Where I'm From is by far the best (Brooklyn's Finest is great but isn't really about BK as much as just Biggie and Jay talking shit). It's one of the high points of any Jigga concert. Live, Jay cuts it off after "Who's the best emcee, Biggie, Jay-z or Nas" as a transition to what's usually a Biggie song, but the second verse is the highlight of this one.
I'm from the place where the chruch is the flakiest
And niggas is praying to god so long that they Atheist
Where you can't put your vest away and say you'll wear it tomorrow
Cause the day after we'll be saying, damn I was just with him yesterday
I'm a block away from hell, not enough shots away from straight shells
An ounce away from a triple beam still using a hand-held weight scale
Your laughing, you know the place well
Where the Liqour Store's and the base dwell
And Government, fuck Government, niggas polotic themselves
4) Empire State of Mind (third verse)- Blueprint 3
This is one of those songs that was so relentlessly played to death that it's easy to look past it's lyrics. I'll admit the first two verses are kind of lame aside from all the New York references, but the third verse is sneaky good. Even for what's essentially a party song and a somewhat corny NY standard now, Jay slips in some rather dark lyrics about the dangers for young women in big cities.
"Anna the Wintour gets cold, in vogue with your skin out"
3) Dead Presidents II (first verse)- Reasonable Doubt
As I mentioned before, Jay's lost a bit off his fastball so it goes without saying that the majority of his best verses come from his first couple albums. Of all the greatness on Reasonable Doubt, though, his best verses are reserved for the more "serious" tracks, like the number one and two verses on this list. It's hard to pick one from Dead Presidents but I'll go with the first verse (as you can tell there's a theme of melancholy complexity to my choices even if I like when he talks about money, cash, hoes too). I've said it before, but while Jay-z wasn't the first guy to rap about being a drug dealer or criminal, he was the first to really look at dealing drugs in a complex way, or even express any remorse for selling drugs to his own people (Biggie and NaS flirted with this type of thing but never really went past explaining that they sold crack because they were poor more or less). Even when he's talking about murder, it's in a far more poetic way than any rapper up to this point (or maybe since) is able to.
Fuck em, they hate a nigga lovin his life
In all possible ways, know the Feds is buggin my life
Hospital days, reflectin when my man laid up
On the Uptown high block he got his side sprayed up
I saw his life slippin, this is a minor set back
Yo, still in all we livin, just dream about the get back
That made him smile though his eyes said, "Pray for me"
I'll do you one better and slay these niggas faithfully
Murder is a tough thing to digest, it's a slow process
and I ain't got nothin but time.
2) Can I Live (Reasonable Doubt)
Another classic banger off Hov's debut. If you were to play this for that one lady who never heard of Jay-z and then played something off Blueprint 3 or a verse off Watch The Throne, they'd think that you were playing some kind of not so funny joke on them. The voices are similar but how could the same guy who rapped, also rap "No I'm not a virgin, I use my cojones"? It's the same guy but sometime along the way, Jay (like most rappers) either got lazy off his money or his brain eroded. Either way, you'll never hear him rap like this again.
I don't sleep, I'm tired, I feel wired like codeine, these days
a brother gotta admire me from four fiends away
My pain wish it was quick to see, from sellin 'caine
til brains was fried to a fricaissie, can't lie
At the time it never bothered me, at the bar
gettin my thug on properly, my squad and me
lack of respect for authority, laughin hard
Happy to be escapin poverty, however brief
I know this game got valleys and peaks, expectation
for droughts, for precipitation we stack chips, hardly
the youth I used to be, soon to see a mill'in
No more, Big Willie my game has grown prefer you call me William
1) D'evils (Reasonable Doubt)
I love this song. I tell everyone I know that this is the best ever Jay-z song, and here's the reasons: It has a beat by DJ Premier that doesn't really sound like a Primo beat but is still awesome and Jay raps about serious subjects without getting preachy or doing paint by number psycho babble like "I grew up around drug dealers, my environment made me what I am blah blah" (something he struggled to pull off later in his career) Great song.
We used to fight for building blocks
Now we fight for blocks with buildings that make a killing
The closest of friends when we first started
But grew apart as the money grew, and soon grew black-hearted
Thinking back when we first learned to use rubbers
He never learned so in turn I'm kidnapping his baby's mother
My hand around her collar, feeding her cheese
She said the taste of dollars was shitty so I fed her fifties
About his whereabouts I wasn't convinced
So I kept feeding her money 'til her shit started to make sense
Who could ever forsee, we used to stay up all night at slumber parties
now I'm trying to rock this bitch to sleep
All the years we were real close
Now I see his fears through her tears, know she's wishing we were still
Don't cry, it is to be