Sunday, November 2, 2008

Call and response: The best of Jay-Z

Man, Avery went ahead and made me catch the vapors with his Top 15 list from Jay-Z. Now I gotta respond.

He has a solid list but, yo, I got my own favorites. I'll just go with a very imperfect Top 10 to keep my mind from springing a leak - there's way too many to choose from. And I'll just admit up front the list was heavily tilted toward my two favorite Jay albums, "The Black Album" and "The Blueprint":

10. Ignorant Shit - I had to find room on the list for this song, which had been out on mixtapes for at least three years before it was finally included on the "American Gangster" soundtrack with a verse from Beanie Sigel. I prefer the original, which finds Hov at his braggadocios best.

9. Beach Chair - Probably the best of Hov's "post-retirement" songs to me. The faint kick drums from Dre and the subtle strings from Chris Martin provide the perfect backdrop for Jay. It really feels like Jay wrote this song while lounging at the beach.

8. D'evils - I first heard this joint on a college radio station in Houston that played East Coast hip-hop for about an hour on Friday nights. More than any song, this officially made me a fan of Hov. It's gotten overlooked amid all the renewed appreciation for "Reasonable Doubt." But I always thought it was one of the best on the album.

7. Girls, Girls, Girls - A playful look at the life of a player. It was a really nice touch to add some vocals from Q-Tip, Slick Rick and the Biz. Jay even manages to throw in an old Eddie Murphy joke in his rhyme. Nice.

6. Never Change - This song was, to me, proof that Kanye really knew how to bring the best out of Jay. The track fits perfectly with Hov's laid-back style. Loved these lines: "young brother, big city, 8 million stories/old heads taught me young'n walk softly/carry a big clip that'll get niggas off me."

5. Where I'm From - Bringing his borough front and center, Jay gives a proper salute to his beloved Brooklyn. No matter where they're from, kinfolks always have love for their block. I used to rhyme "Mo City" over "Marcy" whenever this song came on. Eh, who am I kidding? I still do it.

4. Brooklyn's Finest - Here we have the first hint that Jay-Z will be a force to be reckoned with in the game. He very nearly owned this track despite the guest appearance from Biggie. Who knows what would have become of Jay's career had Biggie avoided an early death? It's not a stretch to think they could have pushed each other to even greater heights as lyricists.

3. Lucifer - I go back and forth on whether this is the best song on "The Black Album." Kanye's sample of "I Chase the Devil" is the blank canvas and Jay comes with the artful brushstrokes.

2. Takeover - Here's where Avery and I sort of agree, we just flipped the order. With anyone else, "Takeover" would have been a career-ender. Instead, it actually revived Nas' career and elevated the dis track to high hip-hop art. Jay brought the heat on this one, from start to finish.

1. Allure - This is the quintessential Jay-Z record: composure, comfort and confidence with a refined sense for luxury. A glass of champagne, a hammock and a gentle breeze would go perfect with this song.

Avery adds: "nostalgia, or perhaps more accurately, the multisensory memory of the swaying motion of the train combined with the drum and the piano." For me, it was long road trips on Oklahoma highways with an open moon roof.

If someone were to ever ask me who was Jay-Z, I'll sit him (or her) down and put on this record.


avery said...

i'ma hafta point my boy to your list. he took one look at my joint and was like, "naw, son."

blackink said...

Eh, I had no problems with the list at all. I was thinking hard about adding "Where Have You Been" too, 'cept just like you, I thought Beanie was the dude who really killed that one.

But I was never a big fan of "Can't Knock the Hustle" or "Money Cash Hoes." Now, the remix to "MCH" was hella nice.

avery said...

the mch remix...i was about to put that on there instead of the album version. it's far superior. but the original was more significant as far as me appreciating jay.

blackink said...

I gotcha on the original "MCH." Things is, it never really struck me. Back in the day, I was just hype to hear Beanie spit on any track and that's probably why I liked the remix so much better.

Forgot to mention, there's another Jay song - "Ain't I?" - that I almost put on the list. It's a Timbaland track. Not sure it got burn anywhere other than mixtapes, though. Very nice.

Zen said...

Allure, for real? Y'all gotta get a little more gangster than that.

blackink said...

Zen, I think we've gone over this one before - Lucifer or Allure, tastes great or less filling, Beyonce or the field.

Allure is gangsta, no? Reflecting on a life lived outside the law and tipping his Yankee cap to those still trying to hustle their way out of trouble? You no like?