In honor of Jay-Z’s 41st birthday and the recent release of Decoded, his New York Times bestseller, Red Bull decided to revisit Hova’s discography and identify a song from each album that could serve as a soundtrack for the businessman he
After all, as gifted as J. Hova is as a rapper, he may be an even better businessman. Over the years, Shawn Carter has made Roc-A-Fella Records, Rocawear and Roc Nation into multi-million dollar enterprises. There’s also been his own recording career, a minority ownership stake in the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and a string of endorsement deals that seem as endless as they are impressive, among other money-making ventures.
So here they are, the Top Business-Minded Songs from each of Jay-Z’s studio albums (side projects with R. Kelly and Linkin Park are not included, as the mere existence of those projects are a nod to Jigga’s business acumen).
Reasonable Doubt, 1996
Hova’s debut overflows with business-minded cuts, but there’s no need to look beyond the first tune, “Can’t Knock The Hustle.” Here, the BK MC talks about talks about making goals, pushing his game out of state, working for himself (not someone else). Today, though, his boasts of being a six-digit figure sound underwhelming, until you realize he said he was aiming for more.
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, 1997
Though this isn’t as true today as it was for the first 25 or so years of rap history, in order to run rap, an artist needs to run New York. So, with the Big Apple reeling from the death of The Notorious B.I.G., J Hova did his best to stake his claim on rap’s Mecca with “The City Is Mine.” On this BlackStreet-guested song, Jay-Z pays homage to Biggie, professes his dedication to making high quality music and claims he’s about to redefine rap.
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, 1998
With his the commercial sound of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, the Roc-A-Fella boss knew he had to retain his street cred in order to become an international rap force. So, with the title track to his third album, Jay-Z proclaimed that he flows for those who are incarcerated as well as for those who puff weed and for those who strip to earn money for college. By saluting male and female soldiers of the struggle, Jigga won again.
Vol. 3: Life And Times Of S. Carter, 1999
When you’re on top in the rap game, it’s always a good business move to talk about how everyone is against you. Hova turns this trick on “Dope Man.” Set up like a criminal trial against Jay-Z, the song features Jigga defending himself against charges of selling dope that turns his fans out. Jay-Z counters that the only thing he’s guilty of is selling hope to his followers, being a ghetto spokesman and raising his people. Case dismissed.
The Dynasty Roc La Familia, 2000
Originally planned to be a compilation featuring the Roc-A-Fella roster, Jay-Z’s fifth album was heavy on appearances from his protégés. “The R.O.C.,” for instance, prominently features Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek, as does much of the rest of the 16 cut collection. Jay-Z learned that it’s crucial to have a stable of artists underneath you in order to propel your brand, something “The R.O.C.” does quite nicely.
The Blueprint, 2001
As other rappers would soon learn (notably T.I. and Lil Wayne), one way to become a ruler is to proclaim yourself one. Hence, Jay-Z’s “The Ruler’s Back.” The opening cut from The Blueprint includes mentions of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, giving Jigga an air of political awareness, while he shouts out those in prison and again says he’s a mouthpiece for young people and hustlers. With one song, he appeals to the politically minded, the thug and the up-and-comers. It’s an ingenious business move for an artist trying to be all things to all people.
The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse, 2002
At this point, Jay-Z was enjoying the greatest amount of acclaim in his career. So he simply had the man largely considered one of the best producer in the history of rap (Dr. Dre) and the rapper widely considered the best lyricist from the Golden Era of Rap (Rakim) collaborate with him. The result? “The Watcher 2” paired Hova with two of the genre’s all time greats and suggested that they are the holy trinity of hip-hop.
The Black Album, 2003
Jigga claimed this would be his last album, so in order to make his fans believe him, he claimed that he’d said everything that he wanted to say in his music. On “What More Can I Say,” H-O-V defends his legacy, his staying power and his status as New York’s rhyme ambassador, all while throwing in some slick drug references to keep his drug-dealing past fresh in people’s minds while promoting his button-up fetish and his CEO mind.
Kingdom Come, 2006 After his quasi-retirement, Jay-Z was dealing with the split-up of his Roc-A-Fella empire. With the reflective “Lost One,” he gave a backhanded dis to former partner Dame Dash, seemed to hint that Beyonce was too busy with her career to be spending time with him and that the death of his nephew was partially his fault. By distancing himself from Dash, playing up the hype surrounding his relationship with future wife Beyonce and showing a sensitive side, Jigga yet again showed his business savvy. After all, people love success. They also love hearing about other people’s struggles, whether romantic or emotional.
American Gangster, 2007
With the lackluster feedback from Kingdom Come, Jay-Z knew he had to come back swinging with his next album. His idea? Team with former nemesis Nas on the organ-propelled “Success.” In addition to appropriating some of Eminem’s lyrics on this song, the Jiggaman says that even if he fell off, he’d simply fall on a bunch of money. Yes, the stress was one thing, but by playing the victim, S. Carter was again able to successfully ride the me-against-the-world ethos to sonic victory.
The Blueprint 3, 2009
It’s all about progression for Jigga. With “On To The Next One,” the business-minded MC details all of the things he’s ditched in favor of the next big thing. He also teases us, warning that we should be afraid of his next move. Given all that he’s already done, his impending move will likely be major. Even if it isn’t, anyone who can have Oprah chilling in the projects is undoubtedly all about his business.
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