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Jay Z albums ranked

Jay Z. Hova. Jigga. Jazzy. Hawaiian Sophie. Shawn Carter.
15Jay-Z
Kingdom Come


You have to feel sorry for Hov. His premature retirement, while a huge spectacle left hopes of a comeback sky high. When it inevitably happened, Jay was worn out from touring and the album was hastily thrown out the door to ensure Def Jam didn’t have to start laying people off. It’s obvious Jay wasn’t really fully ready to reclaim his seat on the throne, as Kingdom Come is pretty poor cruddy. For every smooth Dre joint, there’s a generic by the numbers Just Blaze track (no diss against him but this isn’t his finest hour). For every subtle and restrained track like ‘Minority Report’, there’s an overblown worn out mess like ‘Oh My God’. For every touching piece like ‘I Made It’, there’s word vomit like ‘Trouble’. Coming after ‘Black Album’, it’s obvious this wasn’t going to be a world shattering masterpiece, but that doesn’t excuse some of the shoddiness here.

Best tracks: The Prelude, Kingdom Come, Lost One, Do U Wanna Ride?
Skips: Show ‘Em What You Got, Anyways, Hollywood, Trouble
14Jay-Z
Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter


The drop off from Vol 2 to this is pretty bizarre. If Vol 2 was a great step in the right direction, Vol 3 was a sharp reversal straight into a brick wall. While it may have gone to No 1, continued to cement Jay as a dominant force in the game and bagged him another crossover hit with the brilliant ‘Big Pimpin’. But the album that followed is weak, all over the place and severely lacking the momentum that that single brought. Still, Vol 3 isn’t bad, it’s mainly just forgettable though there are the occasional bursts of brilliance we’ve come to expect from Jay and even some pretty bizarre shit too for good measure. But what’s bad? Good lord.

Best tracks: So Ghetto, Hova Interlude, Big Pimpin’, Watch Me, Come and Get Me
Skips: Things That U Do, It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot), S. Carter, NYMP
13Jay-Z
The Blueprint 3


Most of the issues with the previous two albums can’t really all be blamed on Jay. Kingdom Come had expectations and a record label stacked against it. Vol 3 was trying to build on Jay’s legacy while scoring some chart hits. The Blueprint 3, which came well after he’d established himself as a GOAT, lands almost entirely on Jay. While the aged synths are one thing, the awkward and laughable shut downs at contemporary trends which sees Jay in full Boomer mode (the petty and cringe worthy ‘DOA’ for one) and some just downright bad tracks with poor rapping (‘Venus vs Mars’, ‘Young Forever’) are enough thing. Still, there’s some genuine fire in the tank here (‘Real As It Gets’, ‘Off That’, ‘Already Home’) and it did give us the eternal ‘Empire State of Mind’. Pick and choose.

Best: Thank You, Empire State of Mind, Real As It Gets, Off That, Already Home, Reminder
Skips: DOA (Death of Auto-Tune), Venus vs Mars, Hate, Young Forever
12The Carters
Everything Is Love


Some people fuck at funerals to deal with pain. Jay Z and Beyoncé c̶u̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶f̶ ̶h̶e̶a̶d̶s̶ make an album. While the billionaire dollar couple had made several songs together, including the timeless ‘Crazy In Love’, their full album together is a decided rocky affair. While the two are clearly happy and celebratory that they got through the extremely rough patch in their relationship, brilliantly painted on ‘Lemonade’ and ‘4:44’, the supposed calm after the storm is a pretty shifty affair. While the smooth opener ‘SUMMER’ and the lush horn jam ‘BOSS’ hit hard, and the dark and moody ‘FRIENDS’ still paints an slightly warped picture, other tracks feel more like throwaways than world shattering gems like such a pair up COULD make. Add on the fact that this is clearly a Beyoncé album featuring Jay Z rather than a proper collaborative album, you can see why it doesn’t check all the boxes it should.

Best tracks: SUMMER, BOSS, FRIENDS, BLACK EFFECT, LOVEHAPPY
Skips: NICE, 713
11Jay-Z
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1


Man, what a drop down in quality eh? Now, In My Lifetime isn’t bad, it’s a pretty good record, but after the brilliance of ‘Reasonable Doubt’, this seems like such a step back in comparison. Sure, the more bright and catchy beats are a good addition, but the album’s focus on chasing top 40 hits with garish hooks and a lack of the gritty but professional, mafioso sound of Jay’s debut make this a fairly hit or miss album. While there’s still traces of the cocky hustler that we met on his debut (‘Streets is Watching’, ‘Where I’m From’) and even some pretty tender moments (‘Lucky Me’), Jay’s quest to fill the role of the king of NYC was off to a shaky start, and his quest for a hit (‘(Always Be My) Sunshine’, ‘Who You Wit 2’) certainly doesn’t help matters. Shiny suits, am I right?

Best tracks: Intro: A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More, Imaginary Players, Friend or Foe ‘98, Lucky Me, Where I’m From
Skips: I Know What Girls Like, (Always Be My) Sunshine, Who You Wit 2
10Jay-Z
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia


Planned as a showcase album for Roc-a-Fella records before morphing into a solo album, The Dynasty is somewhat of an overlooked album in Jay’s catalogue, despite it finally putting him on solid footing after the ups and downs of the trilogy. Kanye West makes his big debut providing the beat for the sensitive tough guy anthem ‘This Can’t Be Life’ while the Neptunes lead the way on the dance floor filler ‘I Just Wanna Love U’. While it gets a little drawn out, and Jay isn barely even on some tracks, it proved that Hov wasn’t all flashy singles and put him back on solid ground after a successful but tricky past few years.

Best tracks: Intro, I Just Wanna Love U, Streets is Talking, This Can’t Be Life, Get Your Mind Right Mami, Stick 2 the Script, 1-900-HUSTLER, Squeeze 1st
Skips: Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Holla
9Jay-Z
The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse


Fitting title really. It’s long, and there’s filler. A lot of it, but I’ll be damned if this ain’t a fun record. Following up the massive ‘The Blueprint’ was always going to be a tricky task, and Jay decided the best option was to go for a kitchen sink approaching and threw out a double album. A pretty solid mix of great party tunes, classic introspective Hov and a great blend of chipmunk soul, bassy club and RNB. It’s obviously not his best and it’s overlong and cluttered with a couple of burning stinkers, but what’s good is pretty damn good. Just cut a few tracks and you’re golden. Which is precisely what Jay did when he released ‘The Blueprint 2.1’ which trimmed the fat to a much more digestible length, despite leaving in some questionable tracks

Best tracks: A Dream, Hovi Baby, ‘03 Bonnie and Clyde, All Around the World, Poppin’ Tags, U Don’t Know Remix, Meet the Parents, Some How Some Way, As One
Skips: What They Gonna Do?, —— Please, 2 Many Hoes
8Jay-Z
Magna Carta... Holy Grail


I remember going into this expecting Jay-Z’s big poppy album full of popular singers on the hooks, mainstream beats, etc. It actually kind of took me off guard how bizarre it is at times. Coming off the massive success of Watch the Throne and the inescapable mega hits that are ‘Otis’ and ‘—— In Paris’, many sort of expected Jay to make another album like that, but he delivered a weird and oddly experimental album instead. Sure, the pop elements are definitely there (‘Holy Grail’, the bizarre calypso dance Nas featuring ‘BBC’) but next to those songs, there’s weird dark beats, grimy sounds and some really short songs. And would you guess, it’s actually really good. Magna Carta isn’t gonna be anyone’s favourite Jay album, but give it another listen. It’s weirdly fantastic at times.

Best tracks: Holy Grail, Picasso Baby, Tom Ford, Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit, Oceans, Crown, BBC, Nickels and Dimes
Skips: F.U.T.W, Versus, La Familia
7Jay-Z
Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life


Rebounding from the shaky ‘In My Lifetime Vol. 1’, ‘Hard Knock Life’ not only scored Jay his first number one album, but also his first mega hit: the Annie sampling and now iconic ‘Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)’. With a much more concise and tight tracklist, with deep cuts like the DMX featuring ‘Money, Cash, Hoes’, and the hustler anthem ‘If I Should Die’, Jay balances his hustler life with his newly found mega success well, with club ready hits like ‘Can I Get A...’ and ‘—— What? —— Who?’ following suit. It thankfully proved one thing. Jay Z wasn’t just a one trick pony.


Best tracks: Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), If I Should Die, —— What? —— Who? (Originator 99), Money Cash Hoes, Coming of Age (Da Sequel), Can I Get A Fuck You?, It’s Alright
Skips: Paper Chase, Reservoir Dogs
6Jay-Z
American Gangster


Coming off the dodgy ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘American Gangster’ was something of a return to form for Jay. Not just in terms of quality mind, but with tone and themes. Sliding back into the stone cold Mafioso sound of ‘Reasonable Doubt’, Jay along with an array of producers (with Diddy and the Neptunes among them) conjured up a series of tunes that harken back to the funk and soul soundscape of gangster and blacksploitation films of the 70s. For the first time in a few years, Jay once again hit with laser precision and continued to build up the billionaire hustler image that he had been cultivating since he first arrived on the scene. Barack Obama was reportedly a fan.

Best tracks: Pray, American Dreamin’, Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...), Sweet, I Know, Ignorant Shit, Success, Fallin
Skips: Hello Brooklyn 2.0, Party Life
5Jay-Z
4:44


Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ was a victory lap for the world famous singer. It was widely acclaimed, successful and continued her reign as arguably the biggest singer in the game. Yet, the album’s personal and pretty damming lyrical content was the real draw for many, pointing fingers at her husband for his infidelity. A year later, Jay replied with his own album, ‘4:44’, an album quite like Lemonade, full of pained confessions and pleas for forgiveness. It’s a personal (and brief) record, with Jay tackling topics such as his mother’s coming out (‘Smile’), his own ego (‘Kill JAY-Z’) and of course his affair (‘4:44’). Over moody trap and jazz beats, Jay paints the image of a fragile and throughly human man. The legendary billionaire hustler known as Jay Z is dead. There is only Shawn Carter.

Best: Kill Jay-Z, The Story of OJ, Smile, Caught Their Eyes, 4:44, Moonlight, Marcy Me, Legacy
Skips: Family Feud
4Jay-Z and Kanye West
Watch the Throne


Jay Z and Kanye West were at one point, Hip Hop’s most inseparable brotherhood. So when a joint album was announced between the two biggest MCs in the game (Kanye was fresh off his career defying masterpiece MBDTF), expectations were sky high. While it did take time to grow on me, I’ve come to appreciate the gold plated chaotic swag of WTT. While inescapable hits like ‘Otis’ and ‘—— in Paris’ ruled the airwaves, deeper cuts like the difficult ‘Gotta Have It’, the two part experimental dirge ‘Murder to Excellence’ and the abrasive and personal ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ showed that underneath the platinum watches and Armani suits, there were two men scared and unsure about the world around them, while also celebrating their success stories.

Best songs: No Church in the World, —— in Paris, Otis, Gotta Have It, New Day, That’s My Bitch, Welcome to the Jungle, Murder to Excellence, Made in America, Why I Love You, The Joy
Skips: Lift Off, Illest Motherfucker Alive
3Jay-Z
Reasonable Doubt


As the east and west divide reached a boiling point, Jay Z emerged onto the scene swinging hard. He wasn’t your average gangsta rapper. He smoked cubans, hung out with Biggie Smalls and wore a suit. He was a hustler, and ‘Reasonable Doubt’ makes damn sure you know that. Across his diamond studded debut, Jay not only demonstrates his absurd mic skills but also basically lays out his manifesto (‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’), gets down and dirty (‘Ain’t No ——‘) and reflects on the life he has laid out for himself (‘Can I Live?’, ‘Regrets’), as well as flipping a Nas sample for good measure (‘Dead Presidents II’). Stone cold, smooth as butter and absolutely timeless. It’s Hov, baby.

Best tracks: Can’t Knock the Hustle, Politics as Usual, Brooklyn’s Finest, Dead Presidents II, Can I Live, Ain’t No ——, Coming of Age, Regrets
Skips: Friend or Foe
2Jay-Z
The Blueprint


Embroiled in numerous beefs (most notoriously with Nas) and with the world in the palm of his hands, Jay Z unleashed the Blueprint onto a divided hip hop scene, which saw Crunk and Bling slowly rise from the ashes of the East/West divide. The album is crammed with hits, platinum coated production work from Kanye West and Just Blaze, and features Jay at the then height of his career. Tracks like the iconic ‘Izzo’ and the soulful jam ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ threw Jay back into the top 20, while he further shut down his contemporaries on the ice cold Nas diss ‘Takeover’. But above all else, Jay never lets his ego overshadow the one thing that means the most to him: New York City, which sees a plethora of tributes across the album. It proved that although he was an NYC hustler at heart, he had still taken over the world.

Best tracks: Takeover, Izzo, Girls Girls Girls, Jigga that —, Hola Hovito, Heart of the City, Never Change, Song Cry, Renegade, Blueprint
Skips: Lyrical Exercise
1Jay-Z
The Black Album


Given how The Black Album was intended by Jay’s final work, he decided to go out with a bang. And what a bang it was. The Black Album is not only Jay’s finest hour, it’s arguably one of the best Hip Hop albums ever made. With a newfound sense of freedom in his eyes, Jay pours everything into these 14 tracks, crammed full of rightful bragging (‘Encore’), cockiness (‘99 Problems’), violent street poetry (‘Threat’, ‘Moment of Clarity’) and pure celebration (‘My 1st Song’). The hits come fast and heavy and Jay rides out every beat with pure gusto, throwing out some of his best lyrics (‘Interlude’) in the meantime. A masterpiece, and a rightful classic.

Best: December 4th, What More Can I Say?, Encore, Change Clothes, Dirt off Your Shoulder, Threat, 99 Problems, Interlude, Justify My Thug, Lucifer, Allure, My 1st Song
Skips: NONE. WOOOO
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