13. Jay-Z

In honor of me turning 30, I’m making mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 13 is Jay-Z.


When Jay-Z was announced as the executive producer of the soundtrack for the 2013 film version of The Great Gatsby, it made a lot of sense to me. Jay-Z is a modern day embodiment of the American Dream. His father abandoned his family at a very young age. He grew up in a single-parent home, failed to graduate high school, and sold crack cocaine to get by. And yet, he made it.

Today, Jay-Z proudly proclaims, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” If I could be any celebrity alive today, Jay-Z would undoubtedly be a top candidate. Dream job? Professional entertainer is what many aspire to but few achieve. From critical acclaim to commercial success, Jay-Z’s rap career has been a major success. Dream life? When all is said and done, he may be known as an entrepreneur more than as a rapper. He was a part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets. Now he owns his own sports agency, Roc Nation Sports, his own clothing line, Rocawear, and much more. Dream wife? He is married to Beyoncé—what more can I say?

I did not really get turned on to Jay-Z’s music until the early 2000s. In fact, I hadn’t heard his full 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt (which Jay-Z himself ranks as his best album) until earlier this year. Still, among all the musical artists and groups to make it into my 30 at 30 collection, Jay-Z has the distinction of the earliest appearance on a Matt’s Mix with “Big Pimpin'” appearing on Matt’s Mix II, which I made circa 2000.

More recently, Jay-Z has been in the spotlight as half of the world’s most powerful couple (sorry, Barack and Michelle). Jessie and I are among the masses caught in the fan frenzy to the point that we traveled to Philadelphia in July to see Jay-Z and Beyoncé live in concert during their On the Run tour. Held at Citizens Bank Park, it was an incredible spectacle, unlike any concert I have ever experienced before. As philly.com’s Dan DeLuca put it, the duo “put on a 44 song hip-hop and pop action-packed extravaganza.”

Like the concert, the Jay-Z compilation I created features a number of collaborations, including three featuring Beyoncé. “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” was the couple’s first collaboration and the opening track at the Philadelphia concert. “Part II (On the Run)” from 2013’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail plays as a sequel to “Bonnie & Clyde”, building on the analogy of Jay-Z and Beyoncé as modern-day outlaws.

I’m an outlaw, got an outlaw chick
Bumping 2Pac, on my outlaw s—
Matching tatts, this ink don’t come off
Even if rings come off

The other collaboration with Beyoncé that made it onto this compilation was “Hollywood” from 2006’s Kingdom Come. Although neither this song nor album would likely show up in the Jay-Z canon, it’s always been a personal favorite of mine. As private as they have tried to keep their relationship in the past, they are both such big celebrities that theirs is essentially the epitome of a Hollywood relationship.

Aside from Beyoncé, Jay has had other notable collaborations, particularly on 2009’s The Blueprint 3. On “Run This Town” Jay is joined by protégé Kanye West and Rihanna. New Yorker anthem “Empire State of Mind” features fellow MM 30 at 30 member Alicia Keys belting out the refrain. And on my compilation closer “Young Forever” he teams with Mr. Hudson.  

In all, my Jay-Z compilation includes 19 tracks from 10 different albums released between 1998 and 2013. That alone is an indicator of the staying power Jay-Z has had. Hip hop has traditionally been a young man’s game, but Jay-Z is continuing to add to his résumé and redefine the art form he helped grow. From “Hard Knock Life” to “99 Problems” to “Picasso Baby” Jay-Z has demonstrated a smooth rap flow and ability to use clever wordplay that makes him stand out among the all-time greats.

MM 30 at 30: Jay-Z tracklist (finalized June 26, 2014)
1. Hollywood feat. Beyoncé
2. Run This Town feat. Rihanna & Kanye West
3. Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)
4. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
5. 99 Problems
6. ’03 Bonnie & Clyde feat. Beyoncé
7. Part II (On the Run) feat. Beyoncé
8. Can I Get A… feat. Amil of Major Coins & Ja Rule
9. Jigga What, Jigga Who (Unplugged)
10. Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
11. Hovi Baby
12. Picasso Baby
13. Oh My God
14. Dirt Off Your Shoulder
15. Big Pimpin’ feat. UGK
16. Empire State of Mind feat. Alicia Keys
17. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
18. Encore
19. Young Forever feat. Mr. Hudson

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