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Greatest Rapper Alive? Well you can figure it out for yourself by getting into Jay’s entire discography. And while you do, think about the qualities that makes someone great. A definitive style, thoughtful lyricism, humor and ability to have fun, a bit of introspection to show a deeper side, versatility, being able to adapt to different sounds and producers. Given all of that, Jay is definitely one of the Greatest and here are the 5 ESSENTIAL Jay albums if you really want to determine if he is indeed the GREATEST!

5. The Black Album (2004)
Nobody really believed Jay was retiring in 04, but out of respect his fans went along with the ploy. Luckily “The Black Album” plays like it could have been his last. “My First Song” sums up the tone of the album “treat my first like my last, and my last like my first, and my thirst is the same as – when I came“. The rest of the album does feel like it can be a continuation of his debut, he seems to address some of the same issues. At the same time the album is a huge pat on the back to himself, as he on many occasions talks about his mark in the industry. At that point though, nobody could knock him for the boasting or the fake-retirement. He had definitely earned the right to do both.

4 of 5
Best: Change Clothes, Allure, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, My First Song, Encore

4. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998)
“Vol. 2” is essential because it was the moment he broke through to the mainstream, so many of his big hits came from the album. “Can I Get A…”, “Money Ain’t A Thing”, and the career changing title track that helped him win his first Grammy (that he famously protested). This was also a producers album, with Jay pulling the best beats from the best producers including Timbaland, Swizz Beats, Just Blaze, Jermaine Dupri and Irv Gotti to name just a few.

4 of 5
Best: It’s Alright, Hard Knock Life, Nigga What Nigga Who, Money Cash Hoes, If I Should Die

3. The Blueprint 3 (2009)
While this works as a concept album, he really does lay down a great Blueprint for the new breed of less-than-stellar rappers to follow, It actually turned out to be the home of Jay’s biggest Pop hits of his career. There’s a great balance of hard hitting Hip Hop, and radio accessible sing-a-longs like “Empire State of Mind” and “Young Forever”. This should have been his first album after retirement, but it was great enough to make us forget those lackluster releases prior.
Read my full review here

5 of 5
Best: Run This Town, A Star Is Born, On To The Next One, Empire State of Mind, Already Home

2. Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Debut albums aren’t always essential, but Jay made quite a statement with his “Reasonable Doubt”. It definitley paints the picture of where he was coming from and the struggle to get out of that lifestyle. And not only giving his own biography, but explaining the culture surrounding him “we hustle out of a sense of, hopelessness, sort of a desperation, through that desperation, we ‘come addicted, sorta like the fiends we accustomed to servin“. Not your typical Hip Hop debut, but one with a true purpose.

4.5 of 5
Best: Can I Live, Can’t Knock The Hustle, Dead Presidents II, Coming of Age, Brooklyn’s Finest

1. The Blueprint (2001)
This was an instant classic, the Kanye soul samples and Jay’s introspection really changed both his own style and the Hip Hop genre. The album has it’s fun cuts (like “Girls Girls Girls” and “Jigga That Nigga”), but on the whole it’s way more serious and emotional album. The album takes him out of the contemporary style he became accustomed to and is really a 70’s Soul homage. His ability to make this work really showed that he’s truly a fearless and creative artist.

5 of 5
Best: Song Cry, Never Change, All I Need, Girls Girls Girls, Takeover

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