Not to discredit the entire list you’re about to read, but it’s virtually impossible to determine which Jay-Z albums are the best. The reason being, Jay-Z is such a versatile artist, with pockets of fan bases that gravitate toward various aspects of his musical personality. He spent his earliest years developing a high speed flow under the large shadow cast by mentor Jaz-O. But as Jay-Z honed a sound of his own, he (and we) discovered the slow tempo musings of a former drug dealer looking to start his empire.
Once that empire was forged, the mainstream machine began, full of pop singles that both objectified women and celebrated them. Then the doubtful moments arrived, back when Jay-Z was entertaining retirement, only to rise like the Phoenix and become bigger than ever. His references changed (Basquiat, anyone?), and while Hov remained the “monster of the double entendre,” his flow matured with every bar notched in his path to evolution. Now, with his 13th solo album Magna Carta Holy Grail on the way, Idolator has picked five of Jay-Z’s most impactful solo albums. That means Watch The Throne is not on this list, but it definitely gets an honorable mention…for the Martin Margiela references alone.
The Blueprint (2001)
Arguably Jay-Z’s most diverse project to date, his sixth solo album The Blueprint marked the turning point in the MC’s career. Some say that it was the time period where his lyricism went downhill in exchange for mainstream success, but that wasn’t really the case. The Blueprint displayed Hov’s knack for moving through various roles within rap music, while still remaining categorically hip-hop. It also introduced a young producer by the name of Kanye West into the fold, who helped Jay land one of his biggest hits, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” which was his first Top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 as a lead artist. Yeezy also produced “The Takeover,” the track that marked one of rap’s biggest historical beefs between Jay-Z and Nas. Then of course there’s the saccharine “Girls, Girls, Girls” and the super-vulnerable “Song Cry.” From microphone beast to kid with daddy issues, there is no stone left unturned on The Blueprint. The title is apropos, as it became a blueprint for all rappers thereafter.