Jay-Z is undeniably one of the most important artists of our generation. His decade-long career has flourished with hit album after hit album. Need proof? Here's a rundown of Jay-Z's 11 studio albums. (Sorry, those R.Kelly mishaps don't count.)
By all creative standards, Jay-Z's first album was his best. Before Reasonable Doubt, no other rap album had been able to straddle the extraordinarily thin line between honest introspection and defiance so well. On one hand, Jay romanticized superficiality; on the other, he flirted with personal regrets that stemmed from said obsession with superficiality. Reasonable Doubt was both an honest narrative of the ills associated with street life and an unrepentant defense of it.
Considering that Jay was only supposed to record one album, In My Lifetime is a pretty darn remarkable follow-up. He turns up the braggadocio a couple notches, while sustaining the intelligent thug persona thing that permeated his first CD. Vol. 1 produced classics like "Where I'm From" and "Streets Is Watching."
By now, Jay-Z the gully hustler has been polished to utmost luster. To that effect, he encountered his biggest commercial success with Vol. 2, thanks to anthems like the sing-along "Hard Knock Life," "Money Ain't a Thang" and "Can I Get A..." The album earned Jay his first No.1 debut, en route to an impressive 5.5 million records sold. Not to mention a Grammy for Best Rap Album.
Jigga's ambivalent part-thug, part-seductive personality is largely at play here. The poignant production is also a big part of the success recipe. DJ Premier, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Rockwilder all contribute some hard-hitting anthems. Standout cuts include: "It's Hot," "Big Pimpin'," and "Do It Again."
It's impossible to exaggerate the grandness of The Blueprint to Jay-Z's career. An album so feisty not even Osama bin Laden could stop its flight to the top when it arrived on the same day as the tragic terrorist events of 9/11, Blueprint solidified Jay's place as a contender for the crown. From power pop ("Izzo (H.O.V.A.)") to vulnerability ("Song Cry"), Jay demonstrated range and versatility throughout The Blueprint.
This should have been named The Curse After the Gift. Jigga's attempt to follow up his 2001 masterpiece falls flat on its face. The album was intentionally overloaded with guests to flaunt Jay-Z's clout in the game. The drawback of this approach, of course, is an album's worth of filler material. After the 2-disc LP failed to move a substantial amount of units, Jay-Z learned from his mistakes and compressed it into one album which he re-named The Blueprint 2.0.
Ah, the much trumpeted farewell album. If The Black Album had ended up being Jay-Z's final lap, one could safely conclude then that he went out with a loud bang. Jay's eighth studio album gave rise to instant hits like "99 Problems" and "What More Can I Say," as well as the concert favorite "P.S.A."
When Jay announced his retirement in 2003, no one believed him. Many saw the move as a scheme to build up anticipation for his next release. Enter Kingdom Come, an album in which Mr. Carter exchanged street clothes for a three-piece suit. Jigga's comeback album was rife with bragfests on anchoring boardroom meetings and paying more taxes than most will make in a lifetime. A big "huh" moment ensued among his audience, many of whom were still scraping up for their first car. Luckily, gems like "Kingdom Come," "Do U Wanna Ride" and "Minority Report" kept the album from being a dud.
After seeing an early version of the Ridley Scott-directed movie American Gangster, Jay-Z decided to record a complementary concept album of the same title. Highlights include "Say Hello," "American Dreaming," and "Blue Magic" (a bonus track).