In life there is often the saying, “Practice makes perfect”. A lot of successful people are attributed with having a tireless work ethic, motivation and drive. Perseverance is also a strength that should not be overlooked. In Hip Hop, to be the BEST MC is a big deal and many of the greatest have openly talked about achieving this goal of recognition. MC’s such as Rakim and KRS One were considered ahead of their time, while MC’s such as LL Cool J, Special Ed and Nas were considered to be the “Golden Child” of their respected era’s. Fans had high expectations for these guys, while an MC like Jay-Z was first heard on record in 1989 but would not receive notoriety for years. You see, there weren’t any expectations for Jay-Z. Looking back, is Jay-Z the Greatest MC of All Time? This question was posed to me by a friend the other night. He challenged me to make a case for Jay-Z being the GOAT. Of course, I gladly accepted but let’s continue our short trip down memory lane as well, for context.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s Jay-Z toured with his mentors Jaz-O and Big Daddy Kane. Jay-Z was pretty much a hype-man for both artists and occasionally went on the road with Original Flavor, an underground rap group. Jay-Z’s initial guest appearance was on Jaz-O’s “Hawaiian Sophie” off the Word to the Jaz album. For the next few years Jay-Z went unnoticed as other New York MCs such as Biggie, Nas, Jeru, Bootcamp Click and Wu Tang Clan gained popularity. Jay-Z was stuck in somewhat of a hip-hop matrix. The early style of Jay-Z had more of a DAS EFX feel, even though Grandmaster CAZ, Kool G-Rap and Jaz-O, have each been cited as major influences. From 1989 to 1994 Jay-Z continued to grind but only local fans really knew who he was. Jay-Z battled rappers as well. There are stories of battles with Busta Rhymes, DMX, Big L, GZA and LL Cool J. Jay-Z mentioned the GZA battle a few years ago on Twitter. At any rate, nobody believed Jay-Z would one day be the greatest MC of All Time.
As we get into 1994 something happened that would change Jay-Z’s life and Hip Hop forever. Jay-Z simply changed his FLOW/STYLE into the modern flow of mid 90’s MC’s (Big L, RAE, AZ, NAS & Biggie) while also still incorporating his earlier flow to make a PERFECT blend. His gift of riding a beat was starting to be undeniable by his peers. JAY-Z CAN RIDE ANY BEAT AND IS NEVER OFF BEAT. On the 1994 unreleased track “Reach the Top” and the posse cut “Show and Prove” (track with ODB, Big Daddy Kane, Shyheim, Scoob & Sauce Money), Jay-Z was giving fans a glimpse of what was soon to come. In 1995, the TRANSITION was complete. Jay-Z released to songs “In My Lifetime” the Original Version and “In My Lifetime” the Remix. There was a music video done on an Island with boats, beach home, beautiful women and friends. Fans were now curious. Anyway, Jay-Z’s flow was mastered. Jay-Z’s sound was refined and potent. Jay-Z and his partners created ROC-A-FELLA RECORDS and the rap game was never the same.
“You fraud – paranoid, brothers are afraid to be unemployed, cause Jay-Z’s ready to play with the big boys” – Jay-Z off Reach the Top
By the time Jay-Z released the single “Dead Presidents” and dropped a video that featured Biggie and AZ playing monopoly with real money, the streets were convinced. JAY-Z WAS DOPE. What did Jay-Z do after Reasonable Doubt? He created a legendary career that make him the Greatest MC of All Time. Why do I say this? Do I believe there is another MC with a better flow? Do I believe there is an MC with better lyrics? Do I believe Jay-Z has the greatest album in Hip Hop history in his catalog? Do I believe Jay-Z has the best song or verse in Hip Hop history? Do I believe Jay-Z is the most naturally gifted MC? (this goes to Mos Def and NAS) Do I believe Jay-Z is the best live performer in Rap Music? The answer to each of these questions is NO. So how is Jay-Z the Greatest MC of all time? Well, unlike any MC I’ve ever heard, Jay-Z is GREAT in EVERY category as an MC through his drive, determination and will. JAY-Z IS JORDAN.
“Do you fools listen to music or just skim through it?” Jay-Z off Renegade
Jay-Z wasn’t introduced to the game as the NEXT big thing. Jay-Z had to work through 7 years of being an underground MC, watching other MC’s prosper. What did Jay-Z do? He practiced like the kid who go cut from Varsity and came back stellar the next year. We will not talk about 13 platinum albums, 4 collaborative albums, tours, money, impact, more #1 albums than The Beatles and influence all created in 23 years (1996). You can google his resume. Back to him being the greatest, even though some of the recently mentioned facts support my claim. JAY-Z CAN REALLY RAP. I MEAN, HE CAN REALLY RAP. Jay-Z went head to head with Biggie on 3 songs, battled NAS in the GREATEST rap conflict ever, has arguably 3 Classic Albums, balanced “THE STREETS” and “THE CLUBS” better than ANY MC. LL is a close 2nd in this regard. You can literally do a “JAY-Z SET” at a Club for 2 hours and PLAY HIS CLUB BANGERS. You can also play 2 hours of STREET BANGERS on any HARD-CORE Radio Station to satisfy traditional HIP HOP HEADS without missing a beat. Can another MC’s discography achieve this goal? I don’t see it. Fans still anticipate NEW Jay-Z music and he’ll be 50 this year. All of this and most people never saw him WRITE a rhyme down on paper.
T-Hanes, DA DOME
Recommended Underground/Unreleased Songs
“Reach The Top”
“Wishing On A Star”
“In My Lifetime” 1995
“Get My Sh*t Off” feat. Timberland
“Early This Morning
“When the Money Goes”