No matter what the reader’s opinions may be, it is obvious that Jay-Z is one of the elite hip-hop legends of all time. With so many projects across such a long period, Shawn Carter has fully advanced rap music for generations and his influence across all musicians and music fans is unrivaled. This article aims to rank the studio albums released by the GOAT, and does not include the supreme collaborative records Jay has created with Kanye, Beyonce, and others. Without any further introduction, here are the top five studio albums recorded by the greatest rapper of history.
5. “The Blueprint”
September 11, 2001
Number five brings up Jay’s sixth studio album, released just 10 months after his star-studded “The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.” With just 13 songs, only one feature, and some of Hova’s most electric samples, this album shows the GOAT in one of his purest forms. The project performed extremely well, becoming Jay’s fifth consecutive platinum album and selling over 400,000 copies in its opening week. Even more interesting, the album showcases vintage producer Kanye West in the form of four tracks, representing The Throne’s first time collaborating.
Favorite tracks: “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Jigga That N***a”, “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”
4. “Vol 2… Hard Knock Life”
September 29, 1998
Before the Blueprint projects were released, Jay-Z gave rap fans the greatest album trilogy the genre has still ever heard with The Volume Tapes. The middle of the three is “Vol 2… Hard Knock Life,” and the project still stands as Jay’s most successful album with a 5x platinum distinction. Across 12 core songs and two fantastic bonus tracks, this album is packed with strong features, socially essential tunes, and legendary bars. All in all, this album is considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time, however, there are still three Jay-Z records that rank even higher.
Favorite tracks: “Can I Get A… (feat. Amil and Ja Rule)”, “Reservoir Dogs (feat. The Lox, Sauce Money, Beanie Sigel)”, “Money Ain’t a Thang (feat. JD)”
3. “The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse”
November 2, 2002
With 25 tracks over two discs and a profusion of compelling features, “The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse” ranks as Jay’s third best album of his career. From Rakim and Dre to his then-girlfriend Beyonce Knowles to Lenny Kravitz, this project represents Hova’s best example of pulling numerous world-class artists together for an album. The project, predominantly produced by Kanye West, Just Blaze, and The Neptunes, has a run time of 112 minutes and carries the entertainment value of a blockbuster film of similar length.
Favorite tracks: “The Bounce (feat. Kanye West)”, “03’ Bonnie and Clyde (feat. Beyonce Knowles)”, “Excuse Me Miss”, “Some How Some Way (feat. Beanie Sigel and Scarface)
2. “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1”
November 4, 1997
In second is Jay’s second studio album, “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1”. The project marks the clear dawn of Hova’s dynastic career. The substantial sophomore release kicks off with the greatest intro of all time and is followed by 14 intimate tracks with minimal features. The project includes the illustrious “City is Mine” and “Streets is Watching,” as well as “I Know What Girls Like” and “(Always Be My) Sunshine,” which star fellow Brooklyn elites and ‘90s legends Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, respectively.
Favorite tracks: “Intro: A Million and One Questions / Rhyme No More”, “Streets is Watching”, “Who You Wit 2”, “Friend or Foe ‘98”
1. “The Black Album”
November 14, 2003
Topping the list is Jay’s eighth release in eight years, the 2003 “The Black Album.” With 14 tracks, no features, and ten different production teams on the project, this release is undoubtedly a top-ranking rap album of all time. The project, which Jay touted as the final release of his career, stars some of Hova’s most iconic tunes, including “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, “Encore”, and “99 Problems.” From the production and lyricism to the collaborations and comprehensiveness, “The Black Album” displays Jay-Z at his peak with a braggadocious vibe conveying a steely self-assuredness. Even if his career ended here, Hova could retire as the GOAT, but instead, Jay continued to release and consistently evolve rap music.
Favorite tracks: “December 4th”, “What More Can I Say”, “Change Clothes”, “Lucifer”
While this list focuses on the early work of Jay’s music career, I must take a moment to acknowledge the releases that Hova has curated over the last decade. “Watch the Throne” and “Magna Carta Holy Grail” both succeeded wonderfully, however, the top quality “4:44” and “Everything is Love” didn’t receive too much love. The early albums define Jay’s career and display him at his peak, but it is nonetheless crucial to acknowledge all the releases of Jay and the impact that his music has on the development of rap today.
Regardless of the time period, all albums by Jay Z have performed extremely well, as each of his last 11 projects has topped the rap charts, and that doesn’t even include three collaboration albums that did the same during the 1998-2017 period. All in all, Hov is the greatest rapper of all time, and those who disagree clearly haven’t heard the projects reviewed above.