Jay-Z released “4:44” last week, his 13th solo album in a career that spans more than two decades. It’s a remarkable project from the veteran MC, a mark of maturity and emotional candidness that we’ve never quite seen from the 47-year-old rapper. For some, it was a shock. Given the questionable critical merits of his prior album, “Magna Carta… Holy Grail,” some called him washed and doubted if we even needed another Hov album in 2017. But those who’ve been paying attention know that, despite the pitfalls of “MCHG,” Jay has never lost it. He’s still been dropping hallmark bars with regularity, which is why we put together some of his best lyrics over the past five years. Don’t call it a comeback when he’s never stopped rapping his ass off.
1. “They try to slander your man on CNN and Fox/My Mirandas don’t stand a chance with cops/Even my old fans like, ‘Old man, just stop’/I could if I would, but I can’t, I’m hot”
Song: “Picasso Baby”
Kendrick Lamar ain’t the first rapper to comment on news networks trying to drag his name through the mud. Hov managed to combine that criticism with a takedown of the police and naysayers who think he’s washed up in a quick four bars. That’s efficiency from a man giving his antagonists more time than they deserve.
2. “My swag different, that bag different/My wife Beyonce, I brag different”
Song: “I Got the Keys” [DJ Khaled]
Again, we’re talking about efficiency. This is an all-time stunt in less than a dozen words. His paper and his wife are on levels unmatched by anyone else, let alone another rapper.
3. “Y’all think Uber’s the future, our cars been autonomous/Mules move the drums, take ‘em to the different spots/We just call the shots by simply moving our thumbs”
Song: “Drug Dealers Anonymous” [Pusha T]
This is how you keep coke raps compelling after more than two decades. Jay-Z has some of the best metaphors in the game and here he connects the taxi of the future with him using mules to avoid getting his hands dirty. Leave it to Pusha T to bring out such an A1 line about his days dealing.
4. “Sorry Mrs Drizzy for so much art talk/Silly me rappin’ ‘bout shit that I really bought/While these rappers rap about guns they ain’t shot/And a bunch of other silly shit that they ain’t got”
Song: “We Made It (Remix)” [Jay Electronica]
What started out as a response to Drake’s criticism of his fine art raps turned into a condemnation of damn near everyone in the genre. Hov spits his reality, which has evolved from bricks to Basquiat. Drake may be tired of it, but it’s a hell of a lot more justifiable than rappers outlining criminal activity that never happened.
5. “Now the Nets a stone throw from where I used to throw bricks/So it’s only right I’m still tossing ‘round Knicks/Probably brought your auntie a couple bags/I probably front your uncle a couple halves/I was in the S-Class you was just in class”
Song: “Seen It All” [Jeezy]
Given their current status, rapping about the Nets doesn’t seem like much to brag about. But don’t forget, Jay-Z got out of the team before they became truly dreadful. But also, who cares? Dude went from the projects to owning a piece of an arena and the team that plays in it. What. A. Narrative. And as he reminds us, he had paper long before his own rap career and those of most rappers currently spitting.
6. “I’m back in my bag/My eyes bloodshot but my jet don’t lag/A pair of Jordan 3s tryna chase this cash/Gucci air bag just in case we crash”
Song: “Pound Cake” [Drake]
Jay paints an excellent duality with these lines. His career has been too prosperous for him to worry about sleep on the plane, but he’s still rocking his favorite pair of Js. As he’s said before, he’s never changed.
7. “G.O.O.D. Music drug-dealing cousin/Ain’t nothin’ fuckin’ with me, we/Turn that 72 to 134, 125 to a 250, 250 to a half a million, ain’t nothin’ nobody can do with me”
Song: “Clique” [G.O.O.D. Music]
Jay-Z has an absurd amount of mathematical bars that go hard. Here, he nimbly lays out his ability to double his stash and his cash. This is somehow more modest than when he rapped, “Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I’ll still triple my worth.”
8. “Audemars before all of y’alls/Wristwatch got a Russian face like an oligarch, uh”
Song: “Biking” [Frank Ocean]
Your fav could never drop the word “oligarch” in their raps, let alone find something to rhyme with it.
9. “Sometimes you need your ego, gotta remind these fools/Who they effin’ with, and we got FN’s too/Before we had A&Rs, we had AR’s too.”
Here’s the master of double entendres utilizing the technique to highlight the dualities of his life. Hov uses FN phonetically to refer to fucking with him, as well as the firearm Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre. A&R also refers to to a gun, in addition to record label employees.
10. “One ain’t enough/I need two/That night I mix the Ace with the D’US’/Hit a triple-double in the Garden/Held up my left wrist like I’m Harden (swish)”
Song: “Shining” [DJ Khaled]
Only Hov could turn the conception of twins into such a stunt. Of course he’d refer to Beyonce’s umm... "garden," as the most famous arena on earth. And of course he’d conceive while gone off his own champagne.
11. “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian/Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian/Had society shame and the pain was too much to take/Cried tears of joys when you fell in love/Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her”
Based off of content alone, these are instantly some of the most noteworthy lines of Jay’s career. We’ve never heard him be this progressive, but more importantly, it was huge and heartwarming news about his mother, Gloria Carter. What makes it even more impressive is the arrangement, rhyming lesbian with thespian in an outstanding but tragic metaphor. That line captures a universal feeling for those who’ve spent time in the closet.
12. “My crash course was much tougher/’Round friends who kill they friends/Then hug their friend’s mothers/And show up at the funeral, complete with blank stares/Invisible ink, I had to read things that wasn’t there/Memories may sneak down my cheek/But I could see a side-eye in my sleep.”
Song: Caught Their Eyes
Eye imagery and metaphors haven’t been done this well since Doctor T.J. Eckleberg. Hov packs in four references to eyes in quick succession here: blank stares, seeing through deception, tears and side-eyes. That kind of focus won’t be seen in the bars from your favorite punchline rapper.
13. “I don’t be on the ‘Gram goin’ ham/Givin’ information to the pork, that’s all spam.”
Once again with the double entendres, Jay calls out those foolish enough to snitch on themselves on Instagram with a word that works digitally and at the very bottom rung of meats.