Jay-Z: 50 Greatest Songs

With a rhyme career going since the late Eighties, Jay-Z's songs have been reflective, pop, confessional, hard-edged and indelible. Here are his best

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26. "Can't Knock the Hustle" feat. Mary J. Blige (1996)

Much as the Notorious B.I.G. had done with 1994's Ready to Die, Jay-Z's debut album Reasonable Doubt marked a marriage between the kind of dense lyricism that appealed to rap heads and the kind of bubbly, bouncy beats that appealed to club-goers. No other track underlined that ethos quite like opening track "Can't Knock the Hustle." The song finds him both rebuking neighborhood snitches watching Jay-Z the street hustler and anticipating critics of Jay-Z the rapper's fomenting dominance. "I'm leanin' on any nigga intervening with the sound of my money machine," he blasts in a flurry of interior rhyme logic. Meanwhile, Mary J. Blige underlines Jay's words with a chorus inspired by Meli'sa Morgan's 1985 hit "Fool's Paradise." "I heard what Jay-Z was speaking about, which is not judging the way people go and make their money," Blige explained in the 2008 BBC documentary Classic Albums: Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt. "It was something I could relate to because the culture we lived in was about survival, and never disrespecting other people's hustle."    

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