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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21. "D'Evils" (1996)

Unlike some of the other tracks on Reasonable Doubt, "D'Evils" is clearly a work of fiction, one both inspired by Snoop Dogg's 1994 gem "Murder Was the Case" – Snoop's "Dear God, I wonder can you save me" forms part of producer DJ Premier's scratched-out chorus – as well as the Mafioso trend overtaking NYC rap. Over three increasingly bleak verses, Jay observes coldly how "none of my friends speak," then kidnaps the baby mother of his closest pal. He seduces her with sex and money and then, after extracting enough information to betray his homie, kills her in cold blood. "My soul is possessed by D'Evils in the form of diamonds and Lexuses," he raps. The horrorcore vibes of "D'Evils" serves as metaphor for Jay's years spent hustling in the streets. In Decoded, he writes, "The first defense of a lot of people who take the criminal route is that they had no choice, which is almost true: Most of us had choices, but the choices were bleak." He adds, "This reflects the way I actually thought: I ignored my God-given ability, never believing that someone from where I came from could make it out."

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