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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22. "Friend or Foe" (1996)

"Getting on a Primo beat at the time Jay-Z got on a Primo beat for the first time was the equivalent of driving a Ferrari or something like that," Elizabeth Mendez Berry told Zach O'Malley Greenburg for the 2011 biography Empire State of Mind. "It was a moment of arriving." Premier may have not dominated the Billboard charts like Puff Daddy and Dr. Dre, but he was the most respected among NYC hip-hop producers, and his three contributions to Reasonable Doubt were a sign of Jay's rising stock. Unlike "D'Evils" and its mordant tale of a friend's betrayal, Premier's beat for "Friend or Foe" was buoyant with Blaxploitation funk, and Jay-Z responded with a short, off-the-cuff verse that sounds strikingly humorous by comparison. "I need those keys/And a promise that you'll never/No matter the weather/Ever-ever-ever-ever-ever-ever come around here no mo'," he ends with a smirk as he repurposes a Chris Tucker line from the 1995 classic Friday.    

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