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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17. Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Otis" (2011)

"Otis" began as a direct challenge from Kanye West's longtime collaborator No I.D, according to XXL. "I get the co-productions, but how you gon' do an album and you don't go to the machine and do one beat by yourself?" the producer told West upon arriving at New York's Mercer Hotel where he and Jay had set up a makeshift studio to record Watch the Throne. West bolted to his MPC, began chopping up a slow refrain from Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," and flipped an iconic soul song into something stabbing, brash and gruff. The song introduced the world to the term "luxury rap" and Jay opened it by declaring, "I invented swag." But for a onetime hustler who'd run with a broke crew who "wanted to pretend we weren't," flaunting his wealth was always a more nuanced proposition. "It's not, like, 'We're here! We're balling harder than everybody,'" Jay told GQ of his and Kanye's lyrics on "Otis" "When you're accustomed to wealth, you don't show it, right?" he'd later explain to Vanity Fair. "That's why the white kids in school could wear bummy sneakers; it's almost like, Don't show wealth – that's crass."

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