To try and nail down a list of the best Jay-Z songs is kind of like trying to nail down a list of Michael Jordan’s best moments on a basketball court. Moments—not dunks, not passes, not shots, not highlights—moments. Because much like his roundball peer, the man born Shawn Carter has built his empire not by merely showcasing his exceptional rhyming skills; rather he has set himself apart by making forward-looking, awe-inspiring, never-been-done-before revelatory choices (lest we be remembered who was the first artist to pen Auto-tune’s obituary with any amount of success) that has helped lead a personalized sense of transcendence throughout all of hip-hop.
He’s been the first rapper to age gracefully, the one who embraced a preconceived ageism within a subculture by confronting it head on, proclaiming “30 was the new 20” without anyone even remotely challenging as much. He took one of the most electrifying beefs the medium has ever seen (with Nas) and turned it into a lucrative business proposition, proving first-hand that it can be wise to swallow our pride every now and then. And now, to top it all off, he’s developed a sports agency, signing some of the most celebrated athletes American sport currently offers at breakneck speed, reminding us all that his mind wanders far beyond the realm of simple beats and complicated words.