Recently, Vulture dropped an article that’s been making the rounds among hip-hop heads, enthusiasts, regular joes and coffee shop denizens alike. Vulture writer John Kennedy did the Lord’s work and ranked Jay-Z’s songs from worst to best.
Of course, most people scrolled right to the bottom—the longest scroll ever; it was like a Ta-Nehisi Coates-article scroll—to see what was ranked as Jay’s best. The answer?
Find out, after these messages!
“Hard Knock Life” was ranked as his best song. While I can see some folks arguing about this, I tend to agree. The piece basically makes the case that it’s the song that changed Jay’s career, and I agree. Also, the song itself is one of his most innovative and dope records. It would be one thing if, I don’t know, “Lucky Me” were listed as numero uno. “Hard Knock Life” changed everything for Jay and sent him on the road to that billi he’s headed toward. My personal favorite “Can I Live?” came in at No. 2.
I won’t even pretend that I read through each entry, and the article seemed to generally follow along the way you’d expect, with many songs from Kingdom Come, Magna Carta ... Holy Grail and Blueprint 2, plus the R. Kelly albums, toward the end. Look, it doesn’t really matter what song came in No. 176 (“Oh My God”) or even No. 254 (“Stranded [Haiti Mon Amour]”). Ranking those songs was a labor of love, I assure you, and only because he began the undertaking did Kennedy even have to listen to them.
Nope, the only songs that really mattered are Nos. 1, 2-10 and the very last fucking song, 274. And what was ranked as Jay’s worst song?
“Anything” from the Kingdom Come album. Not “Anything,” the b0nus cut on Vol. 3, or from Beanie Sigel’s The Truth album. THAT “Anything” was straight fire.
Hmmm. Several songs from Kingdom Come could make this slot. In fact, if EYE had to pick what I think is the worst Jay song, it would be the song that follows “Anything” on KC, “Hollywood,” one of his many horrendous joint songs with Queen Beyoncé. On this list, “Hollywood” in all its putrescence is ranked at No. 263. I think we call that “mercy” in the religious community.
How bad is “Hollywood”? It’s so bad, I couldn’t find a YouTube video of the song. It’s so bad that when I pulled it up on Tidal, I immediately got mad that I pay $9.99 a month to listen to this song. This song is so bad that even Beyoncé couldn’t save it. Even Jay’s flow on the song is basura. This song is bad on an album full of bad songs. Even now, I went back and listened to “Anything” and almost decided that “Anything” IS the worst, but nope, I have visceral reactions to “Hollywood,” mostly because why, Jay, did you make this song? Bey is the only good thing about this super-contrived-ass song.
It’s as if Jay said, “I need a song that sounds like a good radio song; somebody queue some trash up,” and Young Guru said, “Say no more.” Maybe I’m being harsh, but to me, it’s that bad. You know, I’m surprised nobody has pointed out that all of their best collaborations happened on Beyoncé albums. “Upgrade You,” “Drunk in Love,” “Crazy in Love,” etc. Meanwhile, Jay has “Hollywood,” “Bonnie and Clyde ’03” and “Lift Off,” though the latter was on the Watch the Throne album. Point is, Bey kept the best collabos for herself. She smart.
So you know how sometimes people say things like, “Even though it’s the worst, that doesn’t make something bad”? Yeah, that doesn’t apply here. “Anything” is legit a terrible song. When your favorite artists are prolific and have a tremendous output, not everything is going to be good, but bad is bad, man. Shit. And “Anything” is amazingly bad.
I don’t know if anybody has ever asked Jay about that song (probably not), but I know I’ve often wondered what goes on in the head of these artists when they hear certain songs and decide, “Yeah, that’s it right there.” Granted, perhaps there are other factors at work and there’s a sound he was going for. I’ve often felt that way about “Justify My Thug” on The Black Album.
The Black Album is easily one of Jay’s best albums. On my personal list, it’s No. 3 after Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint and, now, right before 4:44. But “Justify My Thug” always felt like an anomaly to me. The beat, produced by one of my all-time favorites, DJ Quik, felt like a throwaway. Even the song itself seemed ... ungood. It made No. 218 on the Vulture list.
Now, the good thing about an artist of Jay’s caliber is that the good faaaaaar outweighs the bad. And there’s so much good. The good is full of so many highs and cultural landmarks that, short of Jay releasing an album full of records that all sound like “Hollywood” or “Anything” or “Super Ugly” (which, to its credit, had the SUPER dope “Bad Intentions” beat from Dr. Dre and Knoc-Turn’Al), he’ll be all right.
Plus, when you’ve been around for a solid 20-plus years, constantly putting in work, the bottom of that list tends to be forgotten out of respect. And ultimately, Jay probably laughs about such things as he walks into the bank and they roll out the red carpet and pour him glasses of D’Ussé while he says, “Am I still rich?” and the bankers say, “Yes, Jay, sir, you are still rich.”
But just know that if anybody you know ever tells you that a) Kingdom Come is their favorite Jay album and b) “Anything” (or “Hollywood”) is their favorite song, they are not to be trusted.