Today is Shawn Carter’s 45th birthday, better known to most of you as the ubiquitous rapper Jay Z (husband of Beyoncé and father to our future overlord Blue Ivy). I’ve been listening to Jay Z for pretty much as long as I can remember; his debut album dropped around the time that I was really getting into rap and hip hop and he’s provided the soundtrack to a lot of my adult life. As I’ve gotten older and my musical tastes have continued to diversify and expand, I’ve found that I’m not as current on rap as I used to be but that I always know what Mr. Carter is up to. I have every album that he’s ever done on my iPod. He’s one of the rarified artists that I’ve seen multiple times in concert and would still go to see multiple more times; he always puts on a good show and while some critics and fans bemoan that his best work is behind him, I still dig pretty much everything he does. I even read his book Decoded, which is part autobiography, part annotated lyrics and I thought it was fascinating. Basically, if you tell me that Jay Z is involved in anything, I’m interested. I’ve even forgiven him for his role in stealing Robinson Cano away from the Yankees. Well, mostly forgiven anyway.
So in honor of his birthday today, let’s take a quick stroll through some of my favorite Jay Z songs. His catalog is pretty prolific and I had a tough time narrowing this down, but if I could only select a few of his songs to listen to while trapped on a desert island, these would be my choices.
99 Problems – The Black Album
Every time that I’ve seen Jay Z in concert, this song always gets the crowd pumped up. That’s not surprising, since it’s a great freaking song.
Show Me What You Got – Kingdom Come
I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but this song was pretty much my unofficial theme song for the mid to late 2000s. Featured in a Budweiser commercial, I never failed to stop what I was doing to watch it, usually mimicking Jay Z’s minimalist dance moves in the process. I’m sure that got real annoying to everyone else, but it never failed to amuse me.
Empire State of Mind – The Blueprint 3
A love letter to a city that I also love, this song is also forever connected for me with the Yankees 2009 World Series win. That alone is reason enough for the song to crack my list.
Big Pimpin – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
This song reminds me of pretty much every night out in my twenties after college.
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
Rap + a song from Annie = mind blown. When I first heard this song I had no idea what to make of it, but once I processed the creativity of mashing these two things together it became a fast favorite.
03 Bonnie & Clyde – The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Even non-Jay Z fans like this song, thanks to the presence of his future wife Beyoncé.
Dirt Off Your Shoulder – The Black Album
An equal opportunity tune – “Ladies is pimps too, go and brush your shoulders off”
Tom Ford – Magna Carta Holy Grail
This one won me over after hearing it live. There’s something about the repetition of the designer’s name that becomes hypnotic.
So happy birthday Jay Z; you’re pretty much living your best life anyway, but I hope you have a great birthday.