Jigga put his debut Reasonable Doubt at number one and his post-retirement comeback Kingdom Come at the bottom (of that last one, he noted, “First game back, don’t shoot me”). Here’s what his whole list looked like, with his commentary (and note that this only deals with his solo joints, so neither of his R. Kelly team-ups nor Watch the Throne were included).
1. Reasonable Doubt (Classic)
2. The Blueprint (Classic)
3. The Black Album (Classic)
4. Vol. 2 (Classic)
5. American Gangster (4 1/2, cohesive)
6. Magna Carta…Holy Grail (F—wit, Tom Ford, Oceans, Beach, On the Run, Grail)
7. Vol. 1 (Sunshine kills this album… Streets, Where I’m from, You Must Love Me)
8. BP3 (Sorry critics, it’s good. Empire (Gave Frank a run for his money))
9. Dynasty (Intro alone…)
10. Vol. 3 (Pimp C verse alone… oh, So Ghetto)
11. BP2 (Too many songs. F—ing Guru and Hip Hop, ha)
12. Kingdom Come (First game back, don’t shoot me)
So now that Jay Z has come clean on how he thinks his career has shaken out, there’s only one question left: Did he get it right?
Obviously all rankings are subjective, even to (or perhaps especially for) the person creating the material being placed in a list. Jay at least has a grasp on what makes him good, and his top four is pretty airtight—you could rearrange some of the rankings, but those four would be at the top of most any compendium of Jay’s work. (Personally, I like The Blueprint and The Black Album more than Reasonable Doubt, but they’re all pretty bulletproof.)
After that, things get a little hairier. Jay deeply overrates Magna Carta…Holy Grail, which I would consider his worst album (worse even than Kingdom Come, which isn’t nearly as terrible as you remember it, but still pretty bad). He does the same with The Blueprint 3, and the fact that Jay goes out of his way to call out “Empire State of Mind” is telling. That song obviously made him a lot of money and has become iconic in its own right, but it’s the limpest title in Jay’s entire catalog (and that includes “Beach Chair”) and is exhibit A for people making the case that Jay doesn’t know what he’s good at anymore.
His relationship with the late ’90s seems strangely complicated too, as he underrates Vol. 3 (a way better album than the ones ahead of it) and Dynasty (which is a complicated one because it’s a pretty good album, but Jay gets completely blown out of the water by his support cast, especially Beanie Siegel). Jay does get one thing definitively right, though: The Blueprint 2 has way too many songs.
How would you have ranked Jay Z’s albums? Could you make a case for Vol. 2 being his best? What belongs at the bottom? And why does Jay love the perfectly fine but unspectacular American Gangster so much?