An absolute classic to this day, Jay-Z’s debut has maintained one of the strongest hip hop releases ever. Not only is it lyrically his strongest, its immaculate usage of sampling elevates it to a level of perfection. Track after track is a masterclass of lyrics that even the creator of it is hard-pressed to match.
Each track is an elite flex of lyricism. “Brooklyn’s Finest” features the legendary Notorious BIG in an absolute bar onslaught. The duo trades verses constantly outdoing each other with no clear winner. With a hook provided by the engineer of the track, it highlights the best emcees at both of their peaks.
Seemingly no track has much finesse as “22 Two’s.” Using variations of the word “two” twenty-two times throughout the track, its high skill that rarely resurfaces within his discography again. The time it does is its sequel “Forty-Four Fours.”
Jay-Z – 22 Two’s
The album’s sampling techniques are out of this world thanks to Ski Beatz. Famously the sample of “Dead Presidents II” flips Nas’ “The World Is Yours,” but the clean version so the snare was able to hit just right. He speaks in further detail in this video.
A track like “D’Evils” is hip hop in its purest. Sampling & beat done by the legendary DJ Premier, he incorporates lyrics from Snoop Dogg & Prodigy into the beat to further the theme Jay fleshes out. He speaks on the evils (da evils) of money as a temptation by the Devil. He seems how its changed his lifestyle, and how the dangers it brings.
Countless highlights, every track is his strongest effort with the exception of “Ain’t No N*gga.” No solo rapper has a stronger debut, as he drops the wisdom of an elder in the game so early on his career. If its not a lyrical feat, its a story of the dope game that brought him to where he is now. The business mindset starts here, proving it all came from nothing.