Jay-Z has dominated hip-hop for decades, but he’s also known when to shine the spotlight on others – whether that be giving early breaks to up-and-coming talent like such as the young Kanye West, or hyping the likes of Rihanna and Mariah Carey with guest verses that give his seal of approval. Here are just a few reasons why Jay-Z and co have earned the right to run this town.
Notorious BIG (feat Jay-Z and Angela Winbush): I Love The Dough (1997)
Having come up alongside fellow-Brooklynite Biggie Smalls, in 1997, the year Biggie died, Jay-Z was given the honor of opening the unapologetically materialistic “I Love The Dough.” Taken from Life After Death, Biggie’s final posthumous album, it helped set the scene for Jay-Z to assume the mantle of Greatest Rapper Alive.
Mariah Carey (feat Jay-Z): Heartbreaker (1999)
Until dropping a verse halfway through, Jay-Z’s contributions are more in the mold of old-school hype man (shout outs to DJ Clue; exhortations to “bounce like this”), but his appearance on Mariah Carey’s US chart-topping “Heartbreaker” marked a huge step into mainstream pop, and also helped give Carey some street cred at the turn of the millennium.
Jay-Z (feat Beyoncé): ’03 Bonnie & Clyde (2002)
Stepping out on a song together for the first time, Jay-Z likened his new relationship with future Queen Bey both to the notorious Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, and R&B power couple Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston. Fifteen years later, the song proved prophetic: Mr and Mrs Carter remain an unstoppable, globe-straddling force.
Beyoncé (feat Jay-Z): Crazy In Love (2003)
Beyoncé may well have taken her husband’s name for The Mrs Carter Show World Tour of 2013-14, but “Crazy In Love” is her show, and Jay Z is very much Mr Knowles. Built around an infectious sample of The Chi-Lites’ “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So),” the song was an unavoidable smash during the summer of 2003, a year in which Jay Z and Beyoncé both released chart-topping albums, and HOVA dropped some of his best guest verses.
Pharrell (feat Jay-Z): Frontin’ (2003)
N*E*R*D production mastermind Pharrell Williams was one of the few people to get close to challenging Jay-Z’s chart domination in the early 00s. His debut solo single, “Frontin’,” perfected his phuture-funk slow jam style, leaving just enough room for Jay-Z to slip in a verse that let his increasingly emotionally honest persona through.
Jay-Z/Linkin Park: Numb/Encore (2004)
Comfortably dominating the pop landscape, Jay-Z set his sights on the rock world, teaming up with rap-metal crossover group Linkin Park for a fully collaborative EP given the knowing title Collision Course. The single “Numb/Encore” easily hit its target, however, and found Jay-Z performing the song with the group at LA’s Roxy Theater, seeing the hip-hop icon own a stage usually reserved for rock and metal acts.
Kanye West (feat Jay-Z): Diamonds From Sierre Leone (Remix) (2005)
Jay-Z gave Kanye West his first big break when he hired the young Yeezy to produce five tracks on his 2001 album, The Blueprint. Four years later, Kanye addressed questions over their friendship by allowing Jay-Z to take a remix of “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” hostage with one of his finest ever verses – still a breathtaking moment in both men’s careers.
Lupe Fiasco (feat Jay-Z): Pressure (2006)
By the mid-00s, Jay-Z was scattering guest verses like $100 bills, giving Lupe Fiasco 45 seconds’ worth of his time – just enough to give the newcomer his approbation, while reminding everyone else that, two decades into the game, Jay-Z’s from-the-streets narrative was complete.
Nas (feat Jay-Z): Black Republican (2006)
If Nas perfected a strain of soul- and funk-laden rap with 1994’s Illmatic, a decade later he was ready to declare “hip-hop is dead,” on the 2006 album of the same name. Over suitably funeral beats, the pair juxtapose their early hardscrabble years with their latter-day wealth, declaring their love for their roots.
Rihanna (feat Jay-Z): Umbrella (2007)
Rihanna needed no introduction for her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad. Nevertheless, Jay-Z was on hand to forecast success in the intro to her first global chart-topper, “Umbrella.”
Jay-Z (feat Alicia Keys): Empire State Of Mind (2009)
A 21st-century update of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” “Empire State Of Mind” reminded the world that hip-hop was born in the Big Apple. One long love letter to the city that birthed them, and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys gave New York a new anthem that captured all the possibilities of Sinatra’s original.
Jay-Z (feat Kanye West and Rihanna): Run This Town (2009)
Jay-Z was in militant mood as the decade that opened with 9/11 came to a close. If “Empire State Of Mind” was a love letter, “Run This Town” was a manifesto that found Jay-Z enlisting Kanye West and Rihanna for a declaration not of independence, but dominance.
Jay-Z & Kanye West: Ni__as In Paris (2011)
Ten years after first working together on Jay Z’s The Blueprint, HOVA and Yeezy traded verses on the unapologetically hedonistic Watch The Throne album, goading each other on throughout “Ni__as In Paris,” racing through the streets of the French capital on a song that bludgeons you into submission and makes no apologies for it.
Kanye West (feat Jay-Z, Rock Ross, Bon Iver, Nicki Minaj): Monster (2011)
If Kanye West was ready to let his darkest impulses run riot on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he was in willing company on “Monster.” One of his stand-out moments, not only did it introduce then-newcomer Nicki Minaj to the world on one of her finest guest turns, it also gave Jay-Z an outlet for some pent-up horrorcore fury.