Ranking the Best Jay-Z Albums

Seven years ago, I took up the monumental challenge of ranking Jay Z’s entire incredible catalog.

Seven years is a might long time – this one was due for a refresh.

Since 2013, Jay has dropped two more LPs, released an album with wife Beyonce, and has continued to solidify his position as the figurehead of hip-hop. So today, let’s look back at Jay’s entire career with fresh eyes, ranking his LPs from bottom to top. Not only will I be adding his newer releases, I’m also dropping in a few collabos that I missed the first time around.

More albums means more things to argue about in the comments. Have fun!

17. Unfinished Business (2004)

Soul In Stereo rating: 2 stars out of 5

Edd said: I don’t even know where to start on this one. After Jay Z’s original collabo with R&B’s Voldemort was derailed by underage sex allegations, someone thought it was a good idea to TRY IT AGAIN once Kelly beat the case. Unfinished Business is comprised of leftovers from their Best of Both Worlds sessions – they should have remained on the cutting room floor. There’s barely anything of note here. Don’t bother.

Forgotten favorites: “Big Chips”

16. The Best of Both Worlds (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: On paper this should have worked. In execution? EHHHH. The world’s biggest rapper and the world’s biggest R&B linked up in 2002 for the world’s … most mediocre collaboration. Kelly isn’t too bad here but Jay seems totally on autopilot, resulting in a handful of decent tracks and more than a few disposable ones. Of course, this project was doomed once the courts came for Arruh, but even before then it was a disappointment.

Forgotten favorites: “The Best of Both Worlds,” “Take You Home With Me,” “Get This Money”

15. The Blueprint 3 (2009)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read the review here

Edd said: For me, Blueprint 3 was a one-track effort. That one track? “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune).” Hov’s first single lyrically powerbombed dozens of lazy rappers who were coasting to radio success by singing like Starscream. A decade later, we saw how much good that did. There are a few gems here and there but overall BP3 doesn’t live up to its lofty namesake.

Forgotten favorites: “Star is Born,” “Venus vs Mars,” “Thank You”

14. The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Aight, so if you’re a longtime Soul In Stereo head, you know that The Dynasty is BY FAR my least favorite Jay Z album, personally speaking that is. It’s basically a Roc-A-Fella compilation disguised as a Jay-Z album. And it’s not even a good compilation. But, in the interest of objectivity (and in an effort to stop urinating on your nostalgia for this album) I revisited it for the sake of this re-ranking and, honestly, it has aged much better than Blueprint 3. I contend that the album’s hits are supremely overrated – “I Just Wanna Love You” isn’t a good track, sorry – but the album cuts keep this one from completely crashing. See, even I can have a heart sometimes.

Forgotten favorites: “Intro,” “You, Me, Him, Her,” “1-900-Hustler”

13. Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: This was the first time I saw cracks in Jigga’s seemingly impenetrable platinum armor. Jay’s fourth consecutive album in as many years had its moments but his creative juices were clearly drying up. It yielded a handful of memorable singles but the overall body of work floundered a bit. Much better days were to come, obviously.

Forgotten favorites: “Dope Man,” “There’s Been A Murder,” “Come And Get Me”

12. Kingdom Come (2006)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Kingdom Come has an odd legacy. Back in 2006, Jay’s comeback album was met with adoration from Jay stans, like it was the second coming of Reasonable Doubt. In later years, it’s been panned as Jay’s single worst project – even Jay Z himself has stated that it wasn’t his best work. The truth, as always, is in the middle. Although light on memorable cuts, this album is much more cohesive than those featured earlier on our list. This was also the first time we got a more mature Jay, a persona that he’d embrace with greater success in latter years. Kingdom Come was a mild disappointment due to mile-high expectations, but by no means a tragedy.

Forgotten favorites: “Anything,” “Minority Report,” “Kingdom Come”

11. Magna Carta … Holy Grail (2013)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Remember that time Samsung gave y’all and album for free and EVERYONE FREAKED OUT? Half promotional tool, half LP, Magna Carta Holy Grail is yet another divisive release in Jay’s catalog, where he seemed to spend more time bragging about brunch in Paris and shopping for artwork than talking about stuff that’s relatable. Like selling drugs, I guess. Jay’s diehards weren’t too pleased with the glossy new approach and his Ted Dibiase bars but different isn’t necessarily BAD. The production is top-notch, the set is pretty cohesive and it’s actually a lot of fun in spots. It’s obviously one of Jay’s lesser releases, but even a lesser Jay album is better than most’s best work.

Forgotten favorites: “Tom Ford,” “FUTW,” “Part II (On the Run)”

10. The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: I contend that this is a five-star album hidden buried amongst a bunch of mixtape throwaways. It’s like Jay said, “Biggie has a two-disc album, Pac has a two-disc album, Wu-Tang has a two-disc album, I should have a two-disc album.” Then he did that weird little giggle thing he does. Anyway, there are some absolutely stellar tracks to be found here, they’re just often overshadowed by the mediocre ones. At TWENTY-FIVE songs, this album needs Hydroxycut but you can’t overlook the heat that’s spread over those two discs.

Forgotten favorites: “As One,” “Blueprint 2,” “Poppin Tags”

9. Everything is Love (2018)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: There’s nothing like being awakened from a Saturday afternoon nap from frantic texts proclaiming “BEYONCE AND JAY Z DROPPED A SURPRISE ALBUM YAAAASS MY LIFE,” but that’s exactly what happened in the summer of 2018. After two solo releases that detailed the ups and downs of their marriage, Everything is Love completely committed to celebrating their union. And while y’all know most trap songs make me itch, their artistry shines through when lesser artists would have coasted on gimmicks. Yeah, I’d much rather hear Beyonce singing than rapping but hey, the Carters are having fun. We’re just along for the ride.

Forgotten favorites: “Black Effect,” “Lovehappy,” “Boss”

8. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Of all of Jay’s great albums, Vol. 1 seems to be the one that constantly falls through Twitter’s cracks. Yeah, that song with Puffy and Lil Kim is practically unlistenable and there are some blatant attempts to gain radio play, but so what? This is still a rock-solid release. It’s a careful balancing act of mainstream appeal and street sensibilities – an art he’d perfect on the next year’s release. Seriously, go back and listen to this one; I dare you to find three albums released this year that can measure up to it.

Forgotten favorites: “Imaginary Player,” “You Must Love Me,” “Who You Wit II”

7. Watch the Throne (2011)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: What a moment in time this was. As Jay was transitioning into his role as elder statement and Kanye West was ascending to rap’s elite, Watch the Throne really felt like the union of two titans. Coming in with a ton of hype and living up to most of it, Watch the Throne is a slightly bloated but ultimately satisfying collabo that, unfortunately, served as the swan song of “Old Kanye.” Jay didn’t take a backseat, though, sounding sharper than he had in recent memory. I’m still not holding my breath for Watch the Throne 2, though.

Forgotten favorites:  “Murder to Excellence,” “Who Gon Stop Me,” “HAM”

6. 4:44 (2017)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: OG fans of Soul In Stereo know that for years I defended Jay Z as the best rapper alive. Bar none. That all changed in 2012 when, after a string of mediocre releases, I passed Jay’s crown to Nas, who had just delivered yet another 5-star album. Jay would always remain a legend but in my eyes, his star definitely was dimming. 2017 became his redemption. Pulling from his personal marital problems, Jigga got his groove back with 4:44, a thrilling ode to fatherhood, fidelity and maturity – three words I thought we’d never associate with Jay. I hope you think piece writers still aren’t misunderstanding his message: The album is about not blindly forgiving infidelity, it’s a cautionary tale warning men to mature or risk losing it all. No ID’s immaculate production and Jay’s most personal lyrics ever make it one of the better albums in his legendary catalog.

Forgotten favorites: “4:44,” “Kill Jay Z,” Caught Their Eyes”

5. The Black Album (2003)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: This is likely the ranking that will piss off readers the most but I stand by it. First, let me say this is an air-tight release. Even the most critical listeners (i.e., me) need the Hubble telescope to spot flaws in this collection. Still, I’ve always felt it’s been slightly overrated since it was billed as the “last” Jay-Z album – we really wanted Jay to go out with a classic, so we christened this as one. I’m still not 100% sold on classic status for this one, but it comes pretty close. Great album no doubt, but far from his greatest.

Forgotten favorites: “Threat,” “Lucifer,” “What More Can I Say”

4. American Gangster (2007)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: By far Jigga’s most underrated piece of work. While not an official soundtrack to the titular film, Jay basically retells the story using his own life experiences. What results is worthy of the big screen. No it’s not just an album about drugs, it’s about the pressures of fame and the plight of excess. It’s outlines the rise and fall from grace, a story told almost as well as the movie. Add some of the most lush production Jay has ever spit over and you have an incredible piece of work.

Forgotten favorites: “No Hook,” “Sweet,” “Say Hello”

3. Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (1998)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Now we’re in rarefied air. If you listen to some Jigga fans, they’d swear he arrived on the scene and immediately became the greatest of all time after one song. They’re wrong because they were probably born in 2008. It wasn’t until this album, Jay’s third solo release, that he went from respected underground rapper to hip hop megastar. And he deserved the honor. Tinkering with the formula from Vol. 1, Jay expertly reached out to the radio and the streets, captivating both audiences. Some fans deride this album’s mainstream hits but that’s ridiculous. This set contains many of the best songs of the late 90s. It has style AND substance and, for better or worse, influenced a generation of rappers to claw for mainstream success. It’s a true classic.

Forgotten favorites: “A Week Ago,” “If I Should Die,” “Coming of Age (Da Sequel)”

2. The Blueprint (2001)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Around the time this album dropped, rumor around the Internetz was that Jay recorded this set in seven days. I don’t know if I buy that, it’s probably just Jay doing his weird god complex thing. No matter how long it took, The Blueprint wound up being a bonafide classic, an album that still holds up today. Lyrically, Jay may have been at his peak here, throwing around lines that are still being quoted a decade later. Later installments of the Blueprint series had their ups and downs, but no one can question the impact and quality of this one.

Forgotten favorites: “Renegade,” “All I Need,” “Girls Girls Girls 2”

1. Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: I’ll never forget one of my best friends saying back in 96, “I think I need to go get that Jay-Z album. I think it might be pretty good.” Yeah playa, it was pretty good all right. From top to bottom, I can’t find a single fault with this debut album. Every verse is a gem, every ounce of its production is iconic. I rocked this album on the bus during field trips, while playing video games and even while doing chores – Jay’s vivid storytelling was absolutely captivating. Years later, I even wrote a college essay based on “22 Two’s.” And best of all, amongst my friends, this album seemed to be our own little secret. While MTV and BET were obsessed with Jay’s track with Foxy Brown, who seemed set to be the star of the duo, we knew that Jay-Z had so much more to offer – we knew he was destined to rule rap. We were right. And it all started with this album.

Forgotten favorites: “Regrets,” “Can I Live,” “Bring It On”

Is this list ranked flawlessly or did I shortchange your favorites? Speak out in the comments.

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4 Comments

  1. I agree with you except the ranking of The Black album, that cd was and still is a banger! I’ve been down with Jay Z since Reasonable Doubt and I have every album, I guess you could call me a fan 😉

    • Black Album is an excellent album but I just love AG and the trio of classics slightly more. It’s hard to go wrong with any of those top tier Hov albums.

  2. Sorry to say that but how can you rank Dynasty below KD??

    Did you hear :
    – Where Have You Been
    – Soon you’ll Understand
    – This Can’t Be Life
    – Squeeze First
    – Guilty until proven innocent

    Please, do you listen to music or do you just skimmed through it??

  3. True fan here. I’ve received 5 Jay albums as (mostly Bday) gifts and in each instance it was his current project.

    Vol 2
    Blueprint 1
    Best of Both Worlds 1
    Kingdom Come
    American Gangster
    (Yehh been a fan for a long time.Ha!)

    I used to swear by Blueprint 2oo1.
    In retrospect I now prefer Kingdom Come then American Gangster. Other early (and not so early) classics are drenched with cool records and Sly candor…Obvious Jiggaman trademarks. Plus, the more worthy Reasonable Doubts and BP2s of the collection speak for themselves. I dont play JAY much as before but when I hear Show Me What You Got…Excuse Me Miss… Roc Boys… or I Just Wanna Love U… Big Pimpin or any number of others I find Myself back in the musical bliss of My youth and always feel reminded of why I placed 1ST in so many of the JAY Z stanoffs over the years.
    Good ranking guys!

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