It has been said that, “First impressions are everything.” It’s also been said that 9 seconds in a song can tell if you really like it or not.
When it comes to recording artist, Jay-Z, Hov still manages to leave me impressed even after 13 intros from his solo studio albums in last last 20 years. Just when I think he can’t get any better, he does. In his most recent work, he wowed me with an intro that had my ears eagerly anticipating what’s next in the album, 4:44. Thinking ahead (and hopefully), I couldn’t help but wonder. After listening to Fuck Jay-Z, how could Hov surpass this one? I suddenly began to ask myself where do the other ones stand compared to each other?
Take a look at how I chose to rank Jay-Z’s intros from dope to dopest out of 13 studio albums.
A Dream (feat. Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G.)
from The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Off the intro on the first disc of his 2 disc project, “The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse,” Jay starts off with a song honoring rapper Notorious B.I.G. In it, he describes a dream he had of B.I.G. talking to him in his sleep with words of encouragement laying his verse down in conversation form. This tribute also includes a sample of the line “it was all a dream” throughout the track and a BIG verse bigging up his brother from the song, “Juicy.” He’s also big enough to do it, he’s that thorough considering Biggie was a close personal friend to Jay and someone who was a firm believer in his rap dream early on. While this was one of many notorious nods to the late and great Christopher Wallace, it fell short on how dynamic Jay can be on an intro but did give me one of my favorite affirmations: “Remind yourself: Nobody built like you, you designed yourself.”
from American Gangster
“American Gangster” is an album that’s in my top 5 with Jay-Z still keeping it gangster after his retirement, paralleling his life to the film telling the story of Frank Lucas for a conceptual album. Although Jay-Z was corporate thuggin at the time, he found himself inspired by the movie “American Gangster” and returned to his roots of drug-dealing nostalgia over soulful samples. Every song for this album was made for a different scene in the movie and the intro is no exception. Jay samples the dialogue from the film along with star Idris Elba to set the mood for the film. Great intro to lead listeners in, however the much more introspective Jay-Z is found in his other songs on the album.
from Magna Carta Holy Grail
In an intro accompanied by Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z paints the picture of the price of fame in Holy Grail. Over the sample of the classic, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Jay talks about his love/hate relationship with his celebrity. Truth be told, you might say I have a love/hate relationship with this song, while I love JT’s vocals and Jay-Z’s personification for fame, it doesn’t measure up in comparison to some of his other ones.
What We Talkin’ About
from The Blueprint 3
Friend or foe yo, state your biz? Jay cuts to the chase on the intro for The Blueprint 3. Now on his 11th studio album, he doesn’t have time for the games or bullshit conversations and is ready to address it right there on the intro. He’s over the headlines and hearsay and wants to be done with the gossip and move in the future. With BP3 honing a futuristic like sound on production and with songs like “On To The Next One” and “Off That,” it’s clear Hov is sending a message he wants to move forward. An intro with a progressive message that gets straight to the point with poignant punchlines was all what What We Talkin’ About was talking about.
Intro – Hand It Down (feat. Memphis Bleek)
from Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life
The maturation of Memphis Bleek is upon us as Hov shows how far Bleek has come since “Coming Of Age” on Reasonable Doubt. In a sense, Jay-Z is passing the torch to his protege and his verse is just as fire. Memphis Bleek lights up the track with an electric presence that shows that passion burning deep in him still. A classic moment for both Jay and Bleek by also bringing along DJ Premier and Pain in Da Ass together.
from The Black Album
Even though, I happen to think “December 4th” would’ve been a better intro, this interlude might’ve taken a different approach, but was still heartfelt and epic nonetheless. This was written and spoken by genius producer, Just Blaze, as he poetically put together Hov’s departure, (or so we thought would be.)
“Take the analogy of a tree that grows in Brooklyn among the steel and the concrete with all its glorious branches and leaves, one day it too will pass on its legacy through the seeds it dropped to the ground and as the wind carries these seeds throughout wherever they might move a new life will begin for each one of them as they stand as a monument to the one that came before..”
from Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter
“Hello it’s Hova, that’s right youngin the wait is over.” OKAY! WE’RE RELOADED locked and loaded for Jay-Z’s “Vol.3” with Hova’s Song kicking it off. His verse is short, sweet, but still packed with heat. Back when he referred to himself as “Hova the God,” he’s joined by choir-like vocals in the background with lyrics that had Jigga feeling godly, which suited considering how boastful his attitude was on this album.
from The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
Another classic for the books produced by Just Blaze, the intro for Dynasty is always one of my favorites. On this song we have one of the rawest, ruggedest beats setting the score for a dark ,gritty soundtrack that brings out the best out of Hov on all levels. On this song, he gets on his lyrical bully and this intro only touches the surface. On Dynasty, you’ll find some of Jay-Z’s deepest cuts from “Where Have You Been?” to “This Can’t Be Life,” to “Soon You’ll Understand.” With Hov being at the top of his game during this album, he shows you exactly what he’s gone through to get there. It all starts with showing us why he’s here to stay with this intro.
The Ruler’s Back
from The Blueprint
Feeling triumphant after beating his infamous case for an altercation with Lance “Un” Rivera in the club, Jay-Z gives us “The Ruler’s Back” on his classic, “The Blueprint.” The horns are blaring as Hov floats over this song packed with punchlines and a winning attitude. Feeling untouchable now that he’s vindicated, he also gives a clever nod to his current Roc-A-Fella empire:
And you got a couple of beans and you don’t have a clue?
Or your situation is bleak? I’mma keep it real cause
Fucking with me, you gotta drop a mill
Cause if you gonna cop something you gotta cop for real
Intro: A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More
from In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
In a song full of questions and an unquestionable rhyme scheme, Jay shows us life in his eyes with the intro on “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1.” In 2 of the dopest verse to ever introduce an album, DJ Premier helps to make this moment possible on production by also throwing in an Aaliyah sample. We walk through his journey as he “started from the crack game and then so sweet freaked it to the rap game, Jigga the O.G.”
from Kingdom Come
Returning to the throne after retirement, Jay-Z shows exactly why his reign will remain. He flexes his lyrical skill set in “The Prelude” introducing his comeback to rap on the album, “Kingdom Come.”
“Before the answer was a 3
I was down in Georgetown with a Hoya chick, lawyer chick
Sure he’s rich now cause he saw the shit, all this shit
That’s why they call him Hov, cause he came before all this shit
Bought a 6, quarter seven, skipped on them quarter eights
Bought a 9 for non-stop Glock work all the time”
“I used to think rapping at 38 was ill
But last year alone I grossed 38 mill
I know I ain’t quite 38 but still
The flow so special got a .38 feel”
Leading in with a clip from the movie Super Fly was a nice touch too.
A chilly track that set the dark, yet therapeutic tone for Jay-Z’s 4:44 album is “Kill Jay-Z.” Jay has been known to get deep and introspective but not through the duration of a project and not one like this. After Beyonce’s album “Lemonade” listeners were expecting Jay-Z to be just as equally intimate and he took us there with 4:44. He allows himself to really get vulnerable and start the healing process by killing his ego, which is his rap persona Jay-Z. He takes a look at all the pain he’s felt and all the people he’s hurt. His most honest track that not only grabs your attention but makes you hold your heart as well.
Can’t Knock the Hustle (feat. Mary J. Blige)
from Reasonable Doubt
The first and foremost, the intro of all intros, the leading track to Jay-Z’s debut: “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” Laced with lyricism and the vocal styling of Aunite Mary, Hov and Mary J. Blige get to together and make this whole world believe them. This intro was a hit and a classic and almost didn’t happen. Labels told Roc-A-Fella Jay-Z couldn’t release his single because he was “some unknown rapper dude” but they should’ve listened closely to the song cause you can’t knock the hustle.
Where do Hov’s intros rank on your list? Say Hello in a comment below.