Is Jay-Z now unarguably the greatest rapper of all-time?




Jay-Z speaks after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. October 30, 2021. Picture: Reuters/Gaelen Morse

Infamous drug dealer Pablo Escobar’s fall from grace was set in motion the moment he failed to cut his losses and flee Colombia as danger loomed large.

Dizzied by his extraordinary wealth and power, Escobar didn’t heed the warning signs and was eventually gunned down in broad daylight by the Search Bloc that’d been pursuing him for months.

Billionaire rapper Jay-Z, once a successful drug kingpin in his own right, avoided falling victim to the same intoxicating allure of the narcotics industry by calling it quits in his early 20s and pursuing his rap dream before he too fell victim to the streets.

Ironically, today the 51-year-old’s vast business portfolio includes Monogram, a newly acquired luxury marijuana brand that picks up from where he left off all those years ago.

Jay-Z’s career has a mythical air about it. When he decided to give up selling crack cocaine and give this rap thing a real go in the mid-90’s, no record label was willing to sign him, so him, Damon “Dame” Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke decided they’d build their own label, Roc-A-Fella Records.

With little in the way of marketing budget, his debut album Reasonable Doubt subsequently landed in 1996 to little fanfare.

Despite some good reviews from critics, Jay’s success was overshadowed by that of Tupac and Biggie at the time. Bu,t like a man on a mission, over the ensuing quarter of a century, Jay has emphatically seized the throne by showcasing a level of consistency never seen before.

He dropped an album every year for eight years before he prematurely retired at the peak of his powers. That eight-year run alone (which essentially makes up just half of his career) holds up as one of the top rap discographies ever.

Since returning in 2006, he’s dropped a further six albums, all Billboard chart toppers. In total, he’s now had all of his 14 albums reach the top spot on the Billboard 200, the most ever by a solo act. His 23 Grammy Awards is a record among rappers.

At this point, he’s just stuffing the cake with cherries on top.

His business ventures from Armand de Brignac (Ace of Spades) to his media behemoth Roc Nation have been well documented, but those details are more appropriate for a separate argument. Let’s keep it strictly rap.

Despite his considerable business interests, somehow Jay’s never sounded distracted. His rhymes remain razor sharp.

He’s expertly straddled the line between commercial success and “staying true” by picking his moment smartly, whether it’s sounding off with some gangster rap on 2006’s “American Gangster” or locking in with an inspired Kanye West for the iconic “Watch The Throne”, or summoning his airtight delivery to champion Black financial liberation on “4:44”.

Over the years, he’s also shown a unique ability to juggle the heartfelt narration of songs like “Song Cry” with the scathing bars of a “D.O.A”.

Sure, Hov has had his mishaps along the way. Even he isn’t immune to the odd slip up.

But his magic is in how he weathers the storm and comes back with a vengeance.

Not only has Jay-Z put together unarguably the most impressive career in the history of hip hop, one can argue that he has a case for being the greatest musician of them all.

In a crowning moment in the autumn of his storied career, on Saturday, Jay was inducted in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

At the ceremony, pop culture icons from Barack Obama to Dave Chappelle regaled viewers with beautiful anecdotes about Jay’s career. It felt like a king’s coronation.

Speaking to Billboard a few weeks ago, rapper Vince Staples gave as good an account as to why Jay-Z is the undeniable GOAT.

“There’s really no other option,” he said. “He’s undeniable. Based on the parameters of the GOAT, people don’t just want to hear whose music you enjoy the most. It’s success.

Snoop Dogg is still hella famous and loved. Jay-Z is the same, but he’s still doing it in a music sense. Jay Z is Jay Z. It’s only one.”