Let Me Play The Answers: 8 Jazz Artists Honoring Black Geniuses
8 Jazz Artists Honoring Black Geniuses


Let Me Play The Answers: 8 Jazz Artists Honoring Black Geniuses

By revering their forebears on record, Bruce Harris, James Brandon Lewis, Dara Tucker, The Baylor Project, Allan Harris, Samara Joy, Charnett Moffett and the late Ralph Peterson, Jr. show that Black music is a self-sustaining universe.

GRAMMYs/Jul 1, 2021 - 01:12 am

Many nights, when the trumpeter Bruce Harris performs live, the audience's ears prick up at an unfamiliar melody—one that should be far more known.

"People are always like, 'I love the tunes you pick!' and it'd be 'Miss Hazel' by Tina Brooks or 'Take Twelve' by Elmo Hope," Harris tells He and his colleagues may revere these compositions, but outside of insular jazz circles, few discuss them much at all. While they’re simply engaging tunes to many strangers, to Harris, they’re bona fide standards.

Unlike some of the writers of more well-known fare, those two composers are Black. "It's amazing how sometimes the standards are not the standards written by the Black composers," Harris continues. "Standards have become the entry: If you want to play this music, you've got to play 'Cherokee.' There are so many great artists who haven't gotten their flowers, as they say."

To this end, Harris tries to tip the scales by covering architects of Black music. These days, he's far from the only jazz artist doing it—and the revered figures aren't limited to musicians. Seven other musicians—saxophonist James Brandon Lewis; vocalists Dara Tucker, Allan Harris and Samara Joy; drummer and singer Marcus and Jean Baylor; and the late drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr.—have recently made records singing the praises of Black geniuses throughout history, from Art Blakey to George Washington Carver.

Together, they reinforce not only that there's room for the American Songbook to grow—but that Black American artists throughout history have formed an ever-nourishing, self-sustaining universe where anyone can step inside. 

Here are the stories of how these eight artists' inspirations have thrilled, inspired and galvanized them.

A Tributary To Rough-And-Tumble New York Royalty: Bruce Harris

Bruce Harris. Photo courtesy of Cellar Music Group.

Beyond the color of their skin, why did Bruce Harris draw from the wells of Gigi Gryce, Hank Mobley and Duke Ellington for his new album?

 "They're all East Coast city people!" Harris replies with a chuckle. "That's who I am. When I lived in Harlem, I lived a block away from where Bud Powell used to live, in the same neighborhood as Jackie McLean, Walter Davis and Arthur Taylor—obviously not at the same time. I didn't realize this until recently, but I'm just listening to the music of my community, culture and where I'm from."

That new offering, Soundview, which arrived June 4, is catnip for fans of straight-ahead jazz. Therein, he constellates tunes by his influences—Mobley's "Hank's Pranks," Barry Harris' "The Bird of Red and Gold," and a suite of Duke Ellington compositions—while asserting himself as a fresh voice on the New York scene.

"It's not about replacement; it's about bringing things to the forefront," Harris says about his decision to emphasize Black composers. "All of it is valid because all of these people played standards. They acknowledged that music, so we should acknowledge their music. It should be a give-and-take."

A Multifarious Saxophonist Wading Deep Into Science: James Brandon Lewis

James Brandon Lewis. Photo: Diane Alford

James Brandon Lewis recently made waves in the press for Jesup Wagon, his 2021 album paying tribute to agricultural scientist and inventor George Washington Carver. Seeing as we're dealing with instrumental music, how did he evoke the man beyond mere song titles?

"I could easily come up with a song and call it 'The Peanut'; I don't know if that would be that interesting," he told in 2021. "I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm trying my best to evoke a deeper thing." With the help of Thelonious Monk biographer Robin D. G. Kelley, he used the titles as goalposts for what he wanted to say.

As for how Carver's thoughts, feelings and ambitions translated into abstract sound? Lewis doesn't see that as any different from what music has done for millennia. "It's no different than if I was writing a piece and I wanted to evoke, maybe, what love feels like," he continued. "That's just knowing the characteristics of how to paint emotion with particular sounds."

Lewis is one of the most compelling voices in modern jazz, and he's not resting at Jesup Wagon nor its PR-ready subject matter. He's already finished his next album, Code of Being, which releases in October 2021. But, no matter where his muse goes, Lewis is not only a vessel for his forebears but an impactful voice all his own.

A Fighter For Social Justice Wielding Music As A Balm: Dara Tucker

 Dara Tucker. Photo: Green Hill Music

When global protests ignited in response to George Floyd's murder, Dara Tucker observed the fallout with anything but impassivity. "I'm Black, so it's not a news story to me," she tells "It's very personal, the upheaval that's going on around race and this new understanding and reckoning that mainstream America is having with the issue of police brutality."

Tucker plays her role in this fight through her social-justice-oriented TikTok account, which commands more than 300,000 followers. But, through music, she also understands that people may be more receptive to perspective-altering concepts through lyrics and melodies.

On her latest album, Dreams of Waking: Music For a Better World, which arrived May 28, Tucker embraces the urgent, topical works of songwriters both Black and white—from Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder to Paul Simon and James Taylor—as vessels for instruction and healing. "Music can provide a salve for those difficult conversations we have to have," she explains.

As for the former two songwriting luminaries, "[They're] part of the bedrock of my musical foundation," she explains. "You can't really talk about R&B or modern soul music without talking about Stevie and Donny and Marvin Gaye—that trifecta. It's an incredible group of songs that I'm just honored to have been given the opportunity to interpret."

Two Storytellers Illumining The Enormity Of Black Expression: The Baylor Project

Marcus and Jean Baylor. Photo: Deneka Peniston

Singer Jean and drummer Marcus Baylor are in a lofty position to promote Black music: From within the GRAMMYs themselves. Not only has the couple been nominated for three GRAMMYs, but they're both part of the Philadelphia chapter, where Marcus serves as a trustee and Jean as a governor.

For the Baylor Project's recent album, Generations, which was released June 18, the concept preceded the material. While at their then-manager's house for breakfast with another couple, "There were a couple of other generations in this group," Jean recalls to "They were telling great stories about things we never experienced growing up in the '70s and '80s that they experienced in decades before."

Such was the germ of the Generations idea. Still, it didn't take flower until the Baylors thought of the word through the lens of the Black experience. "After that, songs and ideas came," Jean says of the original compositions on the album, like "Strivin'," "Becoming" and "Walk On By." (Covers of the R&B hit "Love Makes Me Sing" and Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" round out the program.)

Generations was timed to release during Black Music Month and in anticipation of Juneteenth. The magnetic center of the album is "2020," which they actually wrote in 2019 but foreshadows that traumatic year's racial upheaval. "I [initially] titled it 'Trauma,'" Jean says. "Marcus was like, 'You can't title a song 'Trauma!' And I was like, 'But we are kind of traumatized.'"

A Commuter Between Cleaved Halves Of History: Allan Harris

Allan Harris. Photo: Hollis King

In Allan Harris's new song, "I Grew Up," the singer describes a train route he typically took from Brooklyn to Harlem as a boy. So what did he see and experience while headed north on the rails, as the 1960s bled into the '70s and classic rock bled into soul, blues, funk and R&B?

"A lot of love, a lot of confusion, being a little boy of color at the time," Harris tells over Zoom in an impressive button-down festooned with guitars. "Civil rights just came underway. The Black Panther Party was just down the street. Motown was happening. It was really a wonderful time to go to the Apollo because I was immersed in all the radical thinking of folks."

In "I Grew Up," Harris shouts out everyone from Aretha Franklin to Marvin Gaye to Smokey Robinson, citing them as formative to his personality and value system. And on the rest of the album it belongs to, Kate's Soulfood—which dropped last January—Harris paints a picture of that specific time and place, which fostered a veritable cornucopia of Black culture.

"I hope people feel that it's part of Americana," Harris says of the historical world-building he does on Kate's Soulfood. "It's not just the rantings and soul-searching of a young boy of color growing up in Harlem. This is a story about a slice of America that is a residue of the Harlem Renaissance."

A Gifted Young Vocalist On The Shoulders Of Giants: Samara Joy 

Samara Joy. Photo: Shervin Lainez

Samara Joy may have only been a jazz singer for four years, starting when she enrolled at Purchase College. But by the sound of her debut self-titled album, which is due out July 7, she's more than gotten her bearings, having carved out her own space as a swinging traditionalist.

Joy's beyond-her-years approach to standards like "Everything Happen to Me," "Let's Dream in the Moonlight" and "Lover Man" was inspired by her favorite singers: Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. "This music is my foundation for sure," she tells "When I want to learn a song and learn how to tell a story, they're who I go to for perspective."

During her time at Purchase, Joy picked up the music naturally "through repertoire class, through my friends listening to music, calling in jam sessions and calling songs I didn't know." Almost immediately, she was hooked.

"The emotion Sarah expressed was like nothing I'd ever heard," Joy says. "Ella, too, in the way that she sings and scats. Obviously, they're different people, so they have different stories to tell through their music, but both affect how I am and how I sing."

With her debut album on the way, is it intimidating to tackle material these two brilliant vocalists made their calling cards? "I couldn't think about it like that," she replies. "I couldn't think about living up to their standard because I can't. But it's important to do what you love."

An Undiscriminating Bassist In The Service Of Freedom: Charnett Moffett

Charnett Moffett. Photo: Rebecca Meek

Charnett Moffett is so spiritually tied to Ornette Coleman that the composer hero is literally in his name. "My dad and Ornette were friends," he tells, citing his drummer father, Charles. "On the day I was born, my dad was working with Ornette, so he named me Charnett!"

The innovative bassist's latest release, New Love, which dropped on June 11, counts several people as its chief inspirations—including his romantic partner, Jana Herzen, whose label Motéma Music released the album. However, the elder Moffett, who played with everyone from Archie Shepp to Eric Dolphy to Pharoah Sanders, is the North Star of his work.

"Growing up with my dad, it was the freedom to play, but with discipline," Moffett recalls. "My dad brought a bass home one day and said, 'These are the low notes, and these are the high notes. Find out all the different ways you can make music.' So you're totally painting with sound. You're not thinking about a chord or a key or whatever."

And as far as his father's famous friend and collaborator? "One thing I learned from Ornette Coleman is not to discriminate against someone else's sound," Moffett says. "To discriminate against a sound because it may be from the East or West or North or South—really, it's about the vibration. The energy and sound and quality of the music that makes it beautiful."

A Mighty Man Of The Trumpet & Drums With An Effervescent Soul: Ralph Peterson, Jr. 

 Ralph Peterson, Jr. Photo: Dave Green

Back in 2020, the drummer, trumpeter and composer Ralph Peterson, Jr. appeared over Zoom to discuss Hank Mobley's mellow 1960 masterpiece Soul Station with Boisterous, colorful and full of metaphors, he didn't disappoint.

"On [Soul Station], he's in the blue part of the flame," Peterson said of his old mentor, Art Blakey, who laid down some of his subtlest playing on the Mobley album. "The thing is: if you know anything about fire, the blue part of the flame might be the lowest part of the flame, but it's also the hottest part of the flame. Art was a master of those kinds of subtleties."

Peterson joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers as the second drummer in 1983, working under the brilliant, hot-headed Buhaina's tutelage. From then on, he made a slew of brilliant solo records, like 2001's The Art of War. Tragically, not long after the interview, he succumbed to a years-long battle with cancer and died on March 1, 2021.

Is it possible to crystallize just what Blakey meant to Peterson? gave Brian Lynch, the final trumpeter in the Messengers, a ring to ask just that question.

"He very much felt Art passed the baton to him," he replied. "Ralph channeled Buhaina completely, and also, he was, in a way, the least imitative of Art. It's almost like he took Art's thing and wasn't afraid to put his own stamp on it because he had such authority and understanding down to the spiritual root of it all."

Peterson's final album, Raise Up Off Me, which came out May 21, is not a direct tribute to Blakey. But in another sense, everything he made was an offering to his mentor. Alongside pianist and bassist Zaccai and Luques Curtis, he shows that the Messengers' education lineage is infinite.

One time, one of Lynch's students took a lesson with Peterson, who offered him a slice of wisdom. "You sound good, but you're playing both the questions and the answers!" Lynch remembers him roaring. "Let me play the answers!" That's what these musicians mastered: Hearing the messages of those who came before and confidently responding.

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Lil Nas X Turned The Industry On Its Head With "Old Town Road" And Beyond
Lil Nas X at the 2020 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage


Black Sounds Beautiful: How Lil Nas X Turned The Industry On Its Head With "Old Town Road" And Beyond

In this episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, relive Lil Nas X's massive debut, "Old Town Road," and learn how he's since been an advocate for Black and LGBTQIA+ communities through his music and his platform.

GRAMMYs/Jun 28, 2023 - 05:00 pm

Lil Nas X became a global sensation practically overnight, but it wasn't an accident.

The American singer and rapper — born Montero Lamar Hill — became fluent in music and pop culture at an early age, becoming a meme aficionado. His love for internet culture cultivated the perfect recipe for his debut single, "Old Town Road," to become one of the most viral hits in music history; the song also prompted a necessary conversation about the bounds of genre. 

"Old Town Road" rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and still holds the record for most time spent at No. 1 at 19 weeks. The single later helped Lil Nas X snag two GRAMMY Awards for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance and Best Music Video. (To date, he's won 2 GRAMMYs and has received 11 nominations overall.)

Aside from his immense musical talent, Lil Nas X — who came out as gay on social media during his Hot 100 reign — has been a fierce champion for LGBTQIA+ and Black communities.

"It's just acceptance of gay people. And they see that as a bad thing, like, They're trying to normalize it. You know what? Yeah. That's actually what I'm trying to do," he told GQ in 2021.

At just 24 years old, Lil Nas X has plenty more history-making and game-changing moves in store. As he revealed during his March 2023 campaign with Coach, "My next big chapter is coming."

Press play on the video above to learn more about Lil Nas X's industry-altering career, and check back to for more new episodes of Black Sounds Beautiful.

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Positive Vibes Only: Fena Gitu Shows Her Appreciation For What "Love Is" In This Intimate Performance
Fena Gitu

Photo: VisualsbyBO


Positive Vibes Only: Fena Gitu Shows Her Appreciation For What "Love Is" In This Intimate Performance

Kenyan Afropop singer Fena Gitu is grateful for everything — from God to her jewelry — in her latest single, "Love Is."

GRAMMYs/Jun 25, 2023 - 04:00 pm

Kenyan singer Fena Gitu is grateful for the little things — down to her fake jewelry. And through an odyssey of gratitude, she's learned to love everyone, to create a more peaceful world.

In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, Gitu delivers a stripped-down performance of her new single, "Love Is," a musical expression of her appreciation for everything around her. For Gitu, loving is minimalistic — and that message is only made more clear from the simplistic setting of this keyboard-driven performance.

"For my God, I stand, give him all my praises/ That I get to live to see another day, yes/ For my fake gold diamond pieces/ I just really want to thank you, Jesus," Gitu declares. "God is love, and love is true/ Love is You."

"Love Is" is the lead single from Gitu's latest album, Love Art Lust, which arrived on June 2. "It's a journey in love. Love for yourself, love for others, and love for God," she explained in a press statement. On June 29, she will return to her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya for a special performance celebrating the album's release.

Press play on the video above to watch Fena Gitu's sentimental performance of "Love Is," and check back to for more new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.

Positive Vibes Only: Anthony McGill Celebrates Black Joy With A Performance Of "Lift Every Voice and Sing"

GRAMMY Rewind: Whitney Houston Admires Dolly Parton After "I Will Always Love You" Wins In 1994
Whitney Houston at the 1994 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images


GRAMMY Rewind: Whitney Houston Admires Dolly Parton After "I Will Always Love You" Wins In 1994

Whitney Houston had the chance to thank Dolly Parton — who wrote "I Will Always Love You" — for "writing beautiful songs" during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 23, 2023 - 05:00 pm

Nearly 50 years after its initial release, Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" has been covered by thousands of musicians. But no other rendition compares to Whitney Houston's iconic 1992 cover for the Bodyguard soundtrack — and in 1994, the two shared a full-circle celebration of the song's massive success.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive Houston's Best Female Pop Vocal Performance win for her version of "I Will Always Love You" at the 1994 GRAMMY Awards.

"Dolly, of course, coming from you, this is truly an honor. You wrote a beautiful song. Thank you so much for writing such beautiful songs," Houston said to Parton, who presented the award and originally released the recording (which she wrote herself) in 1974.

Houston praised Rickey Minor, her band, and David Foster, who helped Houston arrange the ballad. "All the songwriters and producers on The Bodyguard, BeBe [Winans], I love you," she added before performing an impromptu song to thank her team members at Arista Records.

"I love you, Mommy and Daddy — I wouldn't be here without you. And always first in my life, I thank my Father, Jesus Christ. Without them, I am nothing," Houston said. Before leaving the stage, Houston took a second to uplift her supporters. "To all the fans, I love you! Thank you, and God bless you!"

"I Will Always Love You" also took home Record Of The Year that night, and The Bodyguard won Album Of The Year — one of only four soundtracks to date to win the coveted award.

Press play on the video above to watch Whitney Houston accept her award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and check back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

Songbook: A Guide To Whitney Houston's Iconic Discography, From Her '80s Pop Reign To Soundtrack Smashes

Songbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time
(L-R): Jay-Z in 2011, 2003, 1999 and 2021.

Photos (L-R): Ethan Miller/WireImage, James Devaney/WireImage, Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images, Kevin Kane/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


Songbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time

From groundbreaking albums to star-studded collaborations, Jay-Z's discography has made the rap mogul one of the genre's biggest icons.

GRAMMYs/Jun 22, 2023 - 03:38 pm

As Jay-Z declared in 2001's "Breathe Easy," few rappers stack up when it comes to his flow, consistency, stories, charisma, and trendsetting powers — and he's backed up his claims for three decades on.

The Brooklyn rapper has cranked out chart-topping hits and street anthems across classic albums like The Blueprint and The Black Album, and he's inspired generations of rappers to take on his pen-free approach to music. But long before becoming a hip-hop icon, the young Shawn Carter first honed his musical gifts by rapping over a boombox in his childhood home in Bed-Stuy's Marcy Projects.

Nicknamed "Jazzy" for his love of music, Jay-Z split his time between exploring his newfound passion and dealing crack cocaine as a teenager. After linking with childhood friend and then-mentor Jaz-O, he adopted the moniker "Jay-Z" in the late 1980s, and eventually captivated hip-hop fans on the posse cut "Show and Prove" from Big Daddy Kane's 1994 album Daddy's Home. That moment led to the eventual release of his own single, 1995's "In My Lifetime," and the years that followed served as the coronation of one of rap's biggest stars.

After being rejected from major record labels, Jay linked with fellow New Yorkers Damon "Dame" Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke to establish Roc-A-Fella Records in 1996. He soon went from being an up-and-coming artist selling burned CDs out of his car to producing multi-platinum singles and No. 1 albums. 

His greatness has earned him 24 GRAMMYs to date — tied with Kanye West for the most of any rapper — and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And with a billion-dollar business empire to match his acclaimed discography, Jay-Z has long been declared one of the greatest MCs ever. 

As he continues his rap reign, revisit some of Hov's most illustrious career moments, from memorable performances to groundbreaking album releases and legacy-defining accolades. 

Listen to's official Songbook: An Essential Guide To Jay-Z playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora. Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.


"Hawaiian Sophie" (1989)

A fresh-faced, hi-top faded Jay made one of his earliest appearances on wax with "Hawaiian Sophie." The 1989 record was a modest and playful hit by childhood friend Jaz-O, who let Jay contribute a few lines on the island-themed track.

Though Jay's presence was minor, he put a face to a relatively unknown name by popping up throughout the song's luau-style video. Years later, he gained the attention of legendary Brooklyn rapper Big Daddy Kane, who brought Jay on as a hype man before he broke out as a solo act and formed a more calculated, sharp-tongued lyrical style. 

Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Taking inspiration from classic films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, Jay-Z showcased his lyrical potency and storytelling ability on his critically acclaimed debut, Reasonable Doubt, in mafioso fashion. The album was the manifesto of a 26-year-old street hustler, who looked to shed the deadly perils of the drug underworld to bask in the caviar and champagne lifestyle.

He shifted from the colorful, bombastic rap style of his early career to a snappier and grounded delivery on "Coming of Age," and the Biggie Smalls-assisted "Brooklyn's Finest," while still offering a slice of mainstream appeal on "Ain't No N—" featuring Foxy Brown. Legendary producers DJ Premier ("Fried or Foe"), DJ Clark Kent ("Cashmere Thoughts"), and Ski ("Dead Presidents II") helped lay the canvas for Jay-Z to illustrate his past experiences and impending accolades and riches. 

The album was among his best releases in the '90s, and helped establish his foothold in the industry through the new millennium. While Reasonable Doubt didn't reach platinum status until six years after its 1996 release, the project elevated Jay's profile as an emerging MC with a penchant for vivid street tales and mainstream edge. 

Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (1998)

Jay-Z's third album is possibly the most impactful in his career. Not only did it notch his first GRAMMY (for Best Rap Album at the 1999 GRAMMYs), but it remains his best-selling album with more than 5 million copies sold. It also started an 11-album streak of No. 1 releases.

The project was a medley of pop-oriented singles such as "Can I Get A…" and club records like the piano-laced hit "Money, Cash, Hoes." It also offered street classics like "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," which showcased his musical versatility and mainstream appeal. 

Aside from the Stevie J-produced "Ride Or Die," Jay veered away from the Bad Boy production style of Vol. 2's predecessor, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. He enlisted Ruff Ryders producer Swizz Beatz for "Coming of Age (Da Sequel)," and producers Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri, Irv Gotti, and Kid Capri were also tapped for the project, creating a lush palette of club bangers and records indicative of the shiny-suit era of late '90s hip-hop. 


"Imaginary Players" (1997)

If it wasn't for Hov, rappers may still be drinking beer over champagne, rocking silver charms over platinum, and driving Range Rover 4.0 SEs instead of 4.6 HSEs. Not only did Jay shift the motor and champagne industry with his second album, but he altered the rap game, too. And "Imaginary Players" was proof.

The In My Life, Vol. 1 cut was a collective side-eye to frauds masked as street hustlers, and signaled Jay-Z's early trendsetting powers. The song didn't graze the Billboard charts as high as singles "Who You Wit," "The City Is Mine" and "(Always Be My) Sunshine," but it grew into a street anthem and blueprint for the real go-getters to shine among the fakes. 

"Big Pimpin'" (1999)

For years, "Big Pimpin'" was the ultimate summer anthem. The single from Vol 3… Life and Times of S. Carter showcased Jay's ability to produce hit records with artists from other regions. It also laid the ground for future collaborations between Jay-Z and Timbaland, who went on to produce tracks like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "The Bounce," "Tom Ford," and others.

Music aside, the song's video is reflective of the flashy, big-budget era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Shot during the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the video's yacht views, sand-filled beaches, and cigar smoke complimented the song's tropical sound and inspired listeners to wrap themselves in linen garments, kick back and enjoy the Caribbean breeze. 

The Blueprint (2001)

Regarded as the best album in his catalog, 2001's The Blueprint encapsulated all of the elements that made Jay-Z a lyrical titan and fixture in music. Between the boundless braggadocio on "The Rules Back," the tales of chaotic romance on "Girls. Girls, Girls," and a snapshot of his uprising on "Blueprint ("Momma Loves Me"), the album captured it all.

While "The Takeover" sparked one of the era's most contentious rap beefs, and forced Queens rapper Nas to snap back with a poignant blow of his own in "Ether," the album was riddled with some of Jay's biggest records during the 2000s. Street anthems like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" had rap fans of all ages spelling out the song's title, and soul-stirring album cuts like "Song Cry" had listeners barely holding onto their tears. 

The Black Album (2003)

Jay's eighth studio effort was pegged as the final one by the Brooklyn MC. And while he eventually returned for Kingdom Come three years later, 2003's The Black Album would've been the perfect end to an already historic rap career.

On "December 4th," Jay kicked off the album with a call back to his origins. "They say they never really miss you 'til you dead or you gone/ So on that note I'm leaving after this song/ See you ain't got to feel no way about Jay so long/ At least let me tell you why I'm this way, hold on." 

Jay goes on to outline his successes on "What More Can I Say," then incites fans to level up their sexy on "Change Clothes." Between experimental records like the DJ Quik-produced "Justify My Thug" and the soulful "Lucifer," The Black Album is also filled with stadium-rocking anthems. 

On "99 Problems," Jay raps over zingy guitar riffs for a bold track that's reminiscent of Run DMC and Aerosmith's 1986 smash "Walk This Way." Both songs were produced by Rick Rubin, who provided the rock-induced, bare-bones beat for Hov to unleash on snarky law enforcers and uninformed rap critics. 

The Timbaland-produced "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" is a middle finger to the dream killers envious of others' success. The platinum-selling record even inspired Barack Obama to use a shoulder-brushing motion when running against then-rival Hillary Clinton during his 2008 Democratic nomination campaign. 


"Numb/Encore" (2004)

After dropping a live album with The Roots and releasing two critically panned collaborations with R. Kelly, Jay made a creative pivot with Collision Course (EP). The rapper teamed up with Linkin Park for a hip-rock project that was inspired by Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, and mashed hits like "Jigga What, Jigga Who," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "Big Pimpin'" and with songs from Linkin Park's Meteora and Hybrid Theory releases.

The album received mixed reviews, but the project's lone single "Numb/Encore" won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 48th GRAMMY Awards and helped the EP land a No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. 

"Empire State of Mind" (2009)

Fifteen years after Nas' "N.Y. State of Mind," Jay made his own dedication to New York City with "Empire State of Mind." The record is an ode to the city that shaped him, and the millions of other natives who, like him, hustled in various boroughs to get by (and have a closet full of New York Yankees hats).

The Alicia Keys-assisted track touched the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere, including Harlem and Brooklyn native Lil Mama, who notoriously hopped on stage with Keys and Jay during their performance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The Blueprint 3 single took home two gramophones at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards for Best Rap-Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song. 

Watch the Throne (2011)

After teaming up on classic songs like "Never Let Me Down" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)," Jay and Kanye West came together for a full-length project in 2011. The two rap giants combined their musical genius for Watch the Throne, an explorative and enthralling body of work filled with genre-melding hits coated with top-tier production and memorable features.

Watch the Throne was an exercise in musical cohesion and set the bar for collab projects to follow, given the commercial success and critical reception it received upon its release. Jay served as the lyrical orator, while West was the sonic architect and more animated showman. 

Between glossy trap songs like "H.A.M." and "N—s In Paris, and the pop-extravagance of "Lift Off," Jay and Kanye tell fervent tales of their ghetto origins on "Murder To Excellence," visions of their children's lives on "New Day," and give listeners soul-stirring jams like "The Joy" and "Otis." Each track was nourished from the well of Jay and Kanye's artistry, and done without either rapper leaving the other to dry. 

"Holy Grail" (2013)

The same year Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake came together for the hit "Suit & Tie," the pair delivered another smash with "Holy Grail." The song's origins began in the sessions for Watch the Throne, but Hov feared it would get lost in the shuffle — so he decided to build 2013's Magna Carta… Holy Grail around the enthralling record.

An explosive track about the allure and destruction of fame, it became the lead single for MCHG, selling over 3 million copies and winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2014 GRAMMYs. A year after its release, Billboard placed the record at No. 25 on the publication's Top 100 Hot Rap Songs of all-time list. 


Prior to 2018, Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, blessed fans with culture-shifting collaborations like "Crazy in Love," "03 Bonnie and Clyde," and "Drunk in Love." These songs prompted fans to call for a full-length project from the power duo, and after years of anticipation, the power couple delivered 2018's EVERYTHING IS LOVE.

The album came as a surprise to fans, with many jarred by the rumors surrounding Jay and Beyoncé's marriage following the release of Bey's searing 2016 project Lemonade (as well as Jay's honest response with 4:44 — more on that later). While the speculations and alleged drama continue to swirl online, the two stars came together for a nine-track album that gave listeners a behind-the-scenes look at life at the Carter residence. 

Announced in the middle of their second On The Run stadium tour, EVERYTHING IS LOVE celebrated the power of black love and family life while exploring unadulterated extravagance. Like their past collaborations, Beyoncé's soothing, high-powered vocals helped elevate Jay's bars and artistry. 

Together, they combined their collective powers for stories about rowdy tour stops and endless shopping sprees on "APES—" and "BOSS," and Beyoncé adorned the album with emotion-filled love ballads like "SUMMER." The couple even exchanged braggadocious rhymes about the strength of their union on "LOVEHAPPY," and the fun they have together outside the lines of celebrity on "HEARD ABOUT US" — proving they had not only weathered the storm, but came out stronger together.


4:44 (2017)

Arguably one of Jay's most complete and honest bodies of work, 4:44 is a vivid look at the artist's triumphs and failures as Shawn Carter the man. On the opening track "Kill Jay Z," he sheds his ego-fueled moniker to reveal his early upbringing in Bed-Stuy on "Marcy Me," the discovery of his mother's sexuality on "Smile" and the issues surrounding his marriage on the title track.

While the late-career album was largely viewed as a response to Beyoncé's Lemonade album,  4:44 also painted a portrait of Black America, unveiled the pathway to generational wealth on "The Story of O.J.," and the value of shared successes on "Family Feud" and "Legacy."  

The rapper veered from the commercial sound of Blueprint 3, and the gumbo of trap and luxury-soaked beats on Magna Carta… Holy Grail, to deliver deeply personal messages over No I.D.'s grounded, sample-heavy production. 

The artist hasn't released another solo project since 4:44, but if it is in fact his last album, it's certainly a stellar way to close the door on a legendary music career. The 2017 release was praised by critics and garnered three nominations at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year. 

"GOD DID" (2022)

The GRAMMY-nominated song had plenty of star power thanks to John Legend, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Fridayy and producer DJ Khaled — but Jay-Z's verse tilted the hip-hop world on its axis. 

On "GOD DID," Jay spit one of the best verses in his catalog. "I be speaking to the souls of men/ Those of them willing to die for the existence that this cold world has chose for them/ Kicking snow off a frozen Timb (woo)/ Back and forth on this turnpike, really took a toll on them." The MC detailed his journey across state lines to live out his street dreams, the drama and misfortunes that followed his tracks, and how he leveraged his powers to become one of the first rappers to reach billionaire status.

He encapsulated it all within a four-minute verse, closing out the track touching on his legacy — and proclaiming that he is in fact one of rap's all-time greats. "I just got a million off a sync/ Without risking a million years tryna get it out the sink (woo)/ Hov big/ They said they don't know me internationally, n—s on the road did/ I see a lot of Hov in Giggs/ Me and Meek could never beef, I freed that n—a from a whole bid/ Hov did/ Next time we have a discussion who the GOAT, you donkeys know this."

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