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K-Pop's Hip-Hop Roots: A History Of Cultural Connection On The Dancefloor
Although they might seem like disparate genres today, K-pop and hip-hop go way back. In honor of hip-hop's golden anniversary and K-pop's ever-growing popularity, GRAMMY.com explores the links between the sounds.
Although they might seem like disparate genres today, K-pop and hip-hop go way back. Their link can be traced to a single nightclub in Korea: Moon Night.
Located in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood, Moon Night wasn't particularly remarkable among the many other bars catering to tourists and American servicemen at the nearby military base. However, in the late '80s and early '90s, the club was ground zero for the genesis of the nation’s first K-pop group and the founding of the country’s "Big 3" music entertainment labels.
Moon Night is so crucial to the development of K-pop as we know it today because the club played music beloved by its target clientele: Americans. And in the midst of hip-hop's golden age, hip Korean audiences got hooked.
Over decades, that connection to hip-hop has developed and evolved to create the juggernaut that is contemporary K-pop. Today, the influence of hip-hop can be seen in K-pop dance, dress and even instrumentation.
Pioneering K-Pop On The Dancefloor
Where nightlife in Korea was long separated by nationality — Korean citizens had their own establishments, as did U.S. military personnel — a new kind of integrated club scene blossomed in the 1990s. For the first time, Koreans could legally patronize the same bars as American G.I.s.
Around 1 a.m., clubs like Moon Night would transition from a "normal Korean club" to a foreigner haven, recalls Dr. Michael Hurt, an Assistant Professor at the University of Suwon's International College.
That Moon Night became the Ur of K-pop as we know it was chiefly because Black American soldiers patronized the club, which played hip-hop. As Koreans and Black soldiers socialized, a new culture of hip-hop dance, or "rap dance," and music grew. Dr. Hurt experienced the eagerness with which young Koreans learned hip-hop moves while visiting Moon Night in the '90s.
Dr. Hurt — who is Black and Korean and has been living in country for various periods since the mid-'90s — recalls clubgoers asking to dance with him. They would follow along with every step. While hip-hop music was important to the progenitors of K-pop, Koreans at the time were most fascinated by dance moves, and the emphasis on dance remains an important aspect of K-pop today.
By the early '90s, hip-hop had begun to egress its original audience and evolve into a new form. The cross-cultural connection happening at Moon Night was replicated across Seoul; Dr. Hurt notes that Koreans and Black Americans also found common musical interest at Blue Monkey in Sincheon and Golden Helmet in Hongdae.
Future K-pop heavy hitters like Yang Hyun-suk of YG Entertainment, Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment, and Lee Soo-man of SM Entertainment were rumored to have patronized Moon Night. However, Dr. Hurt theorizes that if they were in the club scene they also visited other places too.
K-Pop's First Generation Of Stars: Born At Moon Night, Shared Online
While hip-hop was largely inaccessible to Koreans in the 1990s, there were always dedicated Korean listeners. This young, niche community consisted of members like Seo Taiji, who brought rap dance to the public and became K-pop's first stars.
Seo Taiji and Boys reportedly learned how to dance from Black American soldiers at Moon Night. (Yang Hyun-suk, who later on became the founder of YGE, and Lee Juno were the "and Boys" component of the trio.) Their example laid the groundwork for the second generation of K-pop stars.
"[Seo Taiji and Boys] were like gods on earth," recalls Dr. Hurt.
The members became the undisputed purveyors of hip-hop in Korea, utilizing American hip-hop, metal and punk to create a unique musical fusion. The practice of mixing and melding genres is the standard in K-pop to this day.
Seo Taiji and Boys' 1992 performance of "난 알아요 (I Know)" on a competitive TV show struck a chord with the nation's youth, effectively introducing hip-hop to the general public. The performance also filled a capacious hole left in the Korean music industry after the roll back of Emergency Measure No. 9 (which only allowed patriotic or "healthy" songs to be broadcast), which banned hundreds of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton. Therein, Seo and company brought a new sound to the previously restricted airwaves.
Still, a lesser-known idol predates Seo Taiji and Boys' rise by a couple of years. Once again, Moon Night remains in the backdrop.
If Seo Taiji and Boys is K-pop’s first idol group then Hyun Jin-Young is K-pop’s first solo artist. Though his career was brief, Hyun Jin-Young "is generally credited with bringing hip-hop to the mainstream in Korea," says Dr. Crystal Anderson, Associate Director of Engaged Learning and African and African American Studies at George Mason University. On hits like, "슬픈 마네킹 (Sad Mannequin)," Jin-young sang, rapped, and performed dance moves, such as the Roger Rabbit, over a hip-hop beat. "Without him, you wouldn't have [K-pop] idols, but at the same time, Seo Taiji showed that it could be lucrative and popular."
Artists like Hyun Jin-Young, Seo Taiji, and, later, H.O.T were at the forefront of Korea's "rap dance" scene in the mid-to-late '90s. At the turn of the century, hip-hop culture began to circulate even further via the internet.
"The young hip-hop community [in Korea] has always been pretty hardcore because they had to be to even get enough information to maintain community," Dr. Hurt notes. "[Things] like what are the new fashions, you had to be deep into it."
Youth were largely responsible for disseminating the burgeoning sound of K-pop. "Music is not becoming popular at church. It starts from some kid pirating a CD," says Kirsten Keels, a 2021 Fulbright Korea scholar.
Online, Koreans could explore hip-hop even further. In BTS’ book, Beyond The Story, RM recounted learning about hip-hop through interviews and documentaries about rappers posted on YouTube as a teen. His interest in hip-hop would later cause a ripple effect that would lead him to his current position in BTS.
"Legitimizing" Hip-Hop In K-Pop's Second Generation
By the second generation of K-pop, which roughly begins in 2003, the days of "rap dance" had fizzled out in favor of a distinct K-pop sound. However, hip-hop’s presence in the genre remains in the form of creating a designated rapper in each idol group.
Korean Americans also played a significant role in the "legitimization" of hip-hop and K-pop. "In the early days of K-pop, particularly with the idol groups, you would have one or more members who were Korean American. The idea was they were closer to the source material and therefore it was more authentic," says Dr. Anderson.
This rings true for K-pop groups like H.O.T — Lee Soo-man of SM Entertainment's first massively successful group — and 1TYM, which had Korean American members. Both groups have been cited as inspiration for groups like BTS and 2PM. H.O.T's successful formula became the blueprint for many K-pop groups. They industrialized the K-pop system, much as Motown developed its artists and hit-making processes.
Hip-Hop Artists And K-Pop Idols: Past And Present
Decades after its inception, K-pop and hip-hop acts continue to work together. In 2004, Snoop Dogg and Warren G hopped on Jinusean’s track, "2 All My People." The song's infectiously funky beat made the two rappers' appearance feel seamless.
In 2010, Kanye West was featured on JYJ’s "Ayy Girl" (West also appeared in the music video). And two years later, Psy, who has been a lifelong fan of M.C. Hammer, performed the rapper’s signature dance move next to him at the 2012 American Music Awards.
K-pop and hip-hop royalty came together in 2013 when BIGBANG’s G-Dragon and Missy Elliott gave a mesmerizing performance of "Niliria" on "M-countdown", a weekly music program broadcasted by M-net. It was a legendary moment in K-pop history because it brought together two highly respected rappers from different countries.
One group in particular has a slew of hip-hop collaborations – BTS. It doesn’t come with much surprise, since the septet’s CEO has openly stated "Black music is the base" of their musical identity. BTS and its members have collaborated with the likes of Nicki Minaj, J.Cole, Wale, Desiigner, Juice WRLD, and Lil Nas X (with whom they performed at the 2020 GRAMMYs). Recently, Jungkook, the youngest member of the group, made his solo debut with the song "Seven" featuring Southern rapper, Latto. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2017, Jay-Z signed former 2PM leader Jay Park (who takes his name from the multi-GRAMMY winner) to Roc Nation. The following year, Park was seen at Roc Nation’s annual brunch where he snapped pictures with the likes of Beyoncé and Big Sean. His debut EP, Ask Bout Me, featured rappers such as 2 Chainz, Rich The Kid, and Vic Mensa.
Hip-hop’s influence on K-pop runs through the genre’s past, present and future. K-pop and hip-hop artists have always had moments of mutual respect. Even at the most unsuspecting times, the two genres have always found ways to collaborate.
However, the earnestness with which K-pop takes inspiration from hip-hop has understandably been questioned. The topic of cultural appropriation continues to be divisive, and unanimous consensus a rarity. "One person's appropriation isn't necessarily another person's appropriation," says Dr. Anderson.
Lately, the conversation around cultural appropriation in K-pop is commonly in relation to visual signifiers. Instances where K-pop idols have been in the hot seat include but are not limited to: ATEEZ’s Hongjoong wearing cornrows in promo images, BLACKPINK’s Lisa sporting box braids on multiple occasions, and MAMAMOO’s Hwasa donning a durag. While there's often swift backlash from fans, response from record labels is typically delayed — if they acknowledge the uproars at all.
In 2019 and 2020, respectively, former CLC member Sorn posted a picture of someone dressed in a mask that resembled a racist caricature, while Stray Kids' Hyunjin imitated a Korean cartoon character that was reportedly based on Black racial stereotypes. The latter eventually issued an official apology, while Sorn continued to get into hot water — most recently for a photoshoot where she flaunted an afro.
These recent cases are just repeat offenses of longstanding practices. In the '90s, JYPE Founder Park Jin-young put backup dancers in blackface and afros. The Bubble Sisters infamously wore blackface for their debut cover art and corresponding promo pictures in 2003.
BTS' J-Hope raised eyebrows with his remake of Webstar and Young B’s 2006 track "Chicken Noodle Soup." The 2019 track featured Becky G, while J-Hope appeared with a gelled hairstyle that resembled dreadlocks. While the look bordered on appropriation, Young B praised the song in an interview with Billboard.
"People of all cultures know the song," Young B said."[J-Hope and Becky G] made it even bigger for this day and age. I’m very open-minded and I feel like [the remake] is good for the culture. It was created in Harlem, and now it’s a worldwide thing."
"There’s a legit reason for people to be angry because aspects of African American culture have been and continue to be appropriated… the problem with Black popular culture is [it’s] so damn successful," Dr. Hurt says."[It’s] so hyper-successful that in a way you can't make restraining claims on it. I don't think it's at all realistic anymore."
Cases of appropriation can get harder to identify when there seems to be no clear signs of foul
play. RAIN and J.Y. Park’s 2020 duet, "Switch To Me," is redolent of Bobby Brown’s 1988 tune, "Every Little Step." The beat, clothing, and dance moves show that Park Jin-young was inspired by Brown.
"My baseline for a negative appropriation and misappropriation is a racial performance that mocks or demeans," Dr. Anderson adds. "We need to recognize that there's another perspective, not necessarily to excuse some of the more egregious cases of negative appropriation,. We can't use our American racial lens and just put it over this thing and have it make sense because there are other factors at play."
Sometimes the boundaries are pushed too far and are met with legal contention. In 2004, first-generation K-pop group Baby V.O.X released "Xcstasy," utilizing a freestyle Tupac made while incarcerated. The group’s label founder, Yoon Deung Ryong, vehemently denied the rumors that they illegally used the late rapper’s voice and likeness. However, reports from that time failed to corroborate their label’s defenses. In 2020, "Cupid Shuffle" singer Bryson Bernard accused and threatened to sue K-pop group Seventeen for their song "Left & Right" which sounded comparable to his 2007 hit.
Over the past three decades, hip-hop has become part of Korea’s public consciousness resulting in the K-pop we see and hear today. The spark that Black American GIs, Seo Taiji, and hip-hop-loving Korean youth lit has exploded into a billion dollar industry. Although it can come at the cost of misappropriation and well-meaning appreciation, it ultimately shows the influence of hip-hop and Black popular music around the world.
Photo: Medios y Media/Getty Images
8 Latinx Rappers To Know: Eladio Carrion, Young Miko, Akapellah & More
African American, Caribbean and Latinx people were all present at the birth of hip-hop in 1973. In the five decades since, hip-hop has gone global, and Latinx people are shaping the genre.
Hip-hop is not only a global phenomenon, but a multi-lingual expression. There are many Latinx rappers who have contributed to the genre's legacy with Spanish-language music, and others who form the larger fabric of hip-hop history.
Hip-hop was born on Aug. 11, 1973 at a back-to-school party in the Bronx, which included African American, Caribbean and Latinx attendees. While Latinx people have helped shape the genre in the years since, Nuyoricans such as Angie Martinez, Fat Joe, and his collaborator Big Pun left an indelible Latinx mark on rap in the ‘90s. At the same time on the West Coast, the Latin Alliance formed and led to breakout careers of Chicano rappers Kid Frost and Mellow Man Ace, who both largely rapped in Spanglish. Cypress Hill and Ozomatli later emerged in their wake. Cuban American rapper Pitbull would soon crossover in the rap mainstream into the next decade.
On the island of Puerto Rico, rappers nurtured the emerging genre of reggaeton in the ‘90s and 2000s as another medium where they could flex their Spanish flow. Pioneers like Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón, and Don Omar unleashed their rhymes over dembow-driven rhythms. Ivy Queen and Lisa M blazed a path for women in the male-dominated genre. N.O.R.E.'s hit "Oye Mi Canto" would later help globalize reggaeton in 2005. That decade also saw the rise of Puerto Rican group Calle 13, which was led by rapper Residente, who has since become the most-awarded artist in Latin GRAMMY history. Cardi B and Bad Bunny are now representing Latinx rappers on a global level. Those are just a few names of many Latinx trailblazers.
In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, GRAMMY.com highlights eight artists from the next generation of Latinx rappers.
Since the release of his breakthrough album Bien O Mal in 2022, Trueno has become the rap artist to watch out for in Argentina. In his songs like the empowering "Argentina" featuring Nathy Peluso or the poignant "Tierra Zanta" alongside Argentine folk artist Victor Heredia, he celebrates the culture of his country while embracing the sounds and influences of American rap.
Trueno went global after the Gorillaz invited him to perform "Clint Eastwood" with them at the Quilmes Rock festival in Argentina. Earlier this year, he got a co-sign from Latinx rap group Cypress Hill, who remixed Trueno's socially-conscious banger "F— The Police." More recently, Trueno is having fun with his rhymes in his recent feel-good singles like "Tranky Funky" and "Ohh Baby."
"My mission in life is to take Argentine rap as far as we can go," Trueno told Infobae this year.
Eladio Carrion is proving that his explosive rap flow can't be contained to one genre. The Puerto Rican rapper has made a name for himself thanks to his series of Sauce Boyz albums, which first launched in 2020. Carrion largely dominates the Latin trap scene, but he has also made his mark in drill with the "Tata" remix featuring J Balvin, Daddy Yankee, and Bobby Shmurda, even experimenting in Mexican corridos with Peso Pluma in "77."
Carrion's latest album, 3men2 Kbrn, features collaborations with rappers that he idolized. Future joins him in the swaggering "Mbappe" remix, Lil Wayne appears on the triumphant "Gladiador" remix, and "Si Salimos" features 50 Cent. The all-Spanish LP debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 chart in March.
"I just keep trying to build that bridge between Latin and American culture because I’ve been influenced so much by American hip-hop, but you know I do Latin music," Carrion told Uproxx this year.
Villano Antillano is making a mark for both women and the LGBTQ+ community in the Latin hip-hop scene. The Puerto Rican rapper — who identifies as transfemme and nonbinary — has proudly represented who she is within her fierce anthems. Antillano teamed up with Spanish rapper Ptazeta for the girl power anthem "Mujerón" and empowered trans women in "Muñeca" with nonbinary artist Ana Macho.
Antillano made a global impact last year when she featured on Argentine producer Bizarrap’s hit "BZRP Music Sessions #51." Over trap beats with an electronica edge, she unleashed fiery flow about how she is running the Latin rap game. Villano then released her debut album La Sustancia X where celebrated women's resilience alongside Residente's sister iLe in "Mujer" and paid homage to La Delfi and Celia Cruz in "Cáscara De Coco."
"I hope that from seeing me and hearing my music, more people can live authentically in their everyday lives," she told MTV News in 2021.
Young Miko is also breaking down barriers for the LGBTQ+ community in the Latin hip-hop scene. The queer Puerto Rican rapper has proudly dropped bars about her love for other women in her songs, like this year's global hit "Classy 101" with Colombian singer Feid, as well as the swaggering "Lisa."
Young Miko has become one of the most in-demand collaborators in today's Latin music scene, proving that she can shine in any genre. In 2023, she featured g on Marshmello's house-infused "Tempo" and Bad Gyal's reggaeton banger "Chulo Pt. 2" with Dominican star Tokischa.
"This generation is tired of the same," she told Popsugar this year. "They're accepting and receptive to something new. Maybe [my lyrics] are not how I feel but how I'd like to feel."
In Latin rap, J Noa is proudly carrying her country of the Dominican Republic on her back. The teen phenom released her debut EP Autodidacta earlier this year. In the somber "Betty," J Noa shined a light on the pressures that Dominican teens face in underserved neighborhoods. In the explosive "Autodidacta," she unleashed her mind-blowing rap skills.
A triumphant moment on the EP is empowering "No Me Pueden Parar." The self-proclaimed "La Hija del Rap," or "the daughter of rap," spit inspirational bars about not allowing any obstacles to get in the way of achieving her dreams. J Noa has a knack for mixing social truths with fierce rhymes. Back in July, she wowed hip-hop pioneers DMC, Grandmaster Caz, Mighty Mike C, and Sha-Rock with a freestyle rap in the Bronx.
"I can keep rap going by staying on the path that I am on," she told Refinery29. "Real rap is about social protests and history."
Akapellah is proudly representing the hip-hop scene in Venezuela, releasing songs that are both playful and socially-conscious In 2020, the hard-hitting "Condenados," he dropped bars about the plight of the Venezuelan people following the country's economic collapse.
Instead of letting his size be anyone else's punchline, Akapellah boasted about the benefits it gives him in the smooth "Gordo Funky." For his feel-good rhymes, he received multiple Latin GRAMMY nominations for Best Rap/Hip Hop Song. Akapellah made headlines this year when he released a tiraera, or diss track, against Residente called "No Eres Rapero." Understanding it's a part of hip-hop culture, Residente took the shot in stride and later named Akapellah one of his favorite Latinx rappers.
"My [success] has been very organic and like a hybrid," he told La República newspaper. "I have had my peaks of hype, but [my career] has always remained stable."
Nanpa Básico is a proud exponent of Colombia in the Latin rap scene. The Medellín native has made waves with his street-conscious lyrics and romantic flow, first breaking through in 2017, with the guitar-driven ballad "Sin Ti Estoy Bien" and the haunting "Ya Para Qué."
This past year, Básico has gone global while exploring different genres. Alongside Mexican singer Ximena Sariñana, he tackles a whimsical pop sound in the dreamy "Nunca Tuve Tanto." Básico's slick rap flow met R&B in the soulful "Ya No Se Mueve" with Leon Leiden. Básico's latest album, HECHO M13RD4, boasts features from Mexican rappers Gera MX and Santa Fe Klan, regional Mexican music star Adriel Favela, and Colombian reggaeton singer Ryan Castro.
"I studied social work so I said I don't want to continue glorifying the problems, but on the contrary, very cool things happen in the hood too, that people sometimes don't talk about," he told Rolling Stone En Español.
Gera MX is making Mexico's rap scene go global. In 2021, he blended trap and mariachi music with Christian Nodal in the genre-bending hit "Botella Tras Botella." They made history with the first regional Mexican song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Last year, Gera MX continued to push boundaries for Latin rap in his two albums, No Teníamos Nada, Pero Éramos Felices and Ahora Tengo Todo Menos A Ti. In explosive "Hagan Ruido," he teamed up with Mexican American rapper Snow Tha Product where they proudly boasted about their roots. Colombian reggaeton singer Blessd joined Gera MX in the feel-good "One Love." This year, Gera MX brought together the worlds of Latin trap and corridos in the fiery "Feria En El Sobre," featuring Peso Pluma and Herencia De Patrones.
"Mexican hip-hop has gained a lot of respect and popularity," he told Remezcla. "I don’t know if it’s the Golden Age, but it’s a good time."
Photo: mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images
Snoop Dogg's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Display His Charismatic Style And Range
As the rapper's seminal debut album Doggystyle celebrates its 30th anniversary, dig into some of the best and most popular songs in Snoop Dogg's discography, from "Gin and Juice" to "I'm From 21st Street."
Thirty years ago, a rap music legend began his journey to immortality — and to Martha Stewart.
Most in-the-know music fans were aware of Snoop Doggy Dogg (as he was then known) because of his collaborations with Dr. Dre. First there was "Deep Cover" from the soundtrack of the film of the same name. Then there were his memorable contributions to Dre's The Chronic, which came out in late 1992.
So the world was primed for Snoop's solo debut Doggystyle when it was released into the world on November 23, 1993. The album sold around 800,000 copies in its first week, and set the stage for Snoop to become a superstar, one who would eventually reach a stage of pop-culture ubiquity that mid-90s rap fans — and those people who saw his scowl on the cover of Newsweek as the literal face of the question of whether rap was too violent — could have never imagined.
To celebrate the anniversary of Doggystyle's release, GRAMMY.com is revisiting the D-O-double-G's biggest and best musical moments. A quick note: this list does not include songs that appear on another artist's album (hey, we had to draw the line somewhere!), so there's no "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" or "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted." And we tried to pull from all eras of his career, so it's not all Doggystyle (though you should, of course, listen to that classic in its entirety).
So with all that said, here we are: 15 of Snoop Dogg's most popular and most dynamic songs.
"Deep Cover" with Dr. Dre, Deep Cover soundtrack (1992)
Snoop's very first recorded song — his introduction to the world at large — occurred over a Dre beat so powerful, with a bassline so iconic, that it became the foil for not one, not two, but three classic songs (plus a nasty Biggie freestyle). The duo's lyrical chemistry was undeniable as they traded verses throughout. And, of course, there's the song's chorus, in which Snoop introduced California penal code 187 into the national lexicon.
The track and its video loosely parallel the plot of the movie on whose soundtrack it appears, the absolutely nuts (and surprisingly entertaining) Deep Cover, directed by Bill Duke and starring Laurence Fishburne.
"Who Am I (What's My Name)?" Doggystyle (1993)
This track wasn't just the world's introduction to Doggystyle — it lets fans know that the Dre-and-Snoop chemistry they'd heard on The Chronic was not a fluke. The track's George Clinton and P-Funk interpolations also showed that Dre was still in his bag, and Snoop's vocal performance was one for the ages. Still in his very early 20s, the rapper was adept at mythmaking, showing the audience how he would "step through the fog" and "creep through the smog" to deliver his charismatic raps.
As if that wasn't enough, the song's Fab 5 Freddy-directed video showed Snoop's sense of humor, as it featured the rapper and his compatriots morphing into literal dogs.
"Gin and Juice," Doggystyle (1993)
Any rap fan of a certain age can not only spit this song word for word, but also quote pretty much every line in the video ("Snoop Doggy Dogg! You need to get a jobby-job"). Just say the words "Laid back…" to pretty much anyone who is at the age where they can say complete sentences, and you'll get "With my mind on my money and my money on my mind" in response.
The song and video created an image for Snoop that was fun-loving and comic — one that he rode (sometimes in a Chrysler) all the way to a decades-long career as a pitchman, TV host and overall personality that would at first glance seem incongruous for an avowed Crip from Long Beach. Beyond all the myth-making, though, it's just a fantastic song, one that Rolling Stone included in its 100 best rap songs of all time list.
"Gz and Hustlas," Doggystyle (1993)
This Doggystyle highlight begins with a hilarious skit that ends with a funny and profane punchline from a very young Bow Wow. It just gets better from there.
Snoop has said that this is one of his two personal favorites from his debut album. Not unrelatedly, he's also admitted that the whole thing was improvised while he was just checking a mic. And as we'll see on the "Afro Puffs" remix, freestyling Snoop is the best Snoop. That's certainly the case here. The sample of Bernard Wright's "Haboglabotribin" provides the perfect soundtrack for the ride.
"Murder Was the Case," Doggystyle (1993)
This song is the Faustian tale of a young man who survives a shooting by selling his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal life and a life of riches and success. But, as always with these stories, the protagonist's greed gets the better of him, and the devil gets his due. The narrator ends the story locked up, with only a prison riot to look forward to.
It's a gripping tale that would have eerie real-life resonance when Snoop was actually charged with murder, a charge on which he was famously acquitted. He wrote the song before the incident, a coincidence that affected him so deeply that he decided that "maybe I shouldn't be writing about devilish s— like this."
"Afro Puffs (Extended Remix)" with The Lady of Rage, Above the Rim soundtrack (1994)
Snoop is at his best when he's in the moment — when he's relaxed, freestyling and rapping in his inimitable style about whatever is on his mind. His opening verse on this song is perhaps the quintessential example of that.
He sounds completely at ease, swinging, developing ideas in an unforced way. It's like you're in the studio with Snoop for two solid minutes, watching him warm up and get comfortable. It's a performance style he wouldn't duplicate on any other studio track, even the ones he would also make up on the spot.
"Woof! (feat. Fiend and Mystikal)," Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told (1998)
One of Snoop's first major business and stylistic switches happened in March 1998, when he signed to No Limit Records. What was a Long Beach gangsta rapper doing on a New Orleans label? Well, it turned out to be a pretty great fit, at least on "Woof!"
The track was the second single on Snoop's No Limit debut, and it featured two of the label's stars, Fiend and Mystikal. The Dogg fits perfectly on a track in the label's aggressive, chant-based Southern style (even the track's percussive dog barks manage to add intensity). Snoop adopts a more free rhythmic approach here, perhaps influenced by his all-over-the-beat labelmates. It's fascinating to hear, and it works amazingly well.
"B— Please (feat. Xzibit)," No Limit Top Dogg (1999)
One of the things Snoop is greatest at is, to put it in crass, unavoidable terms, pimp talk. "B— Please" might be his ultimate entry into the genre. This song features a memorable performance by Xzibit and some classic singing from Nate Dogg. And the Dr. Dre beat is instantly memorable. But what really puts the song over the top is the confidence and style with which Snoop orders an unnamed lady to "hem my coat and roll me some dope."
"Lay Low (feat. Master P, Nate Dogg, Butch Cassidy, and Tha Eastsidaz)," The Last Meal (2000)
Yes, Xzibit wrote Snoop's verse on this classic posse cut featuring rapping contributions from the Eastsidaz and Snoop's then-label boss Master P. But that doesn't make the Doggfather's contribution any less smooth. It doesn't prevent Nate Dogg's hook from being an unstoppable ear worm. It doesn't make Dr. Dre's beat any less of a minimalist masterpiece. It doesn't make the Eastsidaz's appearances less effective. And it certainly doesn't diminish in any way the single best part of the song: Master P rapping, "They call me Jed Clampett for all the bread I got/ But they call me Bill Clinton for all the head I got."
"Beautiful (feat. Pharrell Williams and Charlie Wilson)," Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$ (2002)
Snoop teaming up with Pharrell gave the Dogg a much-needed early aughts career boost. It turned out that Snoop and P made an unbeatable combination, and one that we will see again later in this very list.
"Beautiful" features an instantly memorable beat whose repetitive syncopated rhythms immediately drive into the listener's skull and don't let up until the song is over. Add in Pharrell's so-off-key-they're-somehow-on vocals, and you have a track that stands out even in the era of Neptunes ubiquity. Snoop adds his own style and grace, and, somehow, a (presumably intentionally) charmingly awkward reference to Clueless.
"Drop It Like It's Hot (feat. Pharrell Williams)," R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (2004)
Snoop and Pharrell made a number of great songs, but this is arguably their masterpiece. This No. 1 hit was so popular that even its ringtone version went double platinum. It was also nominated for a GRAMMY. But accolades and numbers are secondary.
What makes this track is the perfect melding of one the Neptunes' greatest non-Clipse minimalist beats with Snoop's laid-back rapping (and a verse from Pharrell in which he bends his approach towards Snoop's to superb effect). Snoop sounds so relaxed that you might miss all the tough talk, which is delivered in his patented stylish way ("Pistol-whip you, dip you, then flip you/ Then dance to this mothaf—in' music we Crip to").
"Think About It," Tha Blue Carpet Treatment (2006)
This is the song Snoop chose to demonstrate to his own son that after nearly 15 years in the rap world, he could still hold his own. He couldn't have made a better choice.
"Think About It" is dense, wordy, even "intellectual" — a word Snoop comes back to a few times in the track. It's also a seemingly incongruous mixture of aggressive rapping, where Snoop sounds like he's really pushing himself; with laid-back music reminiscent of 1970s soul. And yet that combination, which could be off-putting, somehow works to the advantage of both elements of the song, supplying the rapping with needed comfort and style; and the music with energy and drive.
"Sensual Seduction," Ego Trippin' (2007)
Sometimes known by its uncensored title "Sexual Eruption," this Shawty Redd-produced track was one of Snoop's biggest chart hits, making it all the way to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's also a big left turn for him, featuring Auto-Tuned singing throughout, minus a rap verse in the middle.
The incredibly catchy number started its life as a Shawty Redd solo song called "Drifter," which got leaked and hit the radio. "Snoop wanted to buy that song," Shawty told me a few years back. "At the time, Sylvia Rhone was signing me to Universal/Motown as an artist, and I couldn't sell Snoop that song. So I ended up making ['Sensual Seduction']."
"Young, Wild & Free" (Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa feat. Bruno Mars) Mac & Devin Go To High School (2011)
This track brings together Snoop and a younger weed-obsessed rapper, Wiz Khalifa. But what really makes it a winner is the addition of Bruno Mars, who at that time was in the middle of an absolutely unstoppable run with his crew the Smeezingtons as a hitmaker for both himself and others. This was "F— You"/ "Billionaire"/ "Nothin' on You"-era Bruno, and his composition and hook here is right up there with those pop masterpieces. Snoop and Wiz trade rhymes back and forth with a chemistry that, while perhaps plant-induced, can't be faked.
"I'm From 21st Street (feat. DJ Drama and Stressmatic)," Gangsta Grillz: I Still Got It (2022)
Snoop spent much of the past decade doing unusual one-offs (see 2013's reggae album Reincarnated and 7 Days of Funk, a funk project with DāM-FunK, or 2018's gospel compilation Snoop Dogg Presents Bible of Love, among others). So when he wanted to get back to his rap roots in 2022, he teamed with Gangsta Grillz mastermind DJ Drama to release a mixtape called I Still Got It. The project, and especially this song, more than proves the title correct.
Snoop tears up the Rick Rock-produced beat, sounding more energized and hungry than he has in a while. The subject matter may be somewhat well-trod ground (it's not far removed from his 1994 track "21 Jumpstreet," which could easily have made this list as well), but how he talks about his past, and the intensity he brings to it, shows that Snoop can still produce great music 30 years into his career.
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks
From the release of 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' and 'Aquemini,' to the proliferation of underground rap and the rise of regionalism, 1998 was hip-hop's sweet spot.
2023 has seen countless tributes to hip-hop, celebrating both its golden anniversary and the staying power of a genre that was vilified, underestimated, and branded a passing fad for decades. Nonetheless, while 50 is a major milestone, many believe hip-hop reached its peak decades ago.
At the tail end of the golden age of hip-hop, the genre reached a new level of maturity. Twenty-five years ago, hip-hop music demonstrated a wide variety of production styles and a diversity of perspectives. Further proving that 1998 was a high watermark for hip-hop, several important and stylistically distinct albums by Jay-Z, Black Star, A Tribe Called Quest and Outkast were even released on the same day.
This diversity of expression resulted in multiple commercially successful, distinct subgenres and niche audiences. The culture moved beyond the bi-coastal hostility that had culminated in the tragic murders of Tupac and Biggie, and the South asserted itself in a big way. The year’s versatility was demonstrated through the emergence of an underground scene that was critical of mainstream hip-hop’s consumerist mentality, but nonetheless thrived alongside commercially successful albums by both new and established artists.
Southern Hip-Hop Earns Respect
By 1998 groups beyond the East and West Coasts had started to gain national visibility — a hallmark of hip-hop's growing maturity.
While Outkast's Andre 3000 famously declared that "The South got somethin’ to say" in1995, the group didn't earn widespread respect and recognition until three years later. Released in September 1998, Aquemini, garnered near-universal praise — earning Outkast a notoriously rare five mics in The Source — and is still considered to be one of hip-hop’s greatest albums.
No other hip-hop group sounded like Outkast, and Southern flavor and slang pervaded the album (see the harmonica breakdown in "Rosa Parks"), but it was also the live instrumentation on tracks like "Liberation" and "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" that made the album so special.
Fellow ATLiens Goodie MOB, a group in the Dungeon Family collective, also released an album in '98. Like Aquemini, their sophomore effort Still Standing was produced largely by Organized Noize and featured a similar production style.
Outkast and Goodie MOB collaborated often in the 1990s: Aquemini’s "Liberation" only works because of the deeply soulful vocals of Goodie MOB’s Cee-Lo, and Still Standing’s "Black Ice" features one of Andre 3000’s most poetic and brilliant verses. While speaking to the many struggles of being young, Black and poor in the South, these two groups demonstrated how regional pride could be asserted in a more positive way, instead of spilling over into real-life violence; it was evidence of hip-hop’s maturity.
On the more commercial side, Atlanta rapper/producer Jermaine Dupri — who was already producing and writing songs for major R&B artists like Usher and Mariah Carey — released his debut album, resulting in one of the hits of the summer: the bouncy Jay-Z collaboration "Money Ain’t A Thang." New Orleans was also becoming an important locus of Southern hip-hop by 1998, with Master P’s No Limit Records releasing albums by Master P himself, Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder, Mystikal, and Snoop Dogg. Hits included "Make ‘Em Say Ugh" and "It Ain’t My Fault," both containing Mystikal’s distinctive high-pitched growling; his lightning-fast verse on the first song is truly something to behold. Also from Crescent City, Cash Money Records struck gold with Juvenile’s 400 Degreez and his booty-shaking anthem, "Back That Azz Up."
The Rise of Underground Hip-Hop
1998 was also the year "underground" hip-hop bubbled to the surface as a reaction to the genre’s crossover success. It was defined primarily by a critique of the presumed excessive consumerism of mainstream hip-hop, and a desire to return to the days when DJs, b-boys and graffiti artists were as important as rappers.
Turntablism was strongly associated with this style, as were cyphers — gatherings where rappers, b-boys and beatboxers would form a circle and engage in freestyle battles. The emergence of underground hip-hop was another sign that the genre was maturing as a whole; artists were no longer as worried about the ghettoization by the music industry and some felt that it had strayed too far from its marginalized roots.
The most significant underground hip-hop album of 1998 was Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star, created by a young duo of Brooklyn MCs. Interestingly, it was released on the same day in September as Aquemini, as well as two other major albums of the year: Jay-Z’s Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement — which although not an essential listen in their discography, did produce a hit with "Find A Way." Four major albums released on the same day was a testament to how far hip-hop had come.
In fact, the Black Star album was an explicit critique of the type of consumerist mentality and sexually explicit/boasting lyrics Jay-Z employed on Hard Knock Life. Songs like "Definition" display Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s exceptional lyrical dexterity and clever references, while "Hater Players" draws a clear line in the sand between commercial hip-hop and the "real MCs." In the latter, Kweli raps: "We ain't havin’ that, reachin’ past the star status that you grabbin’ at/ My battle raps blast your ass back to your natural habitat."
Mos Def’s adaptation of Slick Rick’s "Children’s Story" is a clever screed about the lack of originality within mainstream hip-hop. "They jacked the beats, money came wit' ease, but son, he couldn't stop, it's like he had a disease. He jacked another and another, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder." The song was a not-so-veiled reference to the production technique utilized by Puff Daddy, relying heavily on well-known samples of soul and R&B songs.
Black Star also distinguished itself from much of commercial rap of the time by uplifting, instead of denigrating, women. "Brown Skin Lady" is an ode to Black women throughout the African diaspora, presenting a clear contrast to the frequent use of the b-word on Hard Knock Life, particularly on one of its biggest hits, "Can I Get A…" Nonetheless, like many "conscious" rappers — notably, Common, who makes a guest appearance on this album — Black Star reflects the almost-universal homophobia in hip-hop at the time, particularly in Mos Def’s verse on "Re-Definition."
Despite Jay-Z’s distrust and demonization of women on Hard Knock Life — his third and most commercially successful record — no one can dispute his tremendous verbal prowess and flow, evident on tracks like "N— What, N— Who." And while he called out "gold diggers" in "Can I Get A…," he invited a female rapper (Amil) onto the song — leveling the playing field a bit.
Production-wise, Jay-Z’s use of the "Annie" theme for the title song was one of the most inspired choices in the genre’s history. The slick production of the album guaranteed it would be a home run; in retrospect, it heralded the future of commercial hip-hop’s sound.
Oher underground hip-hop artists were making big waves in 1998. Rawkus Records — which released the Black Star album — put out an important compilation, Lyricist Lounge, Volume 1, which featured performances by Mos Def, Talib Kweli, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, and the L.A.-based Jurassic 5, who also released their debut album that year. Other West Coast underground artists who released debut albums in 1998 included the Bay Area-based Hieroglyphics and Rasco, and the L.A.-based Aceyalone and People Under the Stairs.
Debuts, Veterans And The Biggest Album Of The Year
1998 also saw the release of important debut albums by commercial hip-hop artists like DMX, Big Pun and Black Eyed Peas. Big Pun’s "Still Not A Player" was one of the biggest hits of the year, with his lyricism reminiscent of Biggie.
DMX had a particularly productive year, releasing two albums in 1998, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. That year, it was impossible to escape the melodic hook and chorus of "Ruff Ryders’ Anthem" ("Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down, open up shop") from the first DMX album. DMX also contributed a memorable verse on the Lox’s hit "Money, Power, Respect," off the group’s debut album, released by Puffy’s Bad Boy.
Beyond the debut albums of 1998, a slew of established artists from various regions and representing myriad styles put out their third, fourth or fifth albums. East Coast artists with new albums included Beastie Boys, Method Man, Redman, Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Gang Starr, Mc Lyte, and Public Enemy, who released a soundtrack album for Spike Lee’s He Got Game. On the West Coast, there were new albums by Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, and Digital Underground.
Notwithstanding the success of so many diverse hip-hop artists, no album achieved greater heights than Lauryn Hill’s masterful solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. To start, it won Album Of The Year at the 1999 GRAMMYs, a feat never before accomplished for a hip-hop artist, as well as four other golden gramophones. Hill wrote, arranged and produced the album herself, reportedly turning down offers for production help from both her former Fugees bandmate Wyclef Jean and her label, which suggested bringing in Wu-Tang Clan’s mastermind, RZA.
The album was somewhere between R&B and hip-hop (and in fact was nominated and won in R&B instead of rap categories), and right off the bat, the album showcases Hill’s considerable skill as both a rapper and singer. The dancehall-inflected "Lost Ones" takes on an aggressive stance, with Hill rapping in Jamaican patois and invoking phrases of religious retribution, but it’s followed by a neo-soul breakup ballad, "Ex-Factor," featuring Hill’s signature throaty vocals.
The other major hits on the album besides "Ex-Factor" were "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and "Everything Is Everything," which cemented Hill as one of the best lyricists in hip-hop. Twenty-five years later, the whole album holds up beautifully and features some incredible invited guests.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the first hip-hop album to break the Album Of The Year barrier was released in 1998 — when the genre had reached what is arguably its creative apex. With the incredible stylistic and regional diversity of that year’s albums, hip-hop had succeeded beyond its founders’ wildest dreams.
Photo: KMazur/WireImage for New York Post
8 Ways Jay-Z's 'The Black Album' Changed The Hip-Hop Game
What was almost Jay-Z's final album turned into one of his most iconic. For its 20th anniversary, take a look at how 'The Black Album' altered the course of Jay-Z's career — and rap as a whole.
"From bricks to Billboards, from grams to Grammys," Jay-Z rhymes on "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," a prime example of how his eighth LP, The Black Album, is dominated by his rags-to-riches story. Released Nov. 14, 2003, The Black Album was, ironically, intended to be the rapper's final chapter. But the album's remarkable commercial and critical success — it sold 3.5 million copies in the States to become his sixth consecutive number one on the Billboard 200 — instead furthered his magnitude and influence, only continuing his legacy of one of rap's greats.
Boasting no fewer than 12 of the era's hottest producers (The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Timbaland, to name a few), The Black Album is a consistently strong, musically diverse, and remarkably honest listen, which firmly justifies all the self-lionizing. And not only does the album feature Jay-Z's signature tune, it also spawned arguably the most revered mash-up in music — and, among many other feats, inspired a generation of MCs with its slick lyrical flow and ground-breaking beats.
Twenty years on, take a look at eight ways in which Jay-Z's faux-farewell changed the hip-hop game.
It Spawned The Most Famous Mashup Album Ever
Jay-Z practically invited the DJ crowd to put their own spins on The Black Album toward the end of 2004 when he reissued the LP without any beats. Pete Rock, DJ Bazooka Joe, and original contributor 9th Wonder all accepted the challenge. But Danger Mouse, aka one half of soon-to-be chart-toppers Gnarls Barkley, had already taken it on, fusing the rapper's original rhymes with music from another colorful record, The Beatles' White Album.
Bringing two pop cultural behemoths together for the first time, The Grey Album (see what he did there) inevitably became a sensation, with EMI's efforts to withhold its release only adding to all the hype. Both Hova and Paul McCartney, however, gave their blessing, with the former telling NPR, "I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea to do it. And it sparked so many others like it."
It Put Several Key Names On The Map
Jay-Z was no stranger to giving future hip-hop heavyweights their big breaks; both Swizz Beats and Kanye West were virtual unknowns when they contributed to Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life and The Blueprint, respectively. And The Black Album was no different.
Production team The Buchanans, who'd later work with Lupe Fiasco, Amerie, and Dr. Dre, gained their first official credit on "What More Can I Say." John Legend was still a year away from GRAMMY-winning breakthrough Get Lifted when he co-wrote "Encore." And "Threat" helped rap professor (yes, that's a real thing) 9th Wonder to establish himself as a genuine hip-hop authority.
It Produced His Defining Track
Jay-Z had scored, and would go on to score, much bigger hits than "99 Problems." In fact, 24 of his solo singles have charted higher than its No. 30 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. And it isn't always considered to be his best, either: "Big Pimpin'," "Dead Presidents II," and "Where I'm From" all kept the Rick Rubin production out of the top three in Rolling Stone's recent all-time Hova list. Even so, "99 Problems" still has the clout of an undeniably defining tune.
It's been referenced by everyone from Iggy Azalea to Barack Obama. It gave Jay-Z the first of his four Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMYs (Mark Romanek's controversial monochrome video also picked up four MTV VMAs). Its themes of racial profiling, police aggression, and gentrification led Jack White to hail it as the modern "story of America." And although Ice Cube said it first, it was undoubtedly Jay-Z who put "I got 99 problems, but a b— ain't one" firmly into the hip-hop lexicon.
It Birthed Rap-Rock's Greatest Crossover
Jay-Z certainly wasn't the first hip-hop act to forge an unlikely rock connection. Run-D.M.C. broke down barriers (literally) in the video for their iconic 1986 Aerosmith collaboration "Walk This Way." The '90s saw collabs from KRS-One and Crazy Town ("B-Boy 2000"), Method Man and Limp Bizkit ("N 2 Gether Now"), and Public Enemy & Anthrax ("Bring The Noise"), all of which were met with mixed results. However, the Jigga Man's EP with nu-metalers Linkin Park, 2004's Collision Course, was a different story.
Notching another Billboard 200 No. 1 for both artists, Collision Course proved that rap-rock could be both credible and commercially successful — which eventually helped pave the way for everyone from Lil Uzi Vert to Machine Gun Kelly. And The Black Album was a key part of their success.
Not only did Jay-Z think to do the team-up after seeing the various mash-ups The Black Album spawned, but three of Collision Course's six tracks stem from the LP: "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder/Lying From You," and the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration GRAMMY-winning "Numb/Encore."
It's Been Sampled Countless Times
The Black Album is built on samples, from the emphatic big beats of Billy Squier to Russell Crowe's dialog from Gladiator. But such is the recyclable nature of hip-hop, it's also been heavily sampled since its 2003 release, too.
"99 Problems" alone has been borrowed from or covered at least a recorded 79 times, perhaps most famously on Iggy Azalea's verse in "Problem," her No. 1 hit with Ariana Grande. T.I. brought "What More Can I Say" into the top 10 of the Hot 100 after lifting its vocal hook for "Bring Em Out." Hip-hop sibling duo Clipse appear to have been The Black Album's biggest fans, though, having taken lines from "Public Service Announcement" and "Threat" on "Number One Supplier" and "Where You Been," respectively.
It Pioneered The Hip-Hop Concert Movie
Long before his other half Beyoncé unleashed Homecoming, Jay-Z proved that the concert movie didn't need to be the sole preserve of white guitar acts. Five years after his collaborative Hard Knock Life tour was captured for posterity on Backstage, the rapper invited another camera crew to document what was supposed to be his live swansong. "The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in hip-hop," welcomes ring announcer Michael Buffer at the start of Fade to Black. And Jay-Z more than justifies such a billing in a dazzling, star-studded set that leaves the 19,000-strong Madison Square Garden crowd hanging on his every word.
Just as compelling is the behind-the-scenes footage of The Black Album's inception, particularly Timbaland and Pharrell Williams' excitement at conjuring the perfect beats. From J. Cole (Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming) to Chance the Rapper (Magnificent Coloring World), a whole host of rappers have since followed suit.
It Allowed Jay-Z To Guide Other Superstars
The Black Album might not have been the studio goodbye purported at the time. But before returning with Kingdom Come in 2006, Jay-Z did spend the following three years adhering to The Black Album's retirement theme. The self-imposed hiatus allowed the rapper to explore other creative avenues, expand his brand, and – perhaps most significantly for fans of a certain Barbadian superstar – take the reins of the legendary Def Jam Recordings.
Yes, after being appointed to the position of CEO in 2004 by L.A. Reid, Jay-Z signed a then-unknown Rihanna to the label, reportedly responding to her audition with "There's only two ways out. Out the door after you sign this deal. Or through this window." Ne-Yo and Rick Ross were both also plucked from obscurity by the Jigga Man and sent on their paths to stardom during his three years in charge (Jay-Z remained with Def Jam as an artist until May 2009, when he left to concentrate on his own Roc Nation label.)
It Made Retirement A Marketing Tactic
Although Too Short and Master P had both previously reneged on their plans to call it quits, Jay-Z was the first rapper to truly harness the power of an early retirement. Frequently alluding to the news (see "I supposed to be number one on everybody's list/ We'll see what happens when I no longer exist" on "What More Can I Say"), The Black Album was also accompanied by the aforementioned concert film, a memoir (The Black Book), and ever the entrepreneur, even tie-in sneaker and mobile phones.
Hova insists that he really did believe he was bidding farewell at the time, but there's no denying that the announcement helped to both boost his coffers (The Black Album was his biggest selling 2000s release) and add to his mythology. 50 Cent, Waka Flocka Flame, and Lupe Fiasco are just a few of the major hip-hop names who've since made similar claims before quickly walking them back.
Since his return, Jay-Z has added to his legacy in a multitude of ways. He's released collaborative projects with West and Beyoncé; scored a further five solo number one LPs on the Billboard 200 (including The Black Album's unexpected follow-up, Kingdom Come); and added more than a dozen GRAMMYs to his awards haul. And we've not even mentioned the record-breaking world tours, film production credits, and various business interests (TIDAL, Roc Nation Sports) which have helped him become the world's wealthiest rapper with a staggering net worth of $2.5 billion at press time. While The Black Album would've been a remarkable finale, Jay-Z's decision to unretire remains his smartest yet.