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the city is mine.

Jay-Z turned 48 today. Man, that makes me feel old.

On my commute home, I tried to compile my top ten Jay-Z songs of all time. In short, it was hard.

While Jay-Z is not my favorite rapper of all time (that would be Nas), he has created — and spearheaded — some of the most important music of my life. I remember “Ain’t No N****” and the spring of 1996. I was in Philly that year. My Mom had a schizophrenic episode and dragged my brother and I up to her hometown to get away from her mental tyranny. “Ain’t No…” blasted on The Box constantly, my cousins going crazy when it came on.

The Dynasty album in 2000. Hov ushering in Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and State Property. Takeover vs. Ether in 2001. When Jay retired and came back. All of it. I saw it all. And it made me realize how long I’ve been a connoisseur of this music called hip-hop.

Favorite Jay-Z songs (including features)

“Ain’t No N****”
“Never Take Me Alive” ( Young Gunz)
“4 Da Fam”
“U, Me, Him & Her”
“Can I Get A…”
“Do It Again”
“On The Run”
“Party Life”
“Money, Cash, H*es”
“Guess Who’s Back” (Scarface)
“Best of Me (Remix)” (Mya)
“Takeover”
“It’s On” (Beanie Sigel)
“Can I Live?”
“Love for Free” (Rell)

At 30, I am no longer of the age where my taste in hip-hop matters. As it’s said, it’s a “young man’s game” and who really makes or breaks artists are the fans born the years after the release of Jay’s debut album. But yet, Jay-Z is still a force. People flock to his shows, buy his albums. He’s an “elder statesman” but all the young ones want his cosign. He’s been able to maintain in a genre that has no problem ostracizing those who were a part of its rise. But no one would even dare disrespect Hov like that.

At 48, Jay-Z still reigns. And I was around for all of that. That’s what growing up in hip-hop means. I’ve been able to witness the Golden Era/NYC rap and the rise of the Atlanta. I saw Kim, Foxy and Latifah but now see Nicki, Rhapsody and Cardi. I ran home to watch Rap City but I also checked blogs every hour for new music. I watched the Box for hours but also recollect on the early aughts of Worldstar Hip Hop. I know the days of The Source album ratings but now see the debates flow about Pitchfork’s points system.

Seen it all, been through it all.

I was there. And hip-hop, to me, is the only genre of music that allowed for millions of people to be active participants in its growth, decline and resurrection. So we take it personally. The criticism, at least. But we feel that we’re the only ones that can love the music through its ugliness. And know that it can do better.

Jay did better. Same dude who gave you “Money, Cash, H**s” now gives you love anthems with Beyonce. His latest album, 4:44, is considered by many to be hip-hop pinnacle “grown man” moment. Jay grew up. And we all witnessed his maturation.

And he matured, so did we. So did I.

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