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Jay-Z once named his favourite rappers of all time

Jay-Z is the second wealthiest man in hip hop, and since 1995, Hov has been bringing us quality music. From Reasonable Doubt to 4:44, the Brooklyn rapper has been around since the days of Big Daddy Kane and Biggie.  As one of the first artists from the genre to achieve billionaire status, Hov (real name Shawn Carter) is considered to be one of the best rappers of all time.

Lyrically, Jay-Z is always mentioned as one of the greats, and when his peers in the rap game are asked who their top five or top ten is, Jay usually, if not always, comes into the equation. The Brooklyn rapper is one of the most influential figures in hip-hop and, for the majority of his career, obliterated almost every single rapper in hip hop with regard to his album sales and accumulated wealth. Jay-Z is most likely your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper because he is just that good. 

The 52-year-old artist rarely does in-depth interviews and, like his wife Beyoncé, keeps relatively hush when it comes to his opinions and potentially contentious subjects, and the subject of who’s hot and who’s not is a very tricky one to contend with, especially if you’re someone of Jay-Z’s stature.

However, as a co-founder of Roc-a-Fella Records, alongside Dame Dash, it’s a given that Jay-Z can spot talent from a mile away and knows good music when he hears it. He can see potential in an artist or producer before they make it big and knows what is authentic and what is not. In 2019, the rapper curated a playlist for TIDAL subscribers indicating who, at that moment, he was listening to. However, people have never heard him divulge a definitive list of the best. But maybe that’s because people aren’t looking deep enough.

Back in 2010, during a press run for his book Decoded, someone approached Jay-Z and, without cutting corners, asked him straight-up to name his top five rappers, dead or alive and much to people’s surprise he responded. However, he didn’t quite list simply five, in a roundabout manner, he listed two but gave some honourable mentions.  

The Brooklyn native began with The Notorious B.I.G, explaining, “Well, I guess I would choose him because of his ability to tell stories, to be humorous, to be dead serious. He just had it all.” He then went on to name Tupac, detailing, “I would choose ‘Pac because his fire will overcome. What he doesn’t have in technical skills will be overcome by passion. If you listen to that ‘Tunnel’ verse where Big is saying ‘MC Hammer and them 357 women’ and then you hear how [‘Pac] comes on, he just screams on the track, like his passion could put a lot of guys to sleep.”

The billionaire rapper then closed up with some honourable mentions highlighting his affinity for Kool G Rap, KRS-One, Eminem, and Nas, with whom he had a ferocious battle in 2001 that, unfortunately for Jay, culminated in his defeat after Nas’ ‘Ether’

So although it was in a roundabout way, Jay has before named his favourite rappers. Although the event may have been low-key and somehow swept under the rug, with enough digging, we can see who inspired one of the greatest rappers of all time.

Below you can listen The Tunnel freestyle with Notorious B.I.G and 2pac that Jay-z was referencing.