Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Ceremony 2016

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We’re used to seeing businesses address the public through advertisements and press releases, but Jay-Z the business, man, has always saved his most newsworthy public statements for his primary product: bars. Since 1996, the 13-time platinum rhymer has been wrapping subliminal messages into simple rhymes using other-worldly wordplay — but it’s always been clear to those who religiously follow HOVA’s red dots who the intended targets are.

The Jigga Man’s reputation for leaving Da Vinci codes is so infamous that he had fans scrambling to decode the hidden meaning of his latest album title, 4:44, from the second it was announced in mid-June. Jay’s recent revelation of the number’s straightforward significance — the exact time he woke up to write the evolutionary title track — was kind of a letdown after a week of fans’ creative speculations about the inspiration, which ranged from astrology to numerology.

In the week since 4:44 dropped, Al Sharpton, Future, Lil Boosie, Eric Benet and Prince’s estate have already responded to lines they took personal offense to. Hit dogs are known to holler, but everyone is still waiting for a response from HOV’s estranged little brother, Kanye West, the assumed target of some of the ten-track album’s deepest digs.

After a few listens, me and my editors had a 30-minute debate this weekend about whether Jay was speaking about Kanye or his old self in the last line of 4:44’s intro, “Kill Jay Z.” After referencing Ye’s on-stage betrayal during a string of concert “rants” he made last November, Jay closes the song by saying, “If everyone’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.”

I’m still thinking it was a (low) blow at Mr. West’s fragile mental state, which landed him in the hospital last fall. But my boss maintains a reasonable doubt that Jay would ridicule him like that; Her theory is that he was addressing himself, as he had been for the entire song to that point. Both interpretations make sense, but we still haven’t come to a concrete resolution because, true to Jay’s blueprint, the line was constructed to deceive. We agreed to disagree once we realized the self-proclaimed “monster of the double entendre” probably foresaw our debate while he was composing the lyrics. As Jigga famously warned listeners on 2008’s “Ignorant Shit,” “believe half of what you see, none of what you hear, even if it’s spat by me.”

Looking back at Hip Hop history, there’s no debate that Jay’s petty pen sparked his legendary beef with Nas into the history books, as well as famous feuds with Prodigy, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and many more. For those who still underrate Jigga’s ruthless wit, here are the 44 targets of Jay-Z’s slickest shots; From Beyoncé to Damon Dash to Harry Belafonte (Mr. Day-O!), anybody can get clapped at when Shawn Carter is winking through the scope.

 

1. “One Minute Man (Remix)” (2001)

Target: Beyoncé

Rhymes: “I’m not tryna give you love and affection/I’m tryna give you sixty seconds of perfection/I’m tryna give you cab fare and directions/Now get ya independent ass outta here, question?”

Context: Jigga was at the height of his “Big Pimpin” phase and Bey and Destiny’s Child were using their voices to uplift the image of the “Independent Woman” across the world. Jay was seemingly unimpressed with the sentiment coming from someone who once asked if suitors could pay her “Bills, Bills Bills,” so he went full Iceberg Slim and hit his future Queen off with cab fare and directions (thank God for Uber). We have no idea what provoked the shot (maybe this is just how the Carter-Knowles’ flirt), but it’s hard not to wonder if Bey’s Lemonade had been brewing for 15 years from the moment she caught wind of this bullet.

Petty Level: 10

2. “Drop It Like It’s Hot (Remix)” (2004)

Target: R. Kelly

Rhymes: “Too much pizzazz for these piss-ass niggas to get past/Too cool for cizz-ops to cuff his iz-ass/Snitch as they may, they can’t get the boy/These niggas giving out cases like a liquor store/Running to the D.A. tryin’ to get me for/All the money we made, I’m like forget the law/I’m not ‘frizz-aid, it’s Jizz-ay, homie, you got plizz-ayed/Take it like a man, the flow ran you off the stizz-age/Wastin’ your time tryin’ to sue S. Dot/Tell your lawyer, “Take that civil case and drop it like it’s hot.”

Context: Jay borrowed Snoop Dogg’s famous “izzle” language to send a not-so-subliminal message to R. Kelly after the dream team duo’s Best of Both Worlds tour and album series self-destructed before everyone’s eyes. Things officially fell apart at Madison Square Garden in October 2004 after an altercation that sent Robert to the emergency room.

Jay’s day-one rider Tyran “Ty-Ty” Smith later plead guilty to pepper-spraying Kelly during the concert. Apparently, Kelly had worn the Roc-A-Fella team thin with unprofessional behavior like skipping rehearsals and showing up late to shows. The final straw came when Kelly abruptly walked off the stage 30 minutes into his MSG set because he claimed he saw men in the crowd pointing guns at him. Smith, who got a shoutout on 4:44’s “Bam” for having the heart of a giant despite his 5’6″ stature, allegedly called Kelly a “bitch” and a “faggot” before spraying him and his security guards, sending them to the hospital and kicking off years of litigation that included a $91-million civil suit.

Petty Level: 8

3. “Smile” (2017)

Target: Funk Flex

Rhymes: “No flex zone, this is HOV, nigga who lied to you?”

Context: You may have wondered why Jay decided to randomly announce himself as HOV in the middle of the lyrical slaughter he executed on 4:44’s ”Marcy Me.” Those familiar with Jay’s 2015 feud with legendary Hot 97 DJ Funkmaster Flex know he didn’t rush to squeeze those lines into the bar because they sounded good — it was a direct message to his former ally, who had recently been talking reckless on the radio. The conflict stemmed from Flex’s allegation that Jay stole his intellectual property for a mobile app.

Hot 97’s bomb-dropper tried to blow up Jay’s spot live on air, but things blew up in his face when he posted a photo of a text message that read “This is HOV,” attempting to convince his followers that he had Jigga on the ropes so bad that Jay was desperately reaching out to clear the air via text. It’s now clear that Flex got hit with he okey-doke after this Rae Sremmurd-inspired clapback, but the question remains: Who exactly was playing on Flex’s phone that night?

Petty Level: 5

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4. “Bam” (2017)

Target: Kanye West

Rhymes: “Niggas skip leg day just to run they mouth.”

Context: On 2016’s The Life Of Pablo, Kanye announced that when he hits the gym, he focuses on working “all chest” and “no legs.” Jay flipped the rhyme to criticize all the talking Ye has been doing during concerts, specifically last fall in Sacramento when Ye dry snitched that HOV had “killers” on his payroll and accused Beyoncé of using industry politics to leverage an MTV VMA win over him.

Petty Level: 7

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5. “Kill Jay Z” (2017)

Target: Future

Rhymes: “I don’t even know what you would of done/In the future other nigga playing football with your son.”

Context: Future and Ciara’s attempts to co-parent have been a consistent trending topic on social media since the couple split in 2015. The primary source of drama is the man Ciara rebounded with: shamelessly square NFL quarterback Russell Wilson, aka the polar opposite of her Hendrix-channelling ex. The Super Bowl winner didn’t hesitate to cuff Ci Ci after the split, and he seemed to take naturally to caring for the couple’s young son, judging solely from the “Goodies” singer’s Instagram feed.

Jay’s sublim game is so serious that Future let the line with his name in it fly directly over his head and instead dove to catch a more general shot: Jay’s message to the millennial generation that posing with stacks of money on Instagram is a great way to say, “I’ma be broke in 4 years.” “There’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here,” spit Jigga, prompting responses from Boosie, Ralo and Future, who said they aren’t ready to stop holding money stacks up to their ears and pretending they’re talking on Nino Brown’s cell phone.

Petty Level: 5

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6. “Is That Your Chick?” (1999)

Target: Nas

Rhymes: “She keep beggin’ me to hit it raw/So she can have my kids and say it was yours/How foul is she? And you wifed her/Shit, I put the rubber on tighter/Coming over your shit/Got my feet up on your sofas, man/I’m eating a hostess from my open hand/You coming home to dishes and empty soda cans/I got your bitch up in my Rover, man/I never kiss her, I never hold her hand/In fact I diss her I’m a bolder man/I’mma pimp her; it’s over, man.”

Context: Something about collaborating with Missy seems to bring out Jay’s petty side. After years of subtle jabs between the greatest surviving heavyweights of New York’s 1990’s rap scene, Jay threw a hook that pushed the local rivalry to a global level. On “Is That Your Chick,” Jay dedicated the entire second single of Memphis Bleek’s 2000 album, The Understanding, to Nas and his daughter’s mother, Carmen Bryan.

Carmen later confirmed that she was the “chick” Jay and company were referring to in her 2006 book, It’s No Secret… From Seduction to Scandal, a Hip Hop Helen Of Troy Tells All — though her account of their romance was much less salacious than HOV’s. Anyway, the love triangle led to greasy interviews and more subliminal disses until Jay finally said Nas’s name at the end of “Takeover” and things got “Super Ugly.”

Petty Level: 10

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7. “Blueprint 2” (2002)

Targets: Rosie Perez, Nas, Jungle

Rhymes: “I’m sorry Ms. Rosie Perez, but I call a spade a spade, it just is what it is/You can’t give cred to anything dude says/Same dude who gives you ice and you owe him some head?… Is it ‘Oochie Wally Wally,’ or is it ‘One Mic?’ Is it ‘Black Girl Lost,’ or shorty ‘owe’ you for ice?”

Context: Even after their war of words had seen its peak, Jay continued sending shots at Nas and anyone claiming his longtime rival had won their epic showdown. His most potent bars pointed out the many contradictions in Nasty Nas’s public image: mainly that he presented himself as a woke freedom fighter but also participated in new millennium’s worst mainstream trends; Materialism, misogyny and the same mafioso mentality that Jay was widely criticized for portraying.

Rosie Perez entered the fray when she criticized Jay for bringing Nas’s baby mama into their beef (Jay bragged that he left condoms in their baby’s car seat, but more on that later). Jigga’s mom agreed that it was too far and wisely told her son to fall back. But Jay still felt the need to tell the Do The Right Thing actress why she was naive to see Nas “Escobar” as the “good guy” without looking at the bigger picture.

Jay’s underlying thesis: His honest and consistent portrayal of himself at his best and worst was more genuine than Nas’s inconsistent caricatures. The pettiest line, however, came at the expense of Nas’s Braveheart comrade Jungle: “And the little homie Jungle is a garden to me.” Really, HOV? Thankfully, Jigga and Rosie reconciled in 2013 at the “Picasso Baby” video shoot.

Petty Level: 8

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8. “Ride Or Die” (1998)

Target: Ma$e

Rhymes: “I bruise wack rap niggas severely punish them/Especially those that get fucked for they publishing, heh/Always gotta be the weakest nigga out the crew/I probably make more money off yo’ album, than you/You see the respect I get every time I come through/Check your own videos, you’ll always be number two/Niggas talkin’ real greasy on them R&B records/But I’m platinum a million times nigga, check the credits/S. Carter, ghost writer, and for the right price, I can even make YO’ shit tighter.”

Context: One of Jigga’s earliest (and ugliest) subliminal disses was a response to Bad Boy rapper Ma$e, who sent this not so subtle shot at Jay just as he was beginning his famous infatuation with platinum jewelry: “All we hear is platinum that, platinum this/ Platinum whips, nobody got no platinum hits,” said Ma$e on 112’s “Love Me!” At the time, Puffy’s Bad Boy label was running the Billboard charts and Jay was struggling to get a bonafide hit.

But Young Hov wasn’t about to let the number two man on Bad Boy’s roster little bro him; so he shot back with these vicious but true facts about the terms of Ma$e’s deal and his status in Bad Boy pecking order. Unlike Jay, Ma$e was a worker, not an owner. And according to the “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” music video, where Betha wore a number two jersey so Puff could rock number one, he wasn’t even the top dog on his own team.

According to Ma$e in a 2012 interview, Jay inherited the beef from a Roc-A-Fella homie who had lost a young lady named Arion to Ma$e’s charm. “My beef wasn’t with Jay, it was somebody in his crew. She liked me, and we did whatever we did and it was somebody’s girlfriend that was in his crew. And so then me and Dame get into it, Dame wanna box me, I told him let’s box. I guess Jay inherited it, me and (Jay) never really had a problem.” I wonder if that’s how Jay would tell the story.

Petty Level: 5

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9. “I Got The Keys” (2016)

Target: Drake

Rhymes: “’Til you own your own, you can’t be free/’Til you’re on your own, you can’t be me.”

Context: In January 2016, Drake announced on “Summer Sixteen” that he “used to wanna be on Roc-A-Fella” but then he “turned into Jay.” Hov didn’t take the claim lightly and quickly reminded Drizzy of how much further he had to go on his journey before he could claim to be his equal.

Unlike Jay, Drake is signed as an artist to Yung Money Records and Cash Money Records (among others), where he presumably eats after Baby, Wayne, and (possibly) J. Prince, all of whom contributed greatly to his “discovery” and blow-up in 2009. Drake is also signed to Apple Music, while Jay owns his own streaming service, TIDAL, making Drake’s claim to the throne sound all the more ridiculous once you’ve done the math.

Petty Level: 3

10. “Shining” (2017)

Target: Drake

Rhymes: “I know y’all ain’t out here talking numbers, right? I know y’all ain’t out here talking summers, right? I know you ain’t walking ‘round talking down, saying boss shit when you a runner, right?”

Context: The second of Jay’s back-to-back shots at Drake’s bold “Summer Sixteen” line was way more specific than his “I Got The Keys” subliminal. Jay went out of his way to let Drake, and everyone else, know that he really doesn’t appreciate hearing about how people are looking to replace him. Especially when they think they already have, and he still hasn’t announced his second retirement.

Petty Level: 6

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11. “We Made It (Freestyle)” (2014)

Target: Drake

Rhymes: “Sorry Mr. Drizzy for so much art talk/Silly me rappin’ ’bout shit that I really bought/While these rappers rap about guns they ain’t shot/And a bunch of other silly shit that they ain’t got.”

Context: For those who still don’t believe that Jigga watches the tweets as closely as he used to watch the streets, see exhibit A: his Jay Electronica-assisted freestyle over Drake and Soulja Boy’s “We Made It.”

First, Drake told Rolling Stone in an interview that he was tired of Jay’s endless art references: “It’s like Hov can’t drop bars these days without at least four art references… I would love to collect (art) at some point, but I think the whole rap-slash-art world thing is getting kind of corny.” Then, Jay shot back with this insincere lyrical apology, which pointed to the fact that he was only keeping it real with listeners; as well as the fact that Drizzy wasn’t complaining to journalists about peers who were still busting imaginary guns. On 4:44’s “The Story Of O.J.,” Jay doubled down on his interest in art, explaining that he stopped collecting depreciating assets like cars with v-12 engines and started stocking up on paintings because they double in value each year. Drake regretted the interview so much that he told Twitter it was his last, claiming he was quoted out of context and that he did not intend for his private critique of Jay’s hobbies to make it to print.

Petty Level: 3

Tweet:

Petty Level: 5

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12. “The Ruler’s Back” (2001)

Target: Amil

Rhymes: “You got a couple of beans, and you don’t have a clue?/Your situation is bleak/I’ma keep it real, fucking with me, you gotta drop a mill/‘cause if you gonna cop something you gotta cop for real.”

Context:

Beanie Sigel, DJ Clue?, Memphis Bleek and Pharrell may not have realized that Hov was dropping names on their very first listen of The Blueprint’s regal intro, but Amil, who had recently been released from the Roc, probably did. In 2010, Just Blaze told the Hype Men podcast that Amil’s promising career with the Roc fizzled because of her work ethic. In a 2002 interview on Hot 97, Jay said he was tired of explaining to the Roc’s first diva that “Can I Get A…” wasn’t “her” song before calling her “Diana Ross, for real,” and adding, “I don’t know how Berry Gordy did it.”

Apparently, the silky-voiced MC skipped studio sessions because she said she had to watch her kid. So, either the Roc didn’t have a suitable nursery at Baseline studios or Amil couldn’t convince anybody to play baby-sitter in the clutch — either way, she’s probably been hitting “skip” on this track since the first time she heard her name. As Memphis Bleek testified in 2015, “All I know (is) we was in the studio making “Hey Papi,” (and) she ain’t make it… HOV just said, “You’ll never see her again,” and I never did.”

Petty Level: 11/10

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13. “Lost One” (2006)

Target: Damon Dash

Rhymes: “I heard motherfu*kers saying they made Hov/Made Hov say, “OK so, make another Hov”/Niggas wasn’t playing they day role/So we parted ways like Ben and J-Lo/I should’ve been did it but I been in a daze though/I put friends over business end of the day, though/But when friends’ business interests is they glow/Ain’t nothing left to say though/I guess we forgot what we came for/Shoulda stayed in food and beverage/Too much flossing/Too much Sam Rothstein/I ain’t a bitch, but I gotta divorce them/Hov had to get the shallow shit up off him.”

Context: The break-up of Roc-A-Fella records has been explored in YouTube documentaries and comment sections for years, but few accounts of the split have been as straight-forward as Jay’s on his 2006 return from retirement, Kingdom Come. Artist Jay and executive Damon Dash founded the Roc with silent partner Kareem “Biggs” Burke in 1996, and each played their role to perfection as they elevated the Roc into a pop culture dynasty at the turn of the millennium. But after accomplishing their initial goal of taking over the corporate rap game as self-owned Black men, intentions apparently shifted away from “what they came for” to more self-serving interests.

Like Sam Rothstein in Martin Scorcese’s Casino, Dame was reportedly growing more egotistical and less responsible by the day in his role as Roc-A-Fella CEO. As evidenced by viral videos of him flipping out on suits in label meetings – not to mention his decision to name Cam’ron Vice President of the company without consulting his partner – Jay and others saw Dame swerving dangerously out of his lane and threatening the future of their collective operation. As Jay put it, Dame “wasn’t playing (his) day role,” so he didn’t hesitate to end the partnership and begin chasing bigger dreams on his own.

Petty Level: 9

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14. “Frontin’” (2003)

Target: Beyoncé

Rhymes: “Every time your name was brought up/I would act all nonchalant in front of an audience/Like you was just another shorty I put the naughty on/But uh, truth be told you threw me for a loop.”

Context: On the song “4:44,” Jay expresses deep regret for his unromantic pursuit of Mrs. Carter. Instead of formally asking her to be his lady, he simply said, “don’t embarrass me” and left the rest of their relationship up for interpretation.

Foresight makes it clear that his eight bars on Pharrell’s classic were about Bey. They also showed just how much Jay’s simp game had improved in the two years since the “One Minute Man (Remix).”

Petty Level: 2

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15. “Light Up” (2010)

Target: Damon Dash

Rhymes: “And to these niggas I’m like Windows 7, let ‘em tell it they swear they invented you.”

Context: Today, Jay and Dame seem to be cool, but Hov was apparently still holding on to hard feelings from their feud when he blessed Drake’s debut album with one of his most quotable verses in years. Either that or he was watching a commercial for Windows 7 computers and had to laugh to himself because he could relate to seeing people take credit for building things that they don’t even know how to take apart.

Petty Level: 6

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16. “Trouble” (2006)

Target: Cam’ron

Rhymes: Only time you went plat, my chain was on your neck, that’s an actual fact.

Context: After the Roc’s break-up, Dipset capo Cam’ron inherited his friend Dame’s beef with Jay, partly because Cam’s presence at Roc-A-Fella was what reportedly accelerated the split in the first place. Killa Cam has never hesitated to get petty, and he’s never seen Jay as his superior, so he quickly launched a mixtape campaign against Hov that mocked his looks (comparing him to cigarette mascot Joe Camel and Good Times’ actor JJ Evans), his soon-to-be-wife (insinuating that he slept with Bey when they had collaborated years before) and his claim to New York’s throne (“I opened the Daily News, and how’s the king of New York rocking sandals with jeans?”).

Cam’s scathing 2005 diss track “You Gotta Love It” claimed that Jay, who was then the acting President of Def Jam, stole the Roc-a-Fella label, the Rocawear clothing line and the Roc’s top musical prospect, Kanye West, from Dame in their messy divorce. The blatantly disrespectful bars on “Trouble” were the first public response to Cam’s jabs, but more were soon to come. And we can’t forget Cam’s undeniable jewel: “Stop the music for this one — You talking about you an 80’s baby (On Young Jeezy’s “Go Crazy”)/You 37 years-old, you was born in 1968.” Young Hov was so hurt that he tried to convince the world that 30 was the new 20 on a later Kingdom Come track.

Petty Level: 7

17. “30 Something” (2006)

Target: Cam’Ron

Rhymes: “I’m afraid of the future/Y’all respect the one that got shot, I respect the shooter.”

Context: In 2005, not long after he started talking crazy about Jay on records, Cam’ron was shot in both arms in Washington D.C., while driving his Lamborghini Gallardo at Howard University’s storied Homecoming weekend. Cam maintained permanent nerve damage from the shooting but calmly drove himself to the hospital after refusing to give up his car or jewels in the attempted jacking. Cam mostly just used the botched robbery for promotion of his new album and for bragging rights, but he later claimed that the shooters “threw up the Roc,” diamond hand sign before the shooting.

Petty Level: 6

18. “Pump It Up (Freestyle)” (2003)

Target: Joe Budden

Rhymes: “I’m the Mike Jordan of the mic recording/It’s Hovi baby, you Kobe, maybe Tracy McGrady/Matter fact you a Harold Miner, J.R. Rider, washed up on marijuana”

Context: Here’s one good reason why Joe Budden has transformed into the millennial era’s Maddest Rapper: In the early 2000’s, when he was one of Hip Hop’s most promising young lyricists, the New Jersey rapper (reportedly) bumped heads with the Big Homie over label politics and never saw his career take off the way many expected. Sure Budden’s name was buzzing off of mixtape work with DJ Clue and Fabolous and his Just Blaze-produced single, “Pump It Up,” but Jay didn’t seem convinced he was ready for the big leagues until he saw him one-on-one.

Just before he retired, rap’s MJ went out his way to jack “Pump It Up’s” beat and take Budden’s flow and penchant for sport metaphors for a spin. He released it on his pre-Black Album mixtape, The S. Carter Collection, which dropped in tandem with his signature S. Carter Reebok sneakersTo Joe’s credit, the rook didn’t hesitate to take the beat back, going toe-to-toe with Hov: “I ain’t Kobe, or Tracy, Gay-Z, Jay be murked/Joey’s the future, I’m more like Dirk,” but at the end of the day, it stacks up like Allen Iverson’s iconic (but mostly symbolic) crossing of Michael Jordan in 1997. Jay continued to leverage his power at Def Jam to “keep his foot on the throat of the rap game,” as he promised on the track, and Joe’s stats haven’t quite lived up to the Hall Of Fame hype he was pumping back in the day.

Petty Level: 5

19. “Reminder” (2009)

Target: Joe Budden

Rhymes: “Throwback, I threw ‘em back/Remember those, button ups?/Young Hov, Tell them ordinary Joe’s, ‘button up.’”

Context: Six years after their “Pump It Up” showdown, just as he was settling in to his second act with Eminem’s elite Slaughter House crew, Joe and Jay clashed again. Of course, Jay didn’t see it a serious enough matter to drop more than half a bar, but Joe rightly made the most of the free promotion.

Joey did an interview asserting that Jay couldn’t “out rap” him. But he also claimed to prefer his small loyal following to Jay’s mainstream “fickle” fans, so maybe they’re just playing for different trophies.

Petty Level: 10

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20. “Monster” (2010)

Target: Beanie Sigel

Rhymes: Everybody wanna know what my Achilles’ heel is/Love! I don’t get enough of it/All I get is these vampires and blood suckers/All I see is these niggas I made millionaires/Millin’ about, spillin’ they feelings in the air.”

Context: Another casualty of the Roc’s break-up was State Property, the New York-based label’s Philadelphia expansion team. Led by Beanie Sigel, a legendary bully in the South Philly streets and a genius poet on the mic, State Property launched the careers of Sigel, Freeway, The Young Gunz, Peedi Crakk and more.

Beans, who was embroiled in legal issues soon after the break-up, was vocally critical of Jay’s leadership in various viral disses and low budget music videos over the years, claiming the Big Homie didn’t hold the team down as the dynasty crumbled.

After recording countless classics as the Roc’s MJ and Scottie, Jay finally had enough and decided to let his former wingman have it on Kanye West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Smart money says Ye was definitely in the studio gassing Jay on this one after Beans cyber-bullied him about his metro-sexuality. Oh, and this isn’t the last time Jay felt the need to remind the world that he made Sigel into a millionaire.

Petty Level: 6

21. “Never Let Me Down” (2004)

Target Ma$e

Rhymes: ”Dissing Jay will get you Ma$e’d/When I start spitting them lyrics niggas get very religious/Six Hail Mary’s, please Father forgive us/Young, the archbishop, the Pope John Paul of y’all niggas/They way y’all all follow Jigga.”

Context:Long after Ma$e had disappeared from New York rap’s scene to pursue a life as a pastor in Atlanta, Jay was still holding a grudge about that 112 line from 1998. On Kanye’s debut album, Jay reminds the world why it’s not worth it to disrespect him, before explaining all the ways he’s more of a spiritual leader as a rapper than Pastor Betha could ever be in the church or the booth.

Kanye probably sparked this throwback shot, too — on his debut single “Through The Wire” he says, “If you could feel how my face felt, you would know how Ma$e felt,” comparing the broken jaw he got in a car accident to the one Ma$e sustained in a beatdown by Ghostface Killah and company. Years, later Ma$e would return from his Southern Baptist sabbatical in his Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Welcome Back Cotter themed anthem. Jay’s gone easy on him ever since.

Petty Level: 9

22. “Free Mason” (2009)

Target: Conspiracy theorists

Rhymes: “Hear me clearly, if y’all niggas fear me, just say y’all fear me/fuck all these fairy tales/Go to hell this is God engineering/this is a Hail Mary pass, y’all interfering.”

Context: In 2009, social media and YouTube were filled with conspiracy theories tying Jay-Z and his financial success to the Illuminati. Jay’s songs “D’Evils” and “Lucifer” were used as evidence of his occult ties, as well as his decision to call himself “Jay HOVA,” a play on Jehova that he has long used to express his belief that he is a rap God. But the biggest reach came from a failed rapper-turned-pastor who tricked his congregation into believing his theory that Jay was heathen by playing an unauthorized remix of one of Jay’s songs by that was produced by Dangermouse.

The song chopped various bars up from Jay’s many rhymes to say: “6-6-6, murder, murder, Jesus,” but there is no official recording of Jay saying the phrase himself. It’s not hard to see why Jay was fed up enough to address the topic on Rick Ross’ deep cut, but it didn’t stop him from taunting paranoids with overstated occult symbolism in the video for “On To The Next” a few months later.

Petty Level: 3

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23. “Say Hello” (2008)

Target: Al Sharpton

Rhymes: “If Al Sharpton is speaking for me, somebody get him the word and tell him I don’t approve/Tell him I’ll remove the curses, if you tell me our schools gon’ be perfect/When Jena Six don’t exist, tell him that’s when I’ll stop saying, “bitch,” Bitch!”

Context: The selfie line on 4:44 wasn’t JAY’s pettiest prod of Al Sharpton. JAY was tired of political pundits deflecting Don Imus’ racist comments about the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball team onto the Hip Hop community. Jay was tired of political pundits deflecting Don Imus’s racist comments about the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball team onto the Hip Hop community. The famous, “If rappers say it why can’t we line?” line was (and still is) White people’s cop out for bigotry, and sunken “professional activists” like Sharpton joined conservatives in shifting the blame to the youth instead of leading the way. It was 2008, and Louisiana’s racist “Jena 6” episode was the national reminder that racism was still very much alive — leading JAY to ask why these so called leaders had time to talk about he and his peers’ lyrics.

Petty Level: 4

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24. “Brooklyn High (We Fly High Remix)” (2006)

Target: Damon Dash, Cam’ron and Jim Jones

Rhymes: Brooklyn get paper, tote big things/We chase niggas around they own ball games/Ball game nigga, it’s over for you lames, give me back my chain, it’s over for you dames… Your bank vs. mine, if you ballin’, nigga what I’m doing, can’t be defined/The Jones’ can’t keep up, maybe my nigga Nas, but I got stronger after “Ether.”

Context: At the core of the Roc’s break-up were the fault lines that separated Jay’s Brooklyn upbringing from his former partners’ Harlem roots. After being poked in the press and on the record by Cam, Dame and Jimmy, Jay couldn’t wait to bring up the infamous footage of Cam and Jim getting chased out of Harlem’s famed Rucker Park by Biggie’s Junior M.A.F.I.A. crew. Jay’s main point however, was that Jones’ number one hit, “Ballin’!,” fit his lifestyle better than theirs.

Petty Level: 6

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25. “Nickles And Dimes” (2013)

Target: Harry Belafonte

Rhymes: “I’m just trying to find common ground/‘Fore Mr. Belafonte come and chop a nigga down/Mr. “Day-O,” major fail/Respect these youngin’s, boy, it’s my time now/Hoblot homie, two-door homie/You don’t know all the shit I do for the homies.”

Context: Harry Belafonte is a beloved icon of old Hollywood and the Civil Rights movement, but Jay refused to bow to his elder after Belafonte criticized he and his wife’s philanthropic efforts. Jay’s main messages: 1. ‘You don’t know what I do behind closed doors.’ 2. ‘If you think I could do more, call me, not the press.’ HOV may have gone a little far calling a senior citizen “boy,” but it’s clear by his decision to dedicate a whole song that he was deeply offended by the breach of confidence. Thankfully, the two OG’s have since made nice.

Petty Level: 7

26. “Drug Dealers Anonymous” (2016)

Target: Tomi Lahren

Rhymes: “Bitch I been brackin’ since the 80’s/Google me baby, you crazy?/…/14-year drug dealer and still counting, who deserves the medal of freedom is my accountant/He been hula hooping through loop holes, working ‘round shift/IRS should of had the townhouses surrounded.”

Context: It took the millennial generation’s Ann Coulter, Facebook pundit Tomi Lauren, to bring a hibernating HOV out of his cave in 2016. Just a month after Beyoncé poured Lemonade on his head in front of the whole party, Jay ignored the angry feminists in his mentions and focused on the professional troll who had gained viral fame by comparing Beyoncé and Black Lives Matter to the KKK. The final straw was her “message” to Beyoncé that being married to an ex-drug dealer made her political views null and void. As Jay rushed to remind her, he’s still selling dope and getting away with it; The only difference is he now smuggles his product inside of unapologetic quotes.

Petty Level: 3

27. “Heart Of The City” (2001)

Target: Jaz-O

Rhymes: “Then I wake up to more bullshit/You knew me before records, you never disrespected me/Now that I’m successful you pull this shit?

Context: Jaz is the man who first introduced Jay to the idea of being a professional rapper. When they met in the 1980’s, they quickly bonded over their love of rhyming — and when Jaz got a record deal and invited Jay on the road to be his hype man. According to Jay, he started to outshine Jaz and humbly faded back to the block when Jaz’s record deal fizzled.

When Jay returned to the game in 1996 as his own boss, he did his best to put Jaz back on, passing him producer credits, and even housing him in his apartment for years. But the former friends eventually grew apart over heresy and magazine interviews. Jay clearly felt disrespected by Jaz’s willingness to speak negatively to the press about him. Instead of calling his publicist and issuing a release, Hov called Young Guru and put it on the record.

Petty Level: 6

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28. “No Hook” (2008)

Target: Dehaven

Rhymes: “So fuck DeHaven for caving, that’s why we don’t speak/Made men ain’t supposed to make statements/End of the story, I followed the code, cracked the safe/Other niggas ain’t in the game, so they practice hate.”

Context: Jay felt betrayed by another childhood friend in 2008, after his former “right hand man” DeHaven ran to gossip sites to talk about their illicit past. As YouTube and WorldStarHipHop expanded their reach, more of Jay’s former associates told their stories for the camera. With names like Calvin Klein, Beanie Sigel and many more commenting on Jay’s past and current dividends, he felt the need to set the record straight on his American Gangster soundtrack: “Made men aren’t supposed to make statements.”

Pety Level: 7

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29. “Marcy Me” (2017)

Target: Lil Uzi Vert

Rhymes: “I’m talking ‘bout busting off the roof/Hold a Uzi vertical, let the thing smoke/Y’all flirting with death, I be winkin’ through the scope.”

Context: Lil Uzi Vert has captured the millennial generations attention with fatalist messages and emo vibes that help some to numb life’s pain. Jay shot this dart to warn Uzi and the youngin’s not to flirt with death — but he should also be proud to know the double meaning of Uzi’s iconic “Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead” chorus on “XO Tour L1f3”: The deceased friends could be homies who’ve passed just as well as dead presidents, a term Jay passed down on Reasonable Doubt‘s lead single.

Petty Level: 2

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30. “Put On (Remix)” (2008)

Target: Damon Dash

Rhymes: “All these niggas taking credit for the work that I put in/If you really put me on, put yourself on then.”

Context: Another quick bar for the peanut gallery — as Dame and others took credit for his absurd success, Jay felt the need to ask why the magicians who supposedly made him appear out of thin air couldn’t repeat the trick. Dame had recently told Complex that Kanye really hated Jay, but Kanye’s reps denied the claim saying Dame was simply trying get attention for Jim Jones’ upcoming project and, as they put it, the former Roc CEO always makes up stories when he’s trying to promote something.

Petty Level: 4

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31. “Why I Love You” (2011)

Target: Beanie Sigel

Rhymes: “I tried to teach niggas how to be kings/And all they ever wanted to be was soldiers/So the love is gone, ’til blood is drawn/So we no longer wear the same uniform”

Context: Beans was known as the ultimate Roc-a-Fella soldier, never hesitating to step to the frontline of beefs with Nas, The LOX and others over the years. But Jay was hoping to elevate Beans’ mentality, as he explained on “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)”: “Beans, I ain’t tryna change you, just give you some game, to make the transition from the streets to the fame.” 

After the Roc fell apart and Beans’ lost his career to legal issues, he felt abandoned by his former mentor and lashed out multiple times leading up to this Watch The Throne verse, which everyone knew was aimed at the Broad Street Bully.

Petty Level: 7

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32. “Smile” (2017)

Target: 50 Cent, Jimmy Iovine

Rhymes: “Fuck a slice of the apple pie, want my own cake/Chargin’ my own rate/ Respect Jimmy Iovine, but he gotta respect the Elohim as a whole new regime/And niggas playing for ‘Power’, huh/So our music is our, niggas own their own houses.

Context: Jay’s vision of financial freedom still hasn’t been realized by many of his peers. Almost two decades after he mocked the short-sighted view of 50 Cent’s name, his young rival has been in the news for filing bankruptcy and putting all of his chips into the STARZ series, Power.

Iovine used to sign 50’s checks at Interscope before moving on to Apple Music, but Jay’s clear message is that the man who sold over 12 million records in 2003 alone shouldn’t be declaring bankruptcies and publicly revealing that his only real assets are houses. As Jay said on “I Got The Keys,” ‘Til you own your own, you can’t be free.”

Petty Level: 8

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33. “Dear Summer” (2005)

Target: The Game

Rhymes: “It’s like when niggas make subliminal records/If it ain’t directed directly at me, I don’t respect it/You don’t really want it with Hov, for the record/I put a couple careers on hold, you could be next, kid/Keep entering the danger zone/You gon’ make that boy Hov put your name in a song/If you that hungry for fame, motherfucker ‘cmon/Say when, take ten paces, then spin.”

Context: The Game got gassed up on G-Unit’s massive hype in the mid-2000’s and began chucking long bombs at Jay, rejecting his button up shirt and penchant for Maybach’s on “Westside Story.”

HOV sent his first response in a Hot 97 freestyle before transposing the lyrics to his classic retirement anthem, “Dear Summer.” The main message: be happy with this subliminal message, and don’t make him say your name on the next song.

The Game apologized and quieted down for a little while, but ultimately, he didn’t learn his lesson.

Petty Level: 6

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34. “The Prelude” (2006)

Target: The Game

Rhymes: “The game’s fucked up/Niggas’ beats is banging, nigga your hooks did it/Your lyrics didn’t, your gangster look did it/So I would write it if y’all could get it/Being intricate’ll get you wood, critic”

Context: A year and change after “Dear Summer,” Jay’s return from retirement delivered on his promise to put The Game’s “name in a song.” The first words of his comeback album are “The Game’s fucked up,” followed by a ruthless dissection of his cliche image and unimaginative rhymes. Sheesh.

Petty Level: 3

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35. “Change The Game” (2000)

Target: Jayo Felony

Rhymes: “I wear more bling to The Source than Soul Trains / More chains and rings, niggas won’t do a thing”

Context: Jayo Felony said this about Jay, “Talkin’ about, ‘Is he a Blood or is he a Crip?!’/ N—a I’ll sock that f—-t in his big-ass lips,” after taking offense to some of Jay’s lines about gang culture. HOV was flexing in the face of rumors that West Coast wolves would stick any East Coast big shots who came to their side flossing. But Jayo was also reportedly frustrated by his status at Def Jam records, where he was stuck in a bad deal and Jay was thriving.

Petty Level: 5

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36. “Watch What You Say To Me” (2007)

Target: Lil Wayne

Rhymes: “I hear you baiting me lately, I been doing my best just to stay hater free/Still watch what you say to me/Sooner or later I take you up on your offer/And put you all in ya place like I’m replacing ya father/You talking, to the author, the architect of The Blueprint/My DNA in ya music, muthafucka you stupid?”

Context:

First, Wayne said this on a record:

“You old ass rappers better stay on tour/ You like 44/ I got a 44/ I’m 24/ I could murk you and come out when I’m 44.” on Freeky Zeeky’s “Beat Without Bass.”

And then this in an interview:

“I’m better than (Jay-Z)…I’m 24 years old. … I’m 13 years deep with five albums and 10 million records sold.” He continued, “I don’t like what he’s saying about how he had to come back because hip-hop’s dead and we need him…What the f— do you mean? If anything it’s reborn, so he’s probably having a problem with that. You left on a good note, and all of the artists were saying, ‘Yo, this is Jay’s house. He’s the best.’ Now he comes back and still thinks it’s his house… It’s not your house anymore, and I’m better than you.”

And this was all after Wayne spit over Nas’ “Ether” beat on a mixtape and began calling himself the “greatest rapper alive.” Not to mention the fact that he went out of his way to outperform Jay on a freestyle over “Show Me What You Got” during his red-hot Mixtape Weezy era. Jay couldn’t help but take the bait, creating the longstanding Carter feud that has survived multiple disses and collaborations over the years.

 

Petty Level: 4

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37. “30 Something” (2006)

Target: Lil Wayne

Rhymes: “30’s the new 20 nigga, I’m on fire still/These young boys is like fire drills (Uhh)/False alarms (Uhh), the next don (Naw)/He ain’t got it (Uhh), on to the next one (Young)”

Context: The same year that Wayne declared himself the “Fireman,” Jay used some firefighter puns to dismiss the underdog’s potential as a contender for the throne.

Petty Level: 4

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38. “Super Ugly” (2001)

Target: Nas

Rhymes: Me and the boy A.I. got more in common than just balling and rhyming/Get it? More in Carmen/I came in your Bentley backseat, skeeted in your Jeep/Left condoms on your baby seat/Here nigga, the gloves is off, the love is done/It’s whatever, whenever, however nigga – one/And since you infatuated with saying that gay shit/Yes you was kissing my dick when you was kissing that bitch/Nasty shit, you thought I was boning Renette/You calling Carm’ a hundred times, I was boning her neck/You got a baby by the broad, you can’t disown her yet.”

Context: Nas made fun of Jay’s appearance on “Ether” and Jay snapped back like a kid who was used to being teased on “Super Ugly.” Jay’s mom and Rosie Perez called foul, saying Jay went too far by bringing the wifey and kids into it. Jay stopped throwing punches until things cooled down. But the next year, he articulated his argument much more gracefully on “Blueprint 2.” Still, many said the battle had already been lost because of the “Super Ugly” DQ.

Petty Level: 10

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39. 

“Trouble” (2006)

Target: Lil Wayne

Rhymes: “You little niggas ain’t deep you dumb/You niggas ain’t gangsta, you gum, I chew lil’ niggas/Hock-too, spew lil’ niggas/I can only view lil’ niggas like lil’ niggas/But in lieu of lil’ niggas trying to play that boy/I phew, phew lil’ niggas with the latest toy/Unlike you lil’ nigga, I’m a grown ass man/Big shoes to fill nigga, grown ass pants”

Context: If the constant use of the world “lil” isn’t obvious enough, Jay directly references Wayne’s well-promoted Blood gang ties and slight size make it clear who the target of these darts were.

Petty Level: 6

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40. “H.A.M.” (2011)

Targets: Lil Wayne and Baby

Rhymes: “Niggas fantasize about the shit that I do daily/Like these rappers rap about all the shit that I do really/I’m like “Really: half a billi? Nigga, really?” You got baby money/Keep it real with niggas, niggas ain’t got my lady’s money.”

Context: Seems like Baby has been gassing this rivalry from day one – He probably put the bug in Wayne’s ear to challenge Jay’s status as the best rapper alive – but Jay has never hesitated to reject Wayne’s lyrical and financial claims to rap’s throne. Baby’s claim that he has over half a billion dollars just like Jay (just not in publicly declared assets) mostly fell on deaf ears. But Jay still responded to the “half a billi” claims on Watch The Throne, saying Weezy and his “Daddy” still had a ways to go before catching up to him or his Queen.

Petty Level: 6

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41. “Takeover” (2001)

Target: Prodigy

Rhymes: “I don’t care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggers to crews/You little fuck, I got money stacks bigger than you/When I was pushing weight, back in ’88/You was a ballerina, I got the pictures I seen ya.”

Context: As two of the most revered spitters on New York City’s 90’s rap scene, Jay and P always kept a competitive distance. After Jay sampled Prodigy’s voice for his debut album’s melancholy “D’Evils,” the late Queenbridge legend took exception to a line on Jay’s 2000 hit “Money, Cash, Hoes:” “It’s like New York’s been soft/Ever since Snoop came through and crushed the buildings/I’m trying to restore the feeling.” 

P’s beef was that he and Mobb Deep were two of the few NYC rappers (along with Capone-N-Noreaga and Tragedy Khadafi) to stand tall with Bad Boy during the perceived East Coast vs. West Coast clash in the mid-1990’s. “We took offense to that like, ‘How you talking now? We was out there risking our lives,'” P later explained in an interview in The Source, which led to Jay’s infamous Summer Jam screen presentation, which exposed a young Prodigy posing in photos as a young male ballerina.

Petty Level: 10

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42. “Takeover” (2001)

Target: Nas

Rhymes: “Went from Nasty Nas to Esco’s trash/Had a spark when you started, but now you’re just garbage/Fell from top 10 to not mentioned at all/To your bodyguard’s “Oochie Wally verse better than yours/Matter of fact, you had the worst flow on the whole fucking song/But I know: the sun don’t shine, then son don’t shine/That’s why your (lame) career’s come to an end/It’s only so long fake thugs can pretend/Nigga, you ain’t live it, you witnessed it from your folks’ pad/You scribbled it in your notepad and created your life/…/Use your (brain)/You said you’ve been in this 10/I’ve been in it five – smarten up, Nas/Four albums in 10 years, nigga? I could divide/That’s one every… let’s say two; two of them shits was doo/One was “ehh,” the other was Illmatic/That’s a one-hot-album-every-10-year average/And that’s so (lame)/Nigga, switch up your flow/Your shit is garbage; what you trying to kick, knowledge?/You niggas gonna learn to respect the king/Don’t be the next contestant on that Summer Jam screen/Because you-know-who did you-know-what/With you-know-who, but let’s keep that between me and you.”

Context: After embarrassing Prodigy on the Summer Jam screen with ballerina photos and teasing Nas with one bar at the end of a verse, Jay went directly at the Illmatic MC on the official album version of “Takeover,” which included new verses aimed entirely at God’s Son.

This one in particular focused on Nas’ stalling career in comparison to Jay’s streak of hits. Jay even went so far as to claim that he revived Nas” career and made him relevant again by even engaging with him. This still stands as the pinnacle of Hip Hop beef in the milennial era, but the two have since made amends and collaborated multiple times.

Petty Level: 10

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43. “It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot)” (2001)

Target: 50 Cent

Rhymes: “Go against Jigga your ass is dense. I’m about a dollar, what the fuck is 50 Cents?”

Around the 7:00-minute mark of this Angie Martinez interview, Jay explains that he “had to spank” 50 for his disrespect on the song “How To Rob,” where a young Curtis Jackson joked about robbing Jay and other mainstream stars.

Jay said they ran into each other backstage at Summer Jam not long after “How To Rob” blew up, and he sensed that 50 was trying to cop a plea before Jay took the stage for his first Summer Jam performance. He reportedly said a lot of “ums,” before reminding Jay that he really respects him.

When Jay calmly told 50 that he liked the record, but that he still had to handle business, Fif couldn’t do anything but nod and brace for the impact: “No doubt, do your thing,” he told Jay before HOV went out of his way to disrespect the young upstart’s name during his headlining performance.

Petty Level: 9

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44. “Pound Cake” (2013)

Target: Drake

Rhymes: “I had Benzes ‘fore you had braces.”

Context: Jay opened his guest verse on Drake’s third album with this light jab to remind the young phenom that he was in the ring with a seasoned bar brawler. Jay comes from the days of 90’s New York rap when MCs went directly at each without dropping names; And as a survivor of lyrical showdowns with the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., DMX, The LOX and Beanie Sigel, he wasn’t about to go easy on the new generation’s top contender just because he was the latest hype. Instead, he gave one of his tightest verses in years, bestowing young Drizzy with some solid game that came in handy years later when Meek Mill turned on him like the Barzinis in The Godfather.

Petty Level: 1

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