JAY-Z Has Released The Best Verse Of The Year

On January 28 of this year, J. Cole released a verse that had the Rap world buzzing. On “Johnny P’s Caddy,” Cole rapped about destroying your favorite rappers, killing MCs on their own songs and even saying he would do so to Jesus, if he ever asked for a feature verse. What made Cole’s bars all the more savage was that they came as part of his guest appearance on a song by Griselda’s Benny The Butcher. For the nearly seven months since that song’s release, Cole’s verse has been regarded by many as the verse of the year, despite stellar output in 2022 from Kendrick Lamar, Black Thought, Joey Bada$$, Benny, Nas, KRS-One and more.

Today (August 26), however, Cole’s reign may have come to an end. Ironically, or perhaps intentionally, Cole’s dislodgment comes at the hands of the man who catapulted his career by signing him to Roc Nation back in 2009. While JAY-Z has been considered a GOAT MC for decades, discussion about him as one of Hip-Hop’s elite has waned in the last few years, as Kendrick, Cole and Drake have become the most regularly mentioned contenders for the throne. With the release of DJ Khaled’s “God Did,” featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, John Legend and JAY-Z, however, Hov has reminded all that he believes the discussion about who is Rap’s greatest MC starts and stops with him.

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After normal length verses by Ross and Wayne, Jay unleashes nearly 4 minutes of fury. Khaled, Young Guru (Jay’s longtime engineer) and Lenny S (one of the original executives at Roc-A-Fella records) delivered incredible praise for Jay’s forthcoming verse in early August. Each of those men, however, is a close affiliate of Jay and one would expect them to extol the virtues of the man who has played such an important role in their trajectories. Now that the verse is here, however, it lives up to its billing.

The man born Shawn Carter uses Khaled’s platform not to do lyrical gymnastics, but to run down the resume of what he has accomplished in music and in life. He begins by calling out the fact that not only was he Hip-Hop’s first billionaire, he also had a strong hand in making 3 other black billionaires. “Please, Lord forgive me for what the stove did / Nobody touched the billi’ until Hov did / How many billionaires can come from Hov crib? / Huh. I count three, me, Ye and Rih / Bron’s a Roc boy, so four, technically,” he raps.

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Jay also uses a number of lines to emphasize how he translated his street enterprises into corporate empires, rapping “I left the dope game with my record clean, huh / I turned the cocaína into champagne,” “Judge it how you judge it, say we goin’ corporate / Nah, we just corner boys with the corner office,” and “We pushin’ Fenty like Fentanyl, the shit is all legitimate.” In addition to the clever line about Rihanna’s wildly successful Fenty beauty products, Jay also alludes to ownership of equity in companies, referencing capitalization tables, while nodding to the use of “cap” as fake in today’s slang. “I’m at the cap table, what the splits is? / Not that cap table, boy, we live this.

Another theme that recurs throughout the verse is Hov’s disbelief at how his own life has turned out. This was a major point he revealed in his recent discussion with Kevin Hart, where Jay said ” “I was actually on Facetime with Ty [Jay’s close friend and Roc Nation co-founder], and I was saying I don’t think people realize that we just sit around all the time and [say] like ‘Can you believe this sh*t? I can’t believe this sh*t.’” On “God Did,” Jay reinforces this concept numerous times, rapping “Now the weed in stores, can you believe this, Ty? / I put my hustle onto Forbes, can you believe this guy?,” “Odds wasn’t great, we even be alive / Gotta be crazy to y’all ni**as, we surprised / Sh*t is too much how we grew up (Grew up) / Sh*t don’t even feel real to us (Damn).

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These are themes that have been present in Jay’s music for decades. What makes the verse special is his incorporation of the messaging around the work to which he’s devoted substantial resources over the years–criminal justice reform. Jay has been a strong partner in the Reform Alliance organization, which was led by Van Jones, Meek Mill and others to reduce overly harsh prison sentences and free those who have been wrongfully incarcerated. Back in 2017, JAY-Z bailed out several fathers, so they could be reunited with their families. His 2016 documentary about Khalief Browder also shone a light on the barbaric practices used to detain people indefinitely, even if they have not been convicted of a crime.

On “God Did,” Jay artfully raps about his continuing efforts to free the unjustly imprisoned and his gratefulness for having avoided prison himself, all while warning others to do the same. “The way we used to play with life / I’m now careful with the sentences, them only jail bars I like (Woo) / I never wanted to be the state custodian (Come on) / The laws of draconian (Come on, Hov) / For those who married to the life (Come on), it’s holy matrimony and (Come on) / Somehow, I’ll out-fox every box they’ll try to throw me in (Come on) / With great ceremony and Folk and nem told me how highly Caddy spoke of him / And bloke and ‘nem from London, Harold Road, Weston Inn / I be speakin’ to the souls of men / Those of them willin’ to die for the existence that this cold world has chose for them / Kickin’ snow off a frozen Timb (Woo) / Back and forth on this turnpike, really took a toll on ’em / Lot of fallen soldiers on these roads of sin / For those who make the laws, I’ma always have smoke for them / I got lawyers like shooters workin’ pro bono for him as a favor ’cause I throw them Ms / In memory of Teelo, I pray none of your people die over jail phones again / All this pain from the outside, inspired all this growth within / So new planes gettin’ broken in / Highest elevation of the self / They done f*cked around and gave the right ni**as wealth.” Jay also uses the moment to dispel recent rumors that there is tension with him and Meek Mill, since Meek’s departure from Roc Nation. He raps “Me and Meek could never beef, I freed that ni**a from a whole bid, Hov did,” in reference to the reported millions of dollars Jay contributed to Meek’s legal funds to help free him when he was incarcerated.

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Jay uses the end of the verse to explicitly stake his claim to Rap’s throne. He says “Next time we have a discussion who the G.O.A.T., you donkeys know this / Forgive me, that’s my passion talkin’ (Haha) / Sometimes I feel like Farrakhan (Haha) talkin’ to Mike Wallace (Haha) / I think y’all should keep quiet,” in reference to a fiery exchange between Farrakhan and Wallace on 60 Minutes where Farrakhan suggested detractors of Nigeria keep quiet, and blamed his intensity on his “passion.”

Jay’s verses are often so layered and filled with references that they take years to unpack. This is just the beginning.

DJ Khaled’s “God Did,” featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, John Legend and JAY-Z can be heard on Ambrosia For Heads’ Spotify playlist, as well as new music from JID, Slick Rick, Nas, KRS-One, Black Thought and many more.