Jay-Z's legacy in rap is unparalleled. Hov probably best summed up his career on 2003's "What More Can I Say" when he spit, "There's never been a n---a this good for this long/ This 'hood or this pop, this hot or this strong."
But were the God MC's past accomplishments enough to rest on in 2011? Over the past year he continued to raise the bar, teaming up with "little brother" Kanye West to drop the groundbreaking Watch the Throne album and earning himself the #6 spot on MTV News' Hottest MCs in the Game VII list.
"If you talk about the Throne, yeah, top five, no question. But Jay himself? From January to August, what was going on?" asked Rahman Dukes, MTV News' director of hip-hop news, pointing out Jigga's inactivity apart from WTT. "Kanye was moving."
Indeed, Yeezy was rolling creatively after the November 2010 release of his critically acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, while Jay hadn't dropped a solo effort since 2009, when his triumphant Blueprint III made him our #1 Hottest MC. When it came to recognizing Jay for the recent success of the Throne, however, many members of the Hip-Hop Brain Trust argued that much of the credit should go to Kanye, not Jigga.
"You can't divorce [the album] from Kanye. It really feels like Jay rode shotgun on it," said Rebecca Thomas, an editor/writer at MTV News. "That project has Kanye's footprints and handprints all over it."
The truth is, outside of WTT, Hov didn't do the kinds of things that help an MC bolster his stats. Instead, the rap mogul was focused on his many business ventures — from his Brooklyn-bound Nets to re-launching the 40/40 Club in New York. Although few could argue that when he released "Glory," days after the birth of daughter Blue Ivy Carter, he created quite the musical moment.
And it was hard to ignore the impact and cultural significance of Watch the Throne, even if Jay's contribution was collaborative, not solo. Bypassing a traditional album rollout, the Throne serviced only two records to radio prior to their LP release: "H.A.M." and "Otis." They also went with a digital-only release initially, electing to postpone sending physical copies of WTT to stores until four days later. The pair placed a premium on their music — and it paid off. They avoided an album leak, a near impossibility in the digital era. When the joint LP was finally released on August 8, it seemed as if the entire hip-hop community was listening at the same time, dissecting it on Twitter and spawning multiple trending topics. It hit #1 on iTunes in 23 different countries a day later.
"At the end of the day, that album is an 'event album.' You're never going to get an album like that ever again," said Yomi Desalu, MTV's senior director of music and talent.
When first-week sales were tallied, the Throne had sold 436,000 copies and landed at #1 on the Billboard 200. The album's third single (second, if you don't count bonus track "H.A.M.") proved to be its biggest. "N---as in Paris" not only topped Billboard's Rap chart, it became a quick fan favorite that prompted the Throne to perform the track multiple times at each stop on their tour.
So when it comes to the "Hottest MCs" criteria, Hov largely hits the major points. He has proven his impact on the game is enduring and maintained a buzz in the streets, even if he didn't make as much noise in early 2011. Jigga was a lock in the sales department and, at 42 years old, he remains among rap's top lyricists. On "Otis," he reminded fans who invented swag, so style wasn't a problem, and Jay had enough side hustles that you could write a book about them. (Seriously, you could: check Zack O'Malley's "Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office.")
Perhaps a solo LP would've given Jay that extra push. Makes us wonder what might go down on Hottest MCs VIII if Hov does drop that tentatively planned 12th solo album and a second Throne LP. Who gon' stop him then?
Tune in to MTV2 on Sunday, February 19, at 10 p.m. ET/PT to catch "MTV2 Presents: Yo! MTV Raps Classic Cuts," then watch "Hottest MCs in the Game VII" immediately after at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT before capping the night off with "Sucker Free Certified" at 11 p.m. ET/PT.