Jay-Z Explains What Makes A "Classic Track"

Hov pens an article for Rolling Stone on his thoughts regarding what makes a timeless tune.

Jay-Z recently had four songs added to Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list - "Crazy in Love" with Beyonce at No. 118, "Umbrella" with Rihanna at No. 412, "99 Problems" at No. 172 and "Big Pimpin" at No. 467. To celebrate his induction onto the prestigious list, Hov penned an introduction to the list, sharing what he thinks makes a "classic track."

"A great song doesn't attempt to be anything — it just is," he begins, lauding Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." "When you hear a great song, you can think of where you were when you first heard it, the sounds, the smells. It takes the emotions of a moment and holds it for years to come. It transcends time. A great song has all the key elements — melody; emotion; a strong statement that becomes part of the lexicon; and great production."

The Brooklyn, New York native states how difficult it can be to leave a track as is. "I spend a lot of time fighting myself to stay out of the way of a great song," he notes. "It's hard for me to leave a song alone, in its natural state. I want it to have that mass appeal, but once I start trying to push it too far, you can feel that something isn't right."

He concludes by crowning his laidback anthem "Can I Live" as one of his best accomplishments. "Some of my best songs aren't the biggest ones. A song like 'Can I Live' is so full of emotion to me — it was better than 'Hard Knock Life' or  'Empire State of Mind,' but it lacked that accessibility. ­Michael Jackson's Off the Wall album may not have been bigger than Thriller, but the songs had better melodies."

RELATED: Jay-Z Covers Rolling Stone Magazine

104 Comments

  • I SEE NOW

    OH YEAH, YA'LL DO REALIZE EVERYTIME JAY SPITS A BIG VERSE ROYALTIES GO TO BIG'S ESTATE.

  • JP

    Good article! Jay is Great artist and understands what makes "a classic track" that excites all the five senses of a human being. Good article!

  • Brom

    Agreed! Great post. Beyonce will be adding to the list soon with her new album "4" dropping this summer, July 28 :) did ya'll check her performance at the billboards? Here it is if you missed it http://bit.ly/iBrlpO

  • Cashis DAy

    NEVER B4 HEARED MUSIC...COMMENT>>>http://youtu.be/kTybn4GHa58

  • Bob Banda

    Jigga the perfectionist, i like that, wack rappers, please take notes from this legend

  • Anonymous

    Gained some respect after he mentioned Can I Live, didn't know Jay had a clear enough mind to call that a classic. Can I Live is one of the best tracks of all time, so many quotables, it's unbelieveable.

  • ILL

    See that's why u have to give him credit cause he is rolling stone for the commercial records but he reminds you that he is the same guy who made Can I Live....He knows what it takes to keep the registers ringing...Ain't that what it's all about?...lol

  • IDK

    Rolling Stone included four of Jay-Z's most POPULAR songs, not his GREATEST. his greatest songs are located in his first three albums (especially Reasonable Doubt) and the Blueprint. but what am I to judge a magazine that looks for popularity and garbage, not quality, in music?

  • Anonymous

    You ever notice all the jay z fans you know are the guys who fake like they doing it the most. I was having a discussion about rap one day on the block. Jay, Nas and Pac. My younging happened to look at all the dudes on the Jay Z side and he made a comment I will never forget. You notice all the Jay Z fans are the guys who go get a 100 dollars in one's when we go to the club to act like they have money. That kind of summed up every Jay Z fan I know. You can replace Biggie's name and you'll see the same fans.

  • Tyler

    Are u sure this was not Rollingstones worst 500 songs in history? "Big Pimpen" "Crazy in love" they suck so hard.. How about "Brooklyn we go hard" or "Lucifer" or "dead prsiendts?" all much much better jay z tracks.. Big pimpen is so childish even jay has said he is embarresed of that song.

  • insanemacbeth

    my all-time favourite JAY-Z choon, is probably "STREETS IS WATCHING"!

  • Anonymous

    yall niggas need to stop hatin on on of the G.O.A.T. hes a fuckin living legend. get off that dick and listen to some real hip hop.

  • Mandy Sandy

    all u fuckin haterz dissin jay-z! don't no a classic song when u hear 1! jay-z! wack? fuck outta here. jay!'z weak shit iz prolly betta than ur favrite rapper'z best shit. dat'z how great jay-z! iz. from 88 til now, dude made lotz of great muzik. u niggaz either deaf or just plain haterz dat jay! iz a multimilionare while u still live wit ur momz. and who givez a shit if he "stole" biggie'z rhymez? they were friendz when biggie wuz alive. or did u 4get dat? jay!'z just "biggin up hiz brotha". god, u niggaz act like bitchez. go suck some dickz! RNGMB BITCH! FUCK U HATERZ! AND LOOK OUT 4 WATCH DA THRONE, COMIN SOON!

  • mcmastermind

    I'm glad Jay-z brought up Can I live. Because not only is that a classic song, but it is from a CLASSIC album.

  • jeffrocentric

    hova. hova. hova. www.shinyglasshouses.wordpress.com

  • Anonymous

    who gives a fuck if he steals biggies rhymes. That fat nigga is dead and gone, what the fuck is he gonna do to Jay?

  • can I live

    one of the greatest songs of all-time. lol umbrella...

  • Eyes

    Jay Z lyrically, financially, and realistcly shits on every hater in this comment section. LOL! #FACT

  • yup

    Oh and if "Crazy In Love" is the 118th greatest song of all time the world truly will end on Dec. 21, 2012!! What the fu..?

  • circa94beats

    agree 110% about MJs "Off the Wall"

  • ShowTime Ny

    Say what u want about dude..He Knows what he talking bout when speaking, on that music shit. I know exactly what it he means about fighting to leave songs as is and not tamper with it too much. And about Good songs vs Accessibility. soundclick.com/showtimeny

  • da1

    Since when are you able to smell a song jay?

  • Mitch

    Jay Z wouldn't be here today if Biggie was still alive. While Pac and Biggie were doin there thing in the 90's, Nas was right there with them with a classic album to back him. Jay was more like a sidekick. Nas solidified his spot in the game while the greats were here, Jay "solidified" his spot in the game after Biggie died, along with all the rhymes Jay Z stole from Biggie. There are only a couple of real kings in the game, and just because your bank account is overweight doesn't make you a legend in the game. Jay doesn't set trends, he just follows what's hot.

    • I SEE NOW

      I DON'T KNOW WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED TO JAY IF BIG AND PAC WOULD HAVE LIVED BUT I DO KNOW HE WOULD NOT HAVE HAD THE SAME LEVEL OF SUCCESS THAT HE HAS IF HE DIDN'T HAVE SOME TALENT BECAUSE REGARDLESS PEOPLE NOT GOING TO BE SUPPORTING BAD MUSIC JUST BECAUSE. THE WEST COST WAS NOT DISSING THE ARTISTS ON THE EAST COAST THE WERE SPEAKING ON THE BIAS OF MUSIC AND MEDIA OUTLETS IN NEW YORK. YOU MEAN TO TELL ME EVERY NEW YORK ARTIST THAT HAD A RECORD OUT AT THAT TIME WAS BETTER THAN AMERIKKKAS MOST WANTED. COME ON MAN, AND THAT IS WHAT WEST COAST ARTISTS WAS TALKING ABOUT.

    • Anonymous

      Reasonable Doubt = Classic.

    • Wake Up

      Jay-Z wouldve made it if Pac and Big were alive. Pac and Bigs careers were never destined to last long because of all the negative/violent shit they we're into. Karma is a bitch, and very very real!

    • Anonymous

      hahah how pathetic u kids are.. at least he'll be rich forever and you'll always have a comment area to heal ur frustrations

    • chitown

      What matters is what Jay became, not what he was. The fact is that Pac and Biggie did die. Would he have been as big if they hadn't? Probably not. But they did so he is. That's like someone on the hood making it rich but someone wants to tell him they remember him when he had nothing. Who cares? The fact is he has it now. Stop all the hate on Jay. He's an all-time great no matter how you do the math.

    • Anonymous

      lol @ Jay not being a trendsetter. The guy practically brought in the jiggy era (in the late 90's) himself.

    • yup

      Um...if I remember correctly, Jay-Z became hot instantly when RD dropped. I don't know where you were, but Jay was never considered a clown back when Dead Presidents, 22 twos, D'Evils, Feelin it, etc...were in regular rotation. You guys are delusional.

    • Mitch

      @CHuc Good points in your comment man. lol @ "jay-z bitch ass was nowhere to be found when the west dissed new york".! And how he was chasin Nas for features, lol. Like someone pointed below me, real kings dont crown themselves. @ Stringman, I've heard Reasonable Doubt. I didn't think it was wack, it just didn't impress me or leave me wanting to play the album over and over again.

    • Stringman

      Guess you ain't listened to reasonable doubt

    • CHuc

      jay was a fucking joke back then man. reasonable doubt was not a big deal when it dropped. jay-z was a clown, that got shit on by big pun and TS. jay-z was the nigga that couldn't go plat bugging nas about features all day like a giddy fan. jay-z bitch ass was nowhere to be found when the west dissed new york. jay-z was just jaz man when reasonable doubt dropped. jay-z bit that niggas style just like he bites everyones style cuz he has no style of his own. hes an imitator that struck gold. jay-z was watching nas like a hawk his whole career. the second nas lost some juice jay tried using his popularity to fuck up his favorite rappers career. he got ETHERED! jay been running scared ever since, boosting his own ego, celebrating himself like a royal fag. not a writer just a biter. got shit on by cam and signed tru life to handle the beef for him, like a little hoe. how anyone can be a jay-z stan is beyond me., but a lot of these rap fans today bitch made.

  • G

    In reality Biggie's "Ready to Die" will out do any Jay Z album, past present or future!!

    • Aquze

      Really: Jay-Z has NEVER been better than BIG lyrically. Maybe in terms of flow in some cases, but BIG had the some of the best metaphors, similes, wordplay, and segues from topic to topic.

    • @REALLY

      NO DICKHEAD THE WORD "SWAG" BEEN OUT SINCE THE EARLY 90'S

    • REALLY

      what n*ggaz fail to realize is that jay-z has always been lyrically better than BIG . the only thing is back then jay didnt have all that swag and charisma that he has now, but BIG did have swag and charisma which was groundbreaking for that era. Now...for the word SWAG nobody in hip hop was saying that until jay-z said it, he was the first to bring it back,(the word which is short for swagger' originated ages ago) but jay made it known to this generation back in 2001.....

    • Anonymous

      Not at all you fool...You obviously are in the wrong reality

  • mindrelated

    You all are full of it. Jay used some Biggie lines to keep his legacy alive. Lets not act like he didnt make music while Biggie was alive. Clearly his first album was classic, so stop the hate. Lyrically he is a beast people just hate for anyone to reach greatness, well hip hop culture at least.

  • alk

    Jay new shit isnt the best..but dead preidents,hard knock life, renagades jay has every right to talk about classics

  • Drek Gorest

    Freshsideny.com!!!!

  • QiD Ent

    New song...listen & leave feedback. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsXS644RUXg

  • Black Zoo

    Yall acting like Jay didnt win multiple awards, platinum albums, and wasn't successful at all. Jay opinion definetly counts when it comes to making a classic. despite how yall feel the numbers show Jay-Z is one of the biggest and the most successful artist in hip hop. Stop hatin and Face the facts!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rick Ross the Bawse

    Shit is easy to make a classic track. Get a bangin ass beat, get someone that can actually rap or sing (like B, Rozay or Hov), make sure it's catchy to the ear but isn't talkin about stupid shit, bang, classic joint. Too bad too many niggas can't craft a good song. Bawse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • U Aint a Bawse Nigga U Lost!

      Ross is sub-par at best and ain't nobody blastin dem songs all like that, Ross gets all the promo's, advertisements, and commercials with the hottest beats and features and still can't go platinum....Fuck Outta Here Nigga!!!!

    • Rick Ross the Bawse

      @anonymous, you pussy nigga, Rozay been in the game only a few years and already got the hottest beats and hit songs everywhere. Hustlin brought Jay back into the game but niggas like you wouldn't know. BMF be bumped in the hood, bitches and niggas both roll with Magnificent and Super High and all these other rappers gettin Rozay to do a feature. He the hottest in the game with 2 very good albums and one classic already. Stop hatin. Bawse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • waka flocka flame

      bow bow bow!!!

    • Anonymous

      lol...name one rick ross song thats a classic???lol at you you fool

  • Anonymous

    im glad he knows what makes a classic track, because Rolling Stones sure as hell doesnt

  • Brenda

    Why are people so into saying Jay is a biggie biter? He has way more albums, way more lyrical, better rhyme schemes, and better beats. Jay > Biggie all day. Biggie would be completely irrelevant today if he still rapped.

  • jo

    jay z is such a fucking sell out. blueprint 3 was the nail in the coffin, this nigga would drop a collabo album with beiber if it kept him hot. i never seen a nigga hold on like this. writing articles for bullshit rolling stone, a publication that has tried to destroy hip hop on several occasions. not only is jay begging for acceptance, his music is shit now. mr. knowles. mr carter. bitch ass nigga. self praise is no praise at all. a king doesnt crown himself, a king is crowned by the people. bitch ass nigga jay z, sucking up to the media since 98.

    • comachonvargas

      ANON Nas lost the beef w/ no valid points in ether? Jay doesn't jack lyrics from countless emcees INCLUDING NAS? Jay didn't mimic Nas' flow on Reasonable Doubt? Jay remains loyal to his mans like Jaz, Dame, Beans, and BIG? Jay didn't claim to be as good or better than BIG? Jay didn't get undeniably outshown by Em on Renegade? Jay didn't come up as Foxy's sidekick [Ill be, Aint no nigga]? Jay wasn't trying to get Nas features on Reasonable Doubt and Vo11? Ever wonder why Jay hasn't directly attacked another rapper since Ether? Oh and by the way... the Scarface/Manolo line in last real nigga alive held more weight than either the Blueprint 2/Supaugly diss tracks... and the Stillmatic freestyle shits on Takeover Some advice... when you bring up shit that is external to the battle to support your position you are acting like every CORNBALL LAME that claims Nas took an L for reasons that have nothing to do with the battle... Jay would be proud of you though

    • Anon

      @Lenon: I'm not hurt at all. Nas is one of my favorite rappers as well, but he lost that beef, regardless if Jay cried or not cause Ether was wack and didn't bring up one valid point. Plus, in the end Jay wins. He's the more successful one, he's still relevent, and he's got Beyonce while Nas has to pay a shit load of money for child support while he continues to make failed sellout attempt after failed sellout attempt (make the world go round, you owe me)

    • Lenon

      @Anon You hurt? It's cool man, a lot of Jay Z fans have this post "Nas lost" syndrome to deal with the fact that Jay lost. Listen to Jay'z Hot97 interview after Ether! Dude was cryin like a b*tch! Cockafella was full of losers, see Freeway's battle with Cassidy lol.

    • Anon

      lol nas is the one who lost that beef...that nigga couldn't think of anything to diss Jay about so he resorted to 3rd grade disses. "gay-z" "cockafella". dumb ass nigga.

    • Anonymous

      what does selling albums have to do with being a real artist you SUCKA? weird al went platinum, shaq went plat. lady gaga just went plat in a week doing madonna cover songs. the masses are fucking retarded, the masses elected george bush TWICE. jay got niggas riding his dick for his money, and his number 1 album streak. bp3 might have been a chart topping album, but it was a piece of shit. jay pretty much followed every TREND in hip hop. drake feature? check. rihanna feature? check. electronic rap beats with dumbed down lyrics and simple simon flows? check. fuck jay z biggest sell out in rap history. giggling with oprah like a lil faggot. scared to talk about his relationship with the bitch keeping him hot. nigga is a puss.

    • Mu

      WHAT?!?! Either yall niggas are too young or too stupid to realize the absurdity of what you're saying. Jay-Z isn't a true artist? Did you know that he's 2nd to the fucking Beatles in number 1 albums? If he was still rappin' about being a hustler on BP3 yall would criticize him for that too. It's called growing up... JERKS.

    • jo

      jo's money >>> lee's money jo's originality >>> lee's originality jo's anti-dickriding >>>> lee's excessive dickriding get a life you fucking scrub. everything you just said defending your mans jay applies to you as well you stanley crumb. niggas that think jay-z is the GOAT think trey songz is tight. the only nigga calling jay-z GOAT in his prime was jay-z. he taught niggas like lil wayne how to convince the public you're the best rapper alive when your shit stinks.

    • Anonymous

      word. jay-z is a weak character when you really analyze him. no rapper has ever championed himself like jay. biggie, pac, nas, never had to convince the people they were the best. it was evident. jay idolized nas, the second nas slipped, jay tried to end his career like an overzealous fan wanting to shoot his idol. he got ethered and he been scared of confrontation ever since. this nigga kissin up to the president, kissing up to oprah, now hes kissin up to rolling stone. some niggas got no shame, its all about a dollar with jigga and its always been that way. i mean this nigga got on cuz of jaz-o, ripped his name off, and never turned back. he got no loyalty, hes loyal to the game like a true sucka. married beyonce to stay hot. and he dont wanna talk about it. jay been trash since the black album, and his character been getting exposed since he been on.

    • Jeff

      Agreed. Jay isnt a true artist. He'll do anything to stay relevant. Where would his career be if he wasnt married to Beyonce? Or if he didnt drop that pop/r&b album titled, BP3? Always thought this guy was overrated. He's far from weak, but doesnt have true talent to me.

    • Lee

      Jay-Z >>>> Jo Jay-Z's knowledge >>>> Jo's knowledge Jay-Z's relevance >>>> Jo's relevance Jay-Z's bank balance >>>> Jo's bank balance

  • JahRandom

    Lots of people who can't rap could identify the characteristics of a "classic track", for example Jay-Z. That said, what is the criteria for this 500 greatest songs of all time list from the Rolling Stone? Jay-Z should not have any songs on that list, let alone 4.

  • Anonymous

    his bitch ass is right

  • Jeff

    Like Jay-Z would know !

  • oro

    jay z wouldnt know what a classic song is even if it hit him in the fuckng lip swagger jacker

  • Dave S Johnson Sr.

    There's a lot of Jay tracks that I luv, but "Regrets" is my all time favorite.

  • PatersonPlayboy

    This should tell you something about how out of wack the music industry is...When was the last "Classic Track" Hov put out??? Black Album anybody...Yet 3 Platinum Albums since then!

  • Eyes

    I thought Hard knock life was his biggest hit, next to crazy in love..

  • Simon Wang

    You see, there are two lists when it comes to Greatest Songs of all time. There is the True Hip Hop List, and the White man radio list. All the songs that the Rollingstone had for Jay-Z were definitely White Man Radio songs. Now on the True Hip Hop list, from Jay-Z, you got songs like, "Dead President", "Can't Knock the Hustle", "Can I Live", "Ignorant Sh*t", and "P.S.A.".

    • Chex

      I'm black and agree with Simon. Us minorities gotta stick together! No fighting, COMPTONIGGA!We all brothers man.

    • C.j. Lampkins

      hey comptonigga, go play in traffic simon's right man, those songs are all bullshit, those arent real jay classics at all

    • slapyobitchass

      compton nigga, you the dumbest fuck in the world. so the dudes asian what the fuck does that have to do with the conversation. stop being a fuckin idiot. Nigga is right though, rolling stone is just puttin shit that is popular wit the masses aka white people. most real niggas know that those 4 songs ain't Hovs best. But it's ignorant niggas like you that give all black people a bad name. do us a favor jump off a bridge or shut the fuck up while grown folks is talkin.

    • COMPTONIGGA

      Hows this chinky dude gone talk about 'white man radio list' Fuck outta here tryna kiss some black ass

  • HOVA

    Step 1: Pass off Biggie's rhymes as my own Step 2: Profit

  • Jay-Z

    Step 1: Steal rhymes from Biggie

  • Jay-Z

    Step 1: Steal rhymes from Biggie

  • Anonymous

    rolling stone dont know shit!! lol

  • Ddot

    HHH- you are a pussy...is that a valid opinion?

  • Ddot

    Can I Live is definitely a better song than both Crazy in Love and Umbrella, which are both coincidentally complete and utter garbage...Jay'z has made a ton of classic tunes, but neither of those two come anywhere near that category...its funny which songs Rolling Stone thinks are "classics"..what a bunch of bull.

    • hangman

      @ HHH Don't be a retard, Jay has nearly a twenty year history of hits, to say those two are'nt nearly his best (crazy in love, Umbrella)is a very valid point. And no I'm not anti RnB but over commercialised shit should be called out completly!

    • Shut it up

      UP YOURS!!

    • Anonymous

      ^he must have had both of those songs play at his wedding. both those song ARE garbage

    • HHH

      Oh.. Yeah, that's right. Because YOUR opinion obviously is much more important and valid than theirs. The reason you think Umbrella and Crazy in Love are "utter garbage" is because clearly you're not part of the target audience. See, YOUR opinion is not the universally true one. Don't be a fucking herb and call songs that don't appeal to you "garbage" because guess what, hip-hop aint the only genre with great music. Can I Live is dope, Umbrella is dope and so it Crazy in Love. Don't be a fucking bitter herb thinking your shit don't stank..

    • Anonymous

      word up. reasonable doubt is a hiphop classic

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