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Jay Z’s Top 15 Actual B-Sides


Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Jay Z’s newly announced Tidal B-Sides concert, and though it’s not gonna drive me to cancel my free, three month Spotify Premium account (thanks Sprint!), I must say I’m enthusiastic about the idea of seeing Hov perform the lesser-celebrated gems in his discography. But are the songs that everyone keeps saying they hope he performs actually B-Sides? For the most part, not really.

To examine the actual B-Sides Jay Z has released during his double-decade rap career, we put together a Top 15 list of Hov songs that once appeared on the flipside of a Hov vinyl single or promo—literally. Let’s count ‘em down, shall we?


*Honorable Posse Cut* “1-900-HUSTLER” ft. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, and Freeway

The Dynasty: Roc La Familia had a decent amount of dope posse cuts, but arguably the most vicious of them all was “1-900-HUSTLER” featuring the R-O-C’s newest spitter live from the 215, Philadelphia Freeway. My personal favorite from The Dynasty album, though? “Squeeze First.” Now that’s an underappreciated Jay joint I’d love to see him perform.



15. “The Bounce” ft. Kanye West

Before Kanye became a Jay Z level A-List rap star, he was merely a B-Side up-and-comer. This Blueprint 2 song is kind of weird, because it’s Kanye—who at the time was most known for his production—making a feature on a Timbaland-produced beat. Nevertheless, it was a sneak peak at Mr. West’s potential as an MC, and an early taste of what would become Watch The Throne.



14. “My 1st Song”

The Black Album is one of Jay’s best LPs top to bottom, and because it’s stacked with lots of gems, the album closer “My 1st Song” often gets overlooked. But Hov is flowing his ass off on here, and killing his storytelling shit, too. Whoever’s decision it was to throw this on the B-Side of “99 Problems” deserves props. Was it you, Jay?



13. “Watch Me” ft. Dr. Dre

Lots of people throw shade at Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, but honestly, it’s one of my Top 5 Jay Z albums. You would assume a song with Dr. Dre in 1999 wouldn’t be relegated to a B-Side, but with monster anthems like “Big Pimpin’” on the LP, it got demoted. And no, this isn’t a Dr. Dre beat, though it kind of knocks like one. “Watch Me” was actually produced by Jay’s old pal Irv Gotti.



12. “Streets Is Watching”

Here’s my question about “Streets Is Watching,” which I’m sure other Hov fans must wonder. Why the fuck is the album version edited? I mean, come on! This is one of the best songs on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, but the edits still piss me off to this day. Maybe this promo pressing “LP Version” has the curses on it? Anyone out there got a copy to confirm?



11. “Encore”

Kanye came correct with the production on The Black Album. “Lucifer” is that flame, and “Encore” ended up becoming one of the standouts, too, especially since the theme perfectly aligned with Jay’s whole retirement gas. And though it was a B-Side at first, it became a staple in his live set, and the mashup with Linkin Park ended up in heavy rotation on radio stations across the country.



10. “What More Can I Say?”

I was at Jay Z’s first legendary Madison Square Garden show, the one they filmed for Fade To Black. It was arguably the greatest concert I’ve ever been to, and one thing that always sticks out in my memory is how dope it was when he started the show with “What More Can I Say?” Hearing him body the whole song live at MSG to start off his set was sick, especially since it’s pretty long. Sure, “Change Clothes” was a hot single, but this was the Jay Z that no one wanted to retire. The B-Side Jay Z.



9. “Friend Or Foe”

The brilliance of “Friend or Foe” didn’t fully sink in until about a week after I copped Reasonable Doubt. I was returning from one of our nightly Mecca runs to the Bronx to cop trees, and the song came on just as the effects of that first blunt were starting to kick in. I think my boy and I ran it back like ten times, bugging off Hov’s flow, and how he was basically just conversing over Primo’s perfect loop. “Head back to Kansas…” Damn! No, it’s not the type of cut you’d expect to get released as a single, but including it on the B-Side of “Feelin’ It” made for a nice contrast and extra showcase of Jay’s agility. And the video from Streets Is Watching brought his words to life beautifully.



8. “A Million and One Questions (Remix)”

“‘98 Primo remix, and ain’t nothin’ different.” Well yeah, the first DJ Premier beat is the same, but the second one switches up, along with the second and third verses of the song—so it’s a little different. This is the type of B-Side that would make a non-DJ like myself cop the vinyl just so I could have a crispy copy of the remix, rather than just a lo-fi mixtape cassette recording. It would’ve been dope if we got a full album from these two back then, but hey, no complaints. I’m thankful for gems like this.



7. “I Can’t Get Wid Dat”

Ahhh, the quick-spitting swiftness of a young Jay Z, diggety-Das EFXing it up all over the track. But seriously, this shit is hot. I didn’t hear it when it first came out—I think I got put on years later when I found a copy of the “In My Lifetime” single one day out CD shopping. But Jay been dumb nice with the styles, and “I Can’t Get Wid Dat” seems like it was released to make sure anyone sleeping on his pure MC skills after “In My Lifetime” woke the fuck up. Let’s see if he pulls this one out for the Tidal show. Now that would be crazy.



6. “Takeover”

I know, this song kind of belongs in its own category. It’s a diss record, straight up and down. But if you think of it as a B-Side, it makes sense also. It’s not the type of joint you’d make a video for, or push as a single, but it’s the shit as an artist you want the DJs to play on the radio and in the clubs because it will always get a reaction. But will Jay perform it at his Tidal show, now that him and Nas are BFF? Probably not, but it would be cool. Especially if he brought Nas out as a guest and let him do “Ether” in response. Come on guys, have some fun and diss each other for old time’s sake!



5. “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)” ft. Jaz-O

Before Jigga and Jaz stopped fucking with each other, they were quite a pair. And for Vol. 2, they teamed up for a sequel to their original, double-time collabo “The Originator.” This was absolutely mind-blowing to me when it first dropped. I didn’t know Hov had it in him! Shit like this makes him always worthy of being in the G.O.A.T. discussion. Jaz ain’t bad, either.



4. “Excuse Me Miss Again”

The first “Excuse Me Miss” was fly, don’t get me wrong. But this shit right here? This shit right here?!? Hov switched up his whole mood on this one, and got back to his gully ways. It’s like he lost the tux and threw the throwback back on. I’ll take this over the original any day of the week. Props to The Neptunes, they murked this.

(Track begins at 3:47)



3. “U Don’t Know”

Oh my god! I will always remember being at The Blueprint Lounge Tour in D.C., feeling the impact of this beat dropping. It was a week after 9/11, and everyone’s head was still spinning. But this song helped restore the feeling. It gave us new energy! I will forever associate this song with the rebirth of America. We rallied around this song. “Izzo” was cool, but this B-Side was the shit that got us back on our feet to fight another day. Anthemic power—there’s nothing like it. Just Blaze you’re a fool for this one!!



2. “So Ghetto”

Of all the Premier and Jay Z collaborations, this is my favorite. It’s got that Brooklyn bounce that a lot of their other shit is lacking. When I was in the spot formerly known as D&D Studios interviewing DJ Premier last year, I thought about how this song was made there (“back up in D&D on this Primo track), and tried to picture what the session was like. Something magical happened that night, and thankfully, the recording will forever exist. “So Ghetto” showed that no matter how focused he got on making club bangers, he would continue to have the streets on smash, too.



1. “Ain’t No Nigga” ft. Foxy Brown

Yes, friends. “Ain’t No Nigga,” Jay Z’s breakout single, was first just a lowly B-Side. It originally appeared on the flipside of “Dead Presidents,” then ended up becoming a monster, thanks to it’s recognizable, party-ready loop, Jigga’s slick-tongued raps, and an unforgettable guest spot by BK’s newest rap sensation Foxy Brown. So it goes to show you, even a B-Side can blow. Don’t sleep on the potential of putting a hot song on the other side of your single—it may be the joint to set off a legendary, multi-decade, culture-shifting rap career.

Images via Discogs.

Previously: 25 Classic Jay Z Television Performance (Video Vault)

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