DAR Hip Hop: Which Jay-Z Vol. Album Is The Best?

By @TrueGodImmortal

Jay-Z has been riding a wave of momentum since his most recent album, 4:44 was released this past summer. Many people heralded the album as one of his best, showcasing his lyrical ability and upholding more vulnerability than we've heard from him in a few albums at least. This was Jay at his most open and seemingly honest, as the now family man version of Jay-Z was unlike anything we had heard before. Jay was willing to tell his story and put his soul on wax, which is why the album is so appreciated, but 20 years ago, Jay was doing this same thing just on a much younger level. When Jay decided to craft what was essentially a trilogy 20 years ago, no one knew what to expect. At the time, Jay was coming off what was a criminally underrated debut in Reasonable Doubt, and he was gearing up for the aftermath and fallout for New York hip hop after the loss of Notorious B.I.G., the king of the town and East Coast representative. After the fire settled on the East vs West beef, Jay set out to make an album that would still boast anthems that his streetwise fans could appreciate, provide depth, and make hits. This album would be titled Vol. 1 and be the first entry in what would come to be a three album series. After seeing his first platinum plaque off the strength of that album, Jay would go back in and decide that what he wanted to do was make hits and hits only. 

This led to the more commercially sound Vol. 2 album, which released in 1998. Dubbed "Hard Knock Life", Vol. 2 was the most successful album of Jay's career and brought him national acclaim, selling 6 million copies. It also managed to spawn a tour and much notoriety. After the success of Vol. 2, Jay finished his trilogy of sorts with Vol. 3 at the end of 1999. While this one wasn't as successful as Vol. 2, it reaffirmed the street edge in Jay's music, showed he was able to make a nice mixture of commercial hits and street anthems, and gave him what was his biggest commercial hit at the time, "Big Pimpin". Each album represented a different moment in time for Jay, and each album represents a different version of Jay in many ways. Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are inherently different in sound and execution, while Vol. 3 takes elements of both and utilizes them to make what should be a more complete album. Lost in the best album from Jay-Z debate is the discussion of which Vol. album is the best. If we're talking sales, Vol. 2 takes the cake. If we're talking depth and lyrics, Vol. 1 takes the cake. If we're talking street anthems and the full development of Jay into Hov, Vol. 3 is the one. With that, I wanted to take a look at these three illustrious albums, and choose the best one. Which Vol. album will stand tall at the end of the article? Read on and find out.

In My Lifetime, Vol. 1

1. Intro/A Million And One Questions/Rhyme No More
2. The City Is Mine
3. I Know What Girls Like
4. Imaginary Player
5. Streets Is Watching
6. Friend Or Foe '98
7. Lucky Me
8. (Always Be My) Sunshine
9. Who You Wit II
10. Face Off
11. Real Niggaz
12. Rap Game/Crack Game
13. Where I'm From
14. You Must Love Me

The year was 1997. The death of the Notorious B.I.G. had New York reeling. Nas had just come off of a triple platinum album. Wu-Tang was gearing up for their double album. The Firm was now alive and well. Mobb Deep just had a successful album in Hell On Earth. And then, there was Jay-Z. Armed with motivation to carry on the legacy that Biggie left behind, Jay went to work on his sophomore album. Jay was on the cusp of a breakthrough, and with this album, he would begin that ascension. Starting with the single "Who You Wit", which was featured on the Sprung soundtrack, Jay would end up gaining momentum and showcasing his next direction. When the album arrived, it would end up hitting no. 3 on the Billboard charts, a very solid debut for Jay. It has since gone on to become platinum plus, and rightfully so. The album begins with Jay hitting hard out the gate with one of his best intros. Over two amazing DJ Premier beats, Jay spits vivid poetics and introduces us to the next chapter in the Jay-Z story. After the opening intro, Jay decides to make the declaration clear that New York is his now in the wake of the death of Biggie. "The City Is Mine" is essentially a tribute style track to Biggie and it is complete with the boasting and confident bragging that we love Jay for, while he displays a bit of somberness due to the loss of Big.
We won't discuss anything about the next track. Nothing at all. All I can tell you is that it is called "I Know What Girls Like" and for some reason, Lil Kim and Puff Daddy are featured over a rather awful production. This might be the worst song in the entire catalog of Jay-Z besides "Ghetto Techno" (that song is pitiful). Jay recovers quickly and in a major way, as one of his greatest songs ever follows one of his worst. 

When the opening note of "Imaginary Player" hits, you automatically lock in. The beat is a soulful treat, a smooth ride that almost feels like a continuation of the tone Big and Jay set with "I Love The Dough", but more rugged. Jay kicks it off with a classic first verse, but the highlight of the song has to be the second verse. It's just a vivid verse from beginning to end with some of the most quotable lines from Jay, and it takes the song up a notch. Take a look:

"And now you got these young cats/
Acting like they slung caps/
All in they dumb rap/
Talking about how they funds stack/
When I see them in the street, I don't see none of that/
Damn playboy, where the fuck is the hummer at?/
Where is all the ice with all the platinum under that?/
Those ain't rolex diamonds, what the fuck you done to that?/
Y'all rapping-ass niggas, y'all funny to me/
Selling records being you but still you want to be me/
I guess for every buck you make it's like a hundred for me/
And still you running around thinking you got something on me/
But I done did it/
And y'all want to take my flow, and run with it/
That's cool, I was the first one with it/
Jigga's the future flow digital/
Still busting a gat when she gets critical/
Sit it down, I don't want y'all to get it confused/
I rip it down, like I ain't got nothing to lose/
Y'all get it now..."

Add in the ferocious third verse and this song caps off a flawless execution by Jay, and the best song on this entire album IMO. I was a fan of the intro and enjoyed "The City Is Mine", but there is something about "Imaginary Player" that cannot be touched. Jay then keeps the momentum going with two back to back bangers in "Streets Is Watching" and the sequel to a classic off his first album "Friend or Foe '98", both of which don't compare to "Imaginary Player", but are also solid tracks in their own right. "Streets Is Watching" would end up being a landmark moment and song in his career so the song is vital to this album for sure. With Jay on a hot streak, he decides to up the ante and gives one of his most in depth songs ever on "Lucky Me", which is a classic as well and definitely one of my favorite songs on the entire album. Every verse on the song is special, but it's something about that opening verse that really drives home the vulnerability that Jay wanted to express. See below:

"Y'all dont even know every day I'm living with stress/
Got up out the streets you think a nigga could rest/
Can't even enjoy myself at a party unless/
I'm on the dance floor, hot ass vest/
You think I'm freakin' these chicks right, I'm trying not to brush against they chest/
You get a lawsuit for shit like that/
I feel trapped/
Swear to everything when I leave this earth/
It's gon' be on both feet, never knees in the dirt/
You could try me fucker but when I squeeze it hurts, fine/
We'll lose two lives, yours and mines/
Gimme any amount of time don't let Ms. Carter grieve/
At the funeral parlor drippin' tears on my sleeve/
Told the judge didn't budge, it was him or me...and I ain't trying to be hard/
But I'm guilty as charged/
Put my mercy on this court and my faith in God/
And pray hard none of my nephews wanna be stars/"

Before the depth on 4:44, The Black Album, or The Blueprint, there was "Lucky Me". The second and third verses are just as potent as the first and it's just one hell of a listen to hear Jay express what he expresses from his annoyance with fame to his fear of trusting women, it's a very poignant song. I won't mention much about the Babyface and Foxy Brown assisted "(Always Be My) Sunshine" aside from the fact that it's seen as one of the worst Jay songs, but I just think the track wasn't executed right and only exists because Jay wanted to feature Babyface on a song. The video is still hilarious to this day, but the song.... It is an acquired taste. Of course, there's the hit "Who You Wit II", which was an anthem at the time of release. Jay follows that up with a solid back and forth collab with Sauce Money, on the aptly titled "Face Off", which is solid despite production that wasn't the best. With the dust settled on the East vs West beef, Jay brings in Too Short for a very underrated collab "Real Niggaz" and follows that up with the classic "Rap Game/Crack Game", which of course likened the two industries to each other in one of the most honest ways.  As the album ended its close however, Jay seemingly saved the best one-two punch of the album for the final two tracks.

As the booming sound of "Where I'm From" blares through the speaker, you can already hear an anthem brewing. The beat is perfection, giving off a very gritty vibe that sets the tone for Jay to spit poetically about his neighborhood and tell the world what he witnessed and experienced as a result of living in Marcy. With three extended verses, Jay paints the picture perfectly, but there is something about that first verse that reigns as iconic even 20 years later. The imagery, the quotables, it all just flows very well.

"I'm from where the hammer's rung/
News cameras never come/
You and your man's hung/
In every verse in your rhyme,
where the grams is slung/
Niggas vanish every summer, where the blue vans would come/
We throw the work in the can and run/
Where the plans was to get funds and skate off the set/
To achieve this goal quicker, sold all my weight wet/
Faced with immeasurable odds still I gave straight bets/
So I felt I'm owed something and you nothing, check/
I'm from the other side where other guys don't walk too much/
And girls in the projects wouldn't fuck us, said we talked too much/
So they ran up to Tompkins and sought them dudes to trust/
I don't know what the fuck they thought, those niggas is foul just like us/
I'm from where the beef is inevitable/
Summertime's unforgettable/
Boosters in abundance, buy a half-price sweater new/
Your word was everything, so everything you said you'd do/
You did it/
Couldn't talk about it, if you ain't lived it/
I'm from where niggas pull your card/
And argue all day about who's the best MC, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas/
Where the drugs czars evolve/ And thugs are at odds/
At each other's throats for the love of foreign cars/
Where cats catch cases, hoping the judge R and R's/
But most times find themselves locked up, behind bars/
I'm from where they ball and breed rhyme stars/
I'm from Marcy son, just thought I'd remind y'all/"

The iconic hook of "cough up a lung, where I'm from, Marcy son, ain't nothing nice" rings through the speaker and Jay doesn't disappoint in the last two verses. He ends the album on a different note than expected, talking candidly about some of his wrongdoings and relationships with his family and former girlfriend on "You Must Love Me", which is probably one of the most heart wrenching songs in his entire catalog. Ending the album on such a personal note was a great touch for an album titled "In My Lifetime", and honestly, this album is one of his best overall IMO. Minus the two weak tracks, this album excels on every level and showcases a deeper look into the mind of Jay-Z and a brief glimpse of the life of Shawn Carter.

Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life

1. Intro- Hand It Down
2. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
3. If I Should Die
4. Ride Or Die
5. Nigga What, Nigga Who
6. Money, Cash, Hoes
7. A Week Ago
8. Coming Of Age (Da Sequel)
9. Can I Get A....
10. Paper Chase
11. Reservoir Dogs
12. It's Like That
13. It's Alright
14. Money Ain't A Thang

After the success of Vol. 1, Jay would allow himself to be a bit more visible, releasing tracks on numerous soundtracks and doing random guest appearances on R&B songs. While this was going on, Jay was hard at work on his 3rd album, and the second volume of the series. This album would grow to be titled Hard Knock Life, and serve as Vol. 2 and it would change his career forever. When Hard Knock Life first dropped, I was a huge fan of it, as it was current for the time. With the production of DJ Premier, Timbaland, and Swizz Beatz, among others, this album sounds exactly like 1998. It starts off with Jay apparently looking at a future retirement and handing it down to cohort Memphis Bleek in the intro, before moving onto the title track, which was a huge success at the time of release. With a sample from Annie, the title track provided a look into life in the ghetto and what came of it. Jay was flawless on this song and his verses are intricate yet simple enough to make the average listener rap along. After the title track, Jay features former Roc-A-Fella artists Da Ranjahz on "If I Should Die", and while that track was solid back  then, it didn't age very well. The production from Swizz was okay for the time, but in reality, it falls flat, but Jay delivers solid lyrics on this track. The next track is infamous for the diss towards Mase, and of course, I'm talking about "Ride Or Die". While the final two verses were good, it's the first verse that stings the most and demolished Mase. Take a look:

"Ayo fuck y'all/
Niggas I crush y'all, rush y'all/
With the four drawn and I touch y'all, plus y'all/
Little motherfuckers ain't ready for war/
I seen your team in a crisis before/
Thought I forgot?
The same rules apply/
Don't try to switch up your style
Y'all niggas is pumpkin pie, and that's plain as I/
Much better than you cat/ Shocked when I got the news that/
This nigga ready for war, well where that fool at?/
I bruise wack rap niggas severely punish them/
Especially those that get fucked for they publishing/
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 everytime I come through/
Check your own videos, you'll always be number two/
Niggas talking 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/
I roast niggas like ya/
Smoke niggas like ya/
Take your little jewels and put the toast to niggas like ya/
You know what the fuck we do and why we done it/
How I bring it to niggas who, probably want it/
Keep playing, you gon' find me in your lobby blunted/
And I don't even smoke/
Nigga, ain't no joke/
Niggas cat fightin with Jigga, kicking sneaky shit/
Making little tapes but keepin it secret/
Cause I kick that deep shit/
That divide your peeps shit/
Now I don't know if you fuckin with Jigga spittin that weak shit/"

While many could actually tie some of those lyrics to be about Nas, the shots were directed at Mase and they definitely landed. Following this track, Jay hits us with something out of the ordinary, as he features Amil and Jaz-O on the Timbaland produced classic "Nigga What, Nigga Who", where both Jay and Jaz utilize a rapid fire double time flow and the result is one of the best songs on the entire album. It had enough bounce to it for the clubs and the flows are engaging, with the lyricism also being top notch. This track was a classic, and it leads right into another classic single of Jay's, the DMX assisted "Money, Cash, Hoes". The funniest thing about this song to me is that DMX actually steals the show despite his verse not really fitting into the theme of the song. Still, the song is very solid and one of the more enjoyable songs on the entire album due to the underrated chemistry of X and Jigga. The next song however, is my personal favorite on the entire album. With Too Short featured, the smooth and Isley Brothers sampled "A Week Ago" gives us flashbacks of Reasonable Doubt, as Jay talks about a strained relationship in the streets and the concept of snitches. All three verses are solid, but as usual, it's the opening verse that really sets the tone and paints the picture that Jay wanted to tell.

"Growing up in the hood just my dog and me/
We used to hustle in the hood for, all to see/
Problems, I called on him, he called on me/
We wasn't quite partners, I hit him off my P/
Let him unlocked doors, off my keys/
Yeah we spoke, much more than cordially/
Man he broke bread with me/
My business spread swiftly/
The Feds came to get me, we both fled quickly/
Wasn't quick enough to jump over the hedges with me/
Got caught, and that's when our relationship strained/
Used to call me from the joint til he ran out of change/
And when he called collect and I heard his name/
I quickly accepted/
But when I reached the phone/
He's talking reckless/
I can sense deceit in his tone/
I said, damn dawg, what, nine weeks and you're home?/
He said, Main man, you think shit's sweet cause you're home/
I just sat, spat no more speech in the phone/
The crackers up there bleaching your dome/
You're reaching, I said, the world don't stop I've got to keep keep on/
From there I sensed the beef was on/
I ran to the spy store to add some more features to my phone/
To see if I had bugs and leeches on my phone/
Can't be too safe/
Cause niggas is two-faced/
And they show the other side when they catch a new case/"

With such a vivid first verse, Jay manages to literally provide you with one of his better storytelling tales, before allowing the album to take a bit of a dip in quality. While many enjoyed the sequel to "Coming Of Age", I felt it paled in comparison to the original and felt a bit unnecessary on the album. The same could be said for the hit song "Can I Get A....", which is solid in its own right, but feels out of place at this part of the album. Sequencing wise, I think it would have been better suited in the early part of the project, but it's still a decent song. Jay, Ja Rule, and Amil managed to create something enjoyable with the track, but it would lead into the worst track on the album, and another one of Jay's worst tracks ever. With a mediocre Timbaland beat in tow, Jay and Foxy Brown create their worst song together on "Paper Chase". The less said about this song the better, and it completely messes up the vibe of the entire album IMO. Luckily, Jay follows this up with one of the best songs on the album, the posse cut "Reservoir Dogs" with The LOX, Beanie Sigel, and Sauce Money. While Beans, Jada, Sauce, Sheek, and Styles all deliver amazing verses, it's Jay who closes the song off in the right way, with a smooth and simple verse.

"I know pop you can't stand us cause you cock them hammers/
Run in your crib, no prisoners, pop your grandma/
Locked in the slammer/
Nope, popped up in Atlanta/
Crossed up in a drop, I popped up the antenna/
Whoa.. watch your manners/ When my veins pop like scanners/
Like raindrops you hear the thunder when I cock the cannon/
Big thang, big chains, ain't shit changed/
Get brained in the four dot six Range/
Shit main, switch lanes/
Every town I hit, switch planes/ Bitch flipped big caine/
Flow with no cut, you take it in vein to the brain/
Muh'fukas is noddin and throwin up, you know that/
You don't wanna owe that man/
He'll hit you, get the picture? Kodak man/
Gotta, love for war/
I don't floss no more/
I just sit on my money til I'm above the law/
How the fuck you gonna stop us with your measly asses/
We don't stop at the tolls we got EZ passes/
Multiple cars and divas with D-classes/
Iceberg sweat with I.B. on the elastic/"

After a great posse cut, Jay messes up the vibe with the final official track on the album, the lackluster Kid Capri featured "It's Like That". The song does nothing for me, and I feel like it's just a notch under "Paper Chase" as the worst songs on the album. The bonus tracks, "It's Alright" and "Money Ain't A Thang" are both solid and anthems, but nothing spectacular. I think that's just it with Vol. 2 actually. The album is good, very solid with the most hits from Jay, but it feels safe. There's no depth, there's no real classics that stand the test of time or show extreme lyrical skill either. Jay played it safe on Vol. 2 and he won big time. The gamble paid off pretty well to the tune of 6 million records sold, but some variety and depth would have been nice on this album.

Vol. 3... Life And Times Of S. Carter

1. Hova Song (Intro)
2. So Ghetto
3. Do It Again (Put Your Hands Up)
4. Dope Man
5. Things That U Do
6. It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)
7. Snoopy Track
8. S. Carter
9. Pop 4 Roc
10. Watch Me
11. Big Pimpin
12. There's Been A Murder
13. Come And Get Me
14. NYMP
15. Hova Song (Outro)

When 1999 was coming to a close, Jay was on a natural high. Shortly after the album release, he would experience some legal issues, but leading up to his 4th album, Jay seemed to be on top of the world. The Hard Knock Life album and tour were both hugely successful, and with mainstream success secured, Jay attempted to go back to the rugged street tales that made Reasonable Doubt such a classic, but with a more modern sound. Through this, the final chapter of the Vol. Trilogy was born. The album kicks off perfectly, with an epic intro titled "Hova Song", which began the transition of Jigga into Jay Hova, or Hov as many know him now. Lyrically, Jay is back at it again, and he starts this chapter the right way.

"Hello it's Hova/
That's right young'un the wait is over/
The new millennium is upon us, the album is here/
Before we get into the shit, let's get a few things clear/
Rappers with no relation/
There's Seven Degrees of Seperation/
And I'm Kevin Bacon/
This is the murderer's version/
Jigga the shit, even when he rhyme in third person/
Hova the God, I should be rapping with a turban/
Haters can't disturb him/
Waiters can't serve him/
Mike Jordan of rap - outside J working/
Now watch how quickly I drop 50/
I don't like playing, niggas can't stick me
Niggas can not jam me, niggas can't get me/
Slimmy at the Rucker wanna leave and spend with me/
I consistently take em out the park like Ken Griffey/"

Do you believe? After an epic intro, Jay responds with perhaps his best opening song to an album (following an intro), with the epic DJ Premier produced "So Ghetto". There is something about Jay over Premo beats that doesn't get enough credit, and this was perhaps their greatest work together, and it would end up as the best song on this album, in my opinion. With an amazing opening verse and a classic final third verse, Jay delivers the message he wanted to convey, but to me, the most quotable verse on the song is the second one. Check how Jay keeps it as real as possible.

"Wednesday's I'm up in Shine, Cheetah's Monday night/
I'm fuckin with the model chicks Friday night at Life/
So I'm cruising in the car/
With this bougie broad/
She said, Jiggaman you rich, take the doo-rag off/
Hit a U-turn, ma I'm droppin you back off/
Front of the club, Jigga why you do that for/
Thug nigga til the end, tell a friend bitch/
Won't change for no paper, plus I been rich/
Eighty-eight been hustling/
Linen been crushing em/
Women been fucking them/
You see I live for the love of the street/
Rap to the ruggedest beats/
Hall closet cluttered with heat/
I spit that murder-murder-murder
that Brook-Brook-a-Brooklyn shit... Furthermore ma..
We tote guns to the Grammy's, pop bottles on the White House lawn/
Guess I'm just the same old Shawn/"

If you thought Jay was changing due to his success, you couldn't have been more wrong (at least at this point). Jay follows up So Ghetto with the first single off the album, "Do It Again (Put Your Hands Up)", which wasn't a bad single, but in reality, it's mostly an average song. Jay and Beanie Sigel carry the track as expected but it's just an average track that hit the charts and did well due to it being Jigga. Jay gets his momentum back with the classic "Dope Man" track, which follows his story of being on trial, and is a masterful attempt at storytelling for Jay. However, the album takes a bit of a hit with the unnecessary and bland "Things That U Do" with Mariah Carey. The song isn't necessarily horrible, it just doesn't do anything for me as a listener and a fan, and feels pointless on this tracklist.

Jay picks up the pace with the Timbaland produced bangers "It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)", which features his infamous 50 Cent diss, and the Juvenile featured "Snoopy Track", which has a very interesting beat, and a classic hook from Juve. Then, for some reason, the album takes a brief slip with the slightly subpar tracks "S. Carter" and "Pop 4 Roc", which mostly suffer from uninspired production, which might be a result of the era it was recorded in.
Jay recovers for the rest of the album, starting off with the solid Dr. Dre featured "Watch Me", which helps bring the sound back around for the project. Still, nothing could prepare you for the next track and the level of classic that we were about to experience. Perhaps the best and greatest collab between Timbaland and Jay-Z, "Big Pimpin" is one of the best songs and easily one of the best singles in Jay's career. With UGK featured on the track, Jay does his thing, while both Bun B and Pimp C steal the show in their own right. The production is booming and has an undefeated bounce to it, while Jay still manages to create another quotable verse on this album with his opening verse.

"You know I - thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em/
Cause I don't fucking need em/
Take em out the hood, keep em looking good, but I don't fucking feed em/
First time they fuss I'm breezing/
Talking bout, what's the reasons/
I'm a pimp in every sense of the word, bitch, better trust and believe em/
In the cut where I keep em/
Til I need a nut/
Til I need to beat the guts/
Then it's, beep beep and I'm picking em up/
Let em play with the dick in the truck/
Many chicks wanna put Jigga fist in cuffs/
Divorce him and split his bucks/
Just because you got good head, I'ma break bread, so you can be livin it up/
Shit I.. parts with nothin, y'all be frontin/
Me give my heart to a woman?
Not for nothing, never happen/
I'll be forever macking/
Heart cold as assassins/
I got no passion/
I got no patience, and I hate waiting, hoe get yo' ass in/
And let's RI-I-I-I-I-IDE.. check em out now.....
RI-I-I-I-I-IDE, yeah
And let's RI-I-I-I-I-IDE.. check em out now.....
RI-I-I-I-I-IDE, yeah"

With one of his greatest anthems in the bag, Jay ends the album off on a mostly street related note, following up with the smooth yet vivid "There's Been A Murder". Essentially, Vol. 3 was an attempt to kill off Jay-Z and introduce Shawn Carter to the world more so, and that plays into the vibe. Jay gets a very solid and knocking beat from Timbaland for "Come And Get Me", which is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. It's a banger that Jay flawlessly kills lyrically and his first verse sets the tone as expected.

"I remove your roof, nigga let the sun shine in/
Thirty-eight waist, enough to put one nine in/
Really a thirty-six without the gun I'm thin/
But when the gat is tucked/
I'm fat as fuck/
Ignorant bastard, I'm takin it back to day one/
No kids, but trust me I know how to raise a gun/
For niggas that think I spend my days in the sun/
Well here's the shock of your life/
The glock not the mic/
Homey I'm not into hype/
Trust me, I'm still street/
You still fucking up then trust me I still creep/
Yeah I know the platinum chain be looking real sweet/
But reach and I bury niggas sixty feet deep/
S. Carter turn rappers into martyrs/
Separate fathers from they daughters/
Why bother/
I'm a crook like you, I took like you/
I disobeyed the law, threw out the book like you/
How dare you look at Jigga like I'm shook like who/
I keep the fifth with me/
Nigga, come and get me/"

After this opening verse, Jay spits three more verses to really drive home the point. Aside from "So Ghetto", this is the best lyrical composite from Jigga on the entire album. The final two songs, "NYMP" and "Hova Song (Outro)" close out the project very well, and there are two hidden bonus tracks that were previously released in "Jigga My Nigga" and "Girl's Best Friend", both hits for separate projects (Ruff Ryders album and Blue Streak soundtrack). Perhaps if these songs were actually featured on the tracklist instead of two of the weaker tracks, this album would possibly be remembered even stronger. Still, Vol. 3 isn't a bad album by any stretch, it succeeds in many aspects, but still lacks something to take it over the top. Vol. 3 is a solid 7 out of 10, if I had to rate it and a very enjoyable listen.

While neither of these three albums are perfect, they all possess something that the other doesn't. Vol. 1 is the most well rounded of all the albums and perhaps the one with the best execution, while Vol. 2 has the hits that Vol. 1 couldn't produce so to speak. Vol. 3 is an attempt at both making hits and providing a bit of lyricism and depth, and it succeeds mostly with balance. Still, which album is better? Most listeners would point to Vol. 2 due to the success, but for actual music fans, we know sales doesn't always equal quality. There is an argument in terms of hits and sales for Vol. 2, but in terms of cohesion and true classics, it doesn't hold up as well to me as the other 2. Vol. 3 is flawed in terms of the production in spots, but lyrically, it's a step up from what was mostly an easy coast from Jay on Vol. 2. What's missing from Vol. 3 however is the lyrical depth and the true classics that Vol. 1 had, And that's where the argument stops. Though Vol. 1 didn't have the hits or the mega sales of the 6 million selling Vol. 2 or the 3.5 million selling Vol. 3, it possessed cohesion, lyrical depth, and some of the greatest songs in Jay's entire catalog, which gives it a slight edge. Of course, this is all opinion, and there are arguments to make for Vol. 3, but if I had to make an honest choice, the best album of the Vol. Trilogy is Vol. 1, simply put. I hold Vol. 1 as a top 5-6 album in his catalog, and due to that, it definitely wins in this case.



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