6. Jay-Z "Where I'm From" (1997)
Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam
A more rugged picture of Brooklyn has yet to be painted. "I'm from where the beef is inevitable / summertime's unforgettable." Jay-Z was at his most callous and cold on "Where I'm From," a hostile highlight from 1997's In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. It wasn't his vaunted wordplay that made this song so effective, although that was in abundance like booze on a Bed-Stuy stoop. Instead, it was Jigga's ruthlessness, each gritty revelation—"ni**as praying to God so long that they atheist"—stated with such matter-of-fact, calculated coldness.
And of course there was D. Dot's production: with the scraping sound and ghosts low in the background, like voices echoing off project buildings, "Where I'm From" seemed to adopt Brooklyn's urban geography into sonic form. Perhaps the most important details of the song are found in the philosophies he dispenses, the rules of the world around him, which cut so deep: "You couldn't talk about it if you didn't live it," or "We make a million off of beats, cause our stories is deep/and fuck tomorrow, as long as the night before was sweet." —David Drake