First Impressions: The 50 Best Album-Opening Songs in Rap History

25. Jay-Z "Can't Knock the Hustle" (1996)

Producer: Knobody, The Hitmen
Album: Reasonable Doubt
Label: Roc-A-Fella, Priority


Jay-Z waited 26 years to make his solo debut and when Reasonable Doubt finally arrived in 1996 its first sound was a heartbeat in acceleration. This was his spotlight moment and rather than step out with a bang, he made it a soft-shoe, but that shoe was made of patent leather. "Can't Knock the Hustle" parcels a lifetime of information into a song designed to feel like the interior of a Lexus. The wordplay is dense but you don't notice because Jay is so swift. In a matter of minutes he comes up with approximately 200 ways to talk about getting rich but only says the word "money" three times. This was his rookie year but you never think about that when he's rapping because he already had the carriage of an elder. That's why Mary J. Blige is perfect for this song-she personified the maturity intrinsic to Jay-Z's style. And even after the song reaches cruising speed you can still feel that heartbeat pulse in its doorframes. —Sam Sweet

Tags: jay_z
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