Credentials: 1998's Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, Vol. 3...Life and Times of S. Carter, guest spots on "Heartbreaker" and "Lobster & Scrimp."
After the banner year that was 1998, Jay-Z entered 1999 with his confidence at an all-time high. One lyric sums up his thoughts on the competition: "You got a little flow, that's cool with me...but none of y'all motherfuckers can fool with me."
Hov spent the majority of the year riding off the success of Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, releasing singles "Money Cash Hoes" and "Nigga What, Nigga Who" from that album. For anyone who (somehow) missed out on Jay's efforts the previous year, both tracks served as excellent confirmation of Jay's rapid ascent. "Money Cash Hoes" had him effortlessly bending syllables over one of Swizz Beatz's most unorthodox beats. "Nigga What, Nigga Who" saw Hov flowing faster than usual, and still never missing a step or compromising his depth.
That summer, he contributed "Jigga My Nigga" to Ruff Ryders compilation Ryde or Die Vol. 1. The best way to describe it in a word? Insane. The same goes for his guest verse on Mariah Carey's No. 1 hit, "Heartbreaker." Even on a straightforward feature about his dalliances with multiple women, the presentation was beyond sharp. His presence was like an insurance policy for any record.
This carried over to the first single for Jay-Z's next album, Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter. "Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)" was a brash declaration, with statements that added up to: I'm still here and I'm still better than you." His performance on the record supported this, with a liquid delivery that mirrored the progression of the beat. Hov warned his doubters, "Don't talk to me 'bout MCs got skills." There was no need to after a year of such vast lyrical accomplishments.
Honorable Mentions: DMX, Eminem, Nas
DMX was still on a tear through the industry, and captivated mainstream audiences and hip-hop heads alike with his five-times platinum ...And Then There Was X. Eminem made his debut, and simultaneously scared and charmed America with his immensely skilled shock raps. Nas dropped two albums in one year. Both were met with mixed reviews, but, in retrospect, were still plenty heavy on the deft lyricism on which he based his reputation. Hov may have been in a lane of his own during 1999, but the market was more than competitive. — Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)