It was after the release of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 that Roc-A-Fella decided to build an army from the ground up and take over the game. The climate in rap was different. With the rise and fall of 2Pac and Biggie came the popularization of hip-hop. Those two giants were seemingly always in the headlines for both good and bad reasons. Still young, rap took a major blow when they took each other out and left the genre ripe for the picking.
Dr. Dre broke off from Death Row, Snoop signed with No Limit, and the Wu started to fall off. The only real competition was in Queens in the form of Nas, Mobb Deep, and Capone-N-Noreaga and Jay Z’s Def Jam labelmates DMX and Ja Rule, the latter of whom Jigga collaborated with frequently during the late '90s/early '00s. With only Jay Z and Memphis Bleek officially signed to the imprint, Roc-A-Fella needed soldiers to be taken seriously.
During the recording of Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life, an army fell into Roc-A-Fella’s lap. Beanie Sigel was introduced to Dame Dash and Hova by his manager and friend Sadiq. After hearing him spit, Jay immediately put Sigel on “Reservoir Dogs,” then Beans recorded “1,000 Bars” with Memphis Bleek for a DJ Clue tape, and had two tracks (“Cru Love” and a freestyle) on a promo disc named This Thing of Ours—which was packaged with early copies of Vol. 2. Sigel’s raps on those particular cuts made everybody nervous. Jigga finally had someone who could keep up with him on features and still be able to deliver a viable full-length project. He also had somewhat of a bodyguard on wax—to get to Hova you had to go through Sigel.
From about 1998 to around 2000, Beanie and his management, Black Family, started to bring in some of Philadelphia’s best into the fold: Oschino & Sparks, the Young Gunz, Freeway, and Peedi Crakk. With various members of the newly formed clique making appearances on Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter and The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, the label started to put the game in a cobra clutch.
By 2001, troops in tow, Jay Z had enough confidence to go at Nas and Prodigy of Mobb Deep during his unforgettable 2001 Summer Jam set when he unleashed “Takeover.” Putting Prodigy on that Summer Jam screen and calling Nas out started an all-out war on wax. Along with Memphis Bleek, the Philly collective fired verbal shots at the Queens crew on various mixtape cuts and on memorable Hot 97 freestyles, which in turn resurrected Nas’ career and thrust Roc-A-Fella to the top of the game.
Their ascension led to the signing of the Diplomats and a run comparable to some of the greatest dynasties in hip-hop history. The Roc found themselves in a beef with the Lox that got even more personal than the Mobb and Nas one. They brought each others mothers up, and Jada even brought a deceased Aaliyah into it. Shit got so real that if gunplay worked itself into the narrative no one would’ve been surprised. Beans went toe-to-toe with Jada's Top 5, Dead or Alive and threw shots at Nasty. He was the muscle, the shooter Jay was able to unleash along with the rest of his army whenever war came to his front door.
Numerous street classics were birthed as a result: The Truth, The Reason, The B. Coming, Tough Luv, Philadelphia Freeway, The Chain Gang Vol. 2, Come Home With Me, Diplomatic Immunity, Vol. 3, and The Dynasty. All of those albums were able to express the glory and ugliness of living a life of crime and featured the production of upcoming producers Just Blaze, Kanye West, and Chad “Wes” Hamilton. This was all around the period when Jay Z was fresh off of selling five million records of Vol. 2, essentially crossing over into the mainstream.
The Roc brass were smart enough to keep State Property around to keep that street influence. Some might also say that Jay Z borrowed Young Chris’ flow, though it’s fair to say Chris borrowed from Jay as well because Gunna hasn’t been able to stay consistent since the breakup. Whatever the case, it was almost a perfect marriage. Beanie and Jay really had game like Doc and Moses. The two of them went bar for bar on some classic joints during a period where Roc-A-Fella felt untouchable.
Now with Beans officially home, we look back at the 25 Best Roc-A-Fella Songs That Have Nothing to Do With Jay Z or Kanye.