Jay-Z is one of hip-hop's defining icons, known worldwide and serving as a virtual ambassador to the genre. 

But this massive exposure—Decodedtete-a-tetes with Oprah, Warren Buffet and the President, hordes following his every step in Cuba—has come in the years after he recorded the bulk of his best music. His early years, his climb, was built on cold calculation and remarkably consistent, seemingly effortless accomplishment, and happened under a far smaller spotlight.

Of course, his hits from that era have, by and large, lasted into this one. From "I Just Wanna Love You" to "Big Pimpin'," Jay-Z's catalog remains in club rotation to this day. But in his most creatively fertile period, plenty of songs fell by the wayside. This is a tragedy. (Well, relatively speaking. It's a music-appreciative tragedy.) And one we intend to remedy. 

You may think you know Jay-Z, but until you've heard these records, you don't know how good he could really be.

Written by Al Shipley (@alshipley), Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin), Dave Bry (@davebry9), and David Drake (@somanyshrimp)

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