"Every album's a color." Jay-Z famously compared his catalog to a Rubik's Cube, specifically in how trying to complete a new side inevitably "fucks up the other color." Since then, as his career morphed into distinct retirement and negated retirement phases, collaborative albums with everyone from Linkin Park to Kanye, concept albums and album sequels, that observation has only gotten more apt.
It applies just as much when trying to sort that sprawling discography. Even the obvious choices don't seem so easy when you really get down to it. Is Kingdom Come really dead last? Not if you're counting Unfinished Business. Even the top spot is so hotly debated that we had our own debate to try and settle it. No two people rank the Volumes the same; only a blessed few seem to recognize that Life and Times of S. Carter has aged to near perfection.
Hova did the unexpected once again last year with 4:44, delivering an effort that not only stands as, arguably his best post-retirement project, but one that deserves special recognition for the way it mines a wealth of new depth despite being Jigga's thirteenth solo album. Time will tell how high it truly deserves to go but immediately, this startlingly intimate, technically dazzling project is just the latest in a storied solo career that has excellence in spades. That's to say nothing of the way he and his equally GOAT wife bodied beat the odds this year and delivered a compelling joint album that has more in common with Watch the Throne than it does "Hollywood."
Trying to do each great Jay-Z album justice is a high-wire act. Most, if not all of them, are classic in some way. And placing one great high just means moving another great down. We did our best not to fuck up the colors.