I'm certainly not a rap aficionado by any means, in fact I largely dismiss most of it as childish and immature...or just plain bad. Jay-Z is different though to me. Some of his themes are similar to a lot of other rappers but as he so wisely put it in "99 Problems", "...Rap critics they say, 'he's money, cash, hoes' I'm from the 'hood stupid what type of facts are those?".
There's a maturity in Jay's records now. You can tell he's been through the whole process and has an incredibly unique perspective on how everything works. I guess that's what happens when you go from drug dealer, to rapper, to mogul of a global empire.
Jay-Z's most recent album, The Blueprint 3 is absolutely worth a listen. There are some tracks that don't live up to the meat of the album, but the best stuff is really, really good.
"Run This Town" has one of the catchiest hooks I can think of thanks to Rihanna who has a truly infectious voice (I even consider that "Umbrella" song a guilty pleasure). It's funny because I thought this was a great song the first few listens but I didn't really like the rapper at the end...turns out it's Kanye West.
My favorite track is without a doubt, "Empire State Of Mind" featuring Alicia Keys. The hook is even better than on "Run This Town" (partly because it's actual words not just a melody). Keys has a great voice and it really kicks here. This song also features my favorite line on the album:
"Hail Mary to the city you're a Virgin,
and Jesus can’t save you life starts when the church ends,
came here for school, graduated to the high life,
ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight,
MDMA got you feeling like a champion,
the city never sleeps better slip you a Ambien"
The video I've included is "D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)" which I think we can all agree would be a good thing.