Why Jay Z Deserves to Be the First Rapper In the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Jay Z performs during Tidal X: 1020 at Barclays Center on Oct. 20, 2015 in New York City.
True hip-hop heads may spot the irony in Jay Z receiving a songwriter’s accolade, considering some of his most seminal work was never written down prior to recording. Like some of his contemporaries, the rap legend was known for stepping inside the studio booth and firing off whatever was on his mind. 

The difference between Jay Z and the rest, however, was what became of the product. Here is an artist who thus far has kept us hot for 20 summers through new releases and revisited classics. His music -- which early on straddled the line between drug rap and opulence -- has evolved and made its way into the mainstream frame of reference. 

He released an entire book dissecting the intricate parts of his lyrics. There is no other hip-hop artist more qualified to take this historical leap as the first rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

But defining Jay Z’s legacy with a short-term memory would be denying the importance of his legacy. His last work was 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, which housed a collection of songs whose hooks -- like most of Jay Z’s classics -- have become pillars of pop culture lingo. Think “I don’t pop Molly/I rock Tom Ford” off “Tom Ford” or “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt,” as both a song and a hashtag.

And that’s really what Jay Z’s songwriting has done for popular music; it’s created songs that have evolved into something much bigger. “H.A.M.” will forever stand for “Hard As a Muthafucka” now. In a world full of “99 Problems,” you already know what won’t make the hundredth, and the most polite way to approach a woman is still via “Excuse Me Miss.”

On a hip-hop level, many will toss other names into the ether like Eminem or Nas as more suitable rap honorees for the Songwriters Hall of Fame. However, there is a huge contrast between being lyrical and writing great songs. While Nas and Eminem both at some point could and should deserve that honor, with Jay Z it’s a game of numbers and consistent hits that have penetrated on a broader level; “Big Pimpin,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” and “Empire State of Mind” being a few.

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