Hovafest 2011

Months ago, I made a tournament bracket of Outkast songs, completed the write-up, proofread it, and published it, all in 48 hours.

Last night, I finished a similar project about Shawn Corey Carter, but it took me 5 straight weeks to complete. It took me so long, because I know you only get one shot at something like this and it has to be PERFECT.

In order to narrow down Jay-Z’s massive discography as a first step, I, along with co-conspirators Matthew and Kozza, established some ground rules:

SONG SELECTION CRITERIA

1. Collaborations vs. Features – Equal collabos (songs that end up on both artists’ albums) = IN. Features (songs in which he simply lends a verse) = OUT

2. Live Songs — OUT. This is an unfortunate, yet crucial rule because it’s hard to compare live music to studio music. Having said that, some of his live versions are much better than the originals.

3. Random Singles – IN. Jay-Z songs from soundtracks, for example, are considered.

Once this was established, we went through every single eligible Jay-Z song and picked the ones that HAD to be in the bracket, no questions asked. You know, the most important, greatest songs of his expansive catalogue.

We narrowed it down to 89.
A bracket has 64.

Now began the first of many heartaches. Eliminating 25 CLASSIC Jay-Z tracks is a horrible task to undertake, but after a lot of back and forth, the 64 Jay-Z songs were set.

7 Tracks That Made Me Weep To Leave Out…

Blueprint (Momma Loves Me) – The Blueprint
The Bounce – The Blueprint 2
Cashmere Thoughts – Reasonable Doubt
A Million and One Questions – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Hova Song (Intro) – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
Success – American Gangster
Rap Game/Crack Game – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1

…and 2 That I Proudly Left Out

The City Is Mine – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up) – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter

Next Step: Ranking These Bad Boys

With the Outkast bracket, I seeded them based on how popular I thought they were. I’d say this was the biggest flaw in my methodology, because people ended up focusing more on the seedings than the match ups.

Luckily, I’m about to be a Master’s of Science and I know better this time. This time ’round, I’m using a common indicator to determine popularity, Youtube views (much better than iTunes sales, because I don’t even know how to go about buying music anymore). It’s not perfect, because there is some recent song bias, but it works out pretty well. And when it comes down to matchups, the seeds don’t really matter; it’s just a way to know where they go on the bracket.

(Click Here, And All Subsequent Brackets, To Enlarge)

Lastly, before we reach the point of no return, I have to say a four things regarding why I’m qualified to do this in the first place.

1) I’ve watched Fade to Black over 600 times. You can give me a 1/2 second clip from the movie and, for better or for worse, I can tell you if Jay is wearing a doo-rag or a fitted.

2) I’ve seen Jay-Z live. Coachella 2010, to be exact. This is important, because a live show tells you which songs the artist finds most important in his catalogue, as well as which songs make the crowd the most passionate. This should not be taken lightly.

3) While I’m thankfully not from New York (sorry I’m not sorry), I’ve lived here for a minute now and seen how some of his songs are especially meaningful for someone from the city. I’ve spent 2 years watching this phenomenon happen and I think it’s an important thing to understand.

4) No one else has done this. Oh, and it’s my blog so I can pretty much do what I want. Burrrrr.

***Album Representation***

Reasonable Doubt: 8
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1: 3
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life: 5
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter: 3
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia: 4
The Blueprint: 11
Best of Both Worlds: 1
The Blueprint 2: 3
The Black Album: 9
Kingdom Come: 3
American Gangster: 2
The Blueprint 3: 5
Watch The Throne: 1
Outside Singles: 6

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ROUND 1

Yellow Cab Region

Empire State of Mind (1) vs. You, Me, Him, Her (16): You, Me, Him, Her is probably one of the 3 or 4 best Roc-A-Fella posse tracks ever. Unfortunately for the song, it’s up against one of the biggest (and best) songs in recent memory. No brainer, Empire State of Mind advances.

Takeover (8) vs. Kingdom Come (9): I have a one-word issue with Takeover (Ether) but it’s good enough to best Kingdom Come, one of the few examples of Jay being out-muscled by his beat (to his defense, the beat is heinously good).

Can I Get A… (5) vs. Encore (12): Ja. Rule. Kills. This. Song. (Can I Get A..) Conversely, Amil voice makes my ears bleed. Many mixed feelings about this song, but overall I love it. Encore, on the other hand, has the “Hova, Hova” chant, which might be the most important theatrical decision in Jay-Z’s career (all props to Kanye for that). When it happens, you lose control of you’re limbs, throw up the diamond, and immediately become part of the ROC cult. It’s unreal. There’s nothing like it. Encore advances.

D.O.A. (4) vs. What More Can I Say (13): The Black Album might be the greatest collection of epic, triumphant songs ever created (NUMBER 2). What More Can I Say is definitely one of those songs. D.O.A., on the other hand, is one of the riskiest songs Jay-Z has ever released. The fact that people got behind that song is a testament to his legendary status. Saying “Death of Autotune” in 2009 was like saying “Death to Black People” at the Million Man March in 1995: it seems like an easy way to become a pariah/get beat down. The fact that Jay actually won the battle of autotune gives it the edge over the 6th best song on The Black Album.

Lost Ones (6) vs. Where I’m From (11): “Cough up a lung where I’m from, Marcy son… Ain’t nothing nice.” Sorry Lost Ones, but Chrisette Michelle’s cute little chorus is no match for one of Jay-Z’s grimiest street fairytales.

Show Me What You Got (3) vs. This Can’t Be Life (14): Even if Lil’ Wayne hadn’t ruined Jay’s very good version of Show Me What You Got by rapping circles around him (4 Mortal Kombat references in 12 seconds, ZOMG), This Can’t Be Life would still TKO this song. It’s too beautiful.

H.A.M. (7) vs. My 1st Song (10): The first time I heard H.A.M., I hated it. In all honesty, the first 2 months of hearing the song, I wasn’t into it. Then I finally listened to it at a high volume and it sort of rocked my face off. But none of that matters, because the last track of The Black Album, My 1st Song, is one of the best album enders… ever.

Roc Boys (2) vs. Allure (15): Roc Boys is luxurious. I can’t listen to it without wanting to put on my nicest suit. It makes me, at the very least, want to obtain a credit card. And the video has one of the more iconic snapshots in hip-hop history, that being the triumvirate of bosses, Mr. Combs, Mr. Carter, and Mr. Escobar, looking WEALTHY. As much as I love the beautiful Pharrell-produced Allure, no way. NO WAY.

Gypsy Cab Region

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) (1) vs. Hola Hovito (16): Pulling off a “Ghetto Anthem” with Annie as your chorus is almost as hard as growing up small and Black with a funny name and not getting beat up daily (Rembert Molineaux Browne II, 5’2” in 9th grade, Black, averaged a triple-double in 10-and-under basketball, GET SOME). Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) is an achievement in career confidence. Even though I love Hola Hovito and the line “I ball for real, y’all niggas is Sam Bowie” makes me randomly punch things it’s so good, it’s just not enough.

D’Evils (8) vs. Lucifer (9): Oh, the old Satan battle. I love everything about Lucifer. The one issue is that it makes me sort of want to hang out in hell, because it’s so catchy. D’Evils, on the other hand, scares me. It makes me want to live a stand-up life, in fear of what may happen if I start acting up. It’s too classic to get knocked out in the 1st round, that’d be blasphemy.

Nigga What, Nigga Who (5) vs. Ain’t No Nigga (12): This N-word battle is black on black crime at its finest. Both of these songs are older Jay classics. Unfortunately, they have to face each other in the 1st round. Based on the fact that Ain’t No has aged better, it gets to ever-so-slight upper hand. Barely. Love you, Foxy.

Sunshine (4) vs. December 4th (13): December 4th has proudly made me tear up on multiple occasions. “Maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black”, epic. HIS MOM IS ON THE TRACK. Sheesh, Jay, what are you trying to do to me? Sunshine is a cool song, but in the battle of Mom vs. Babyface, Mom always wins.

03 Bonnie and Clyde (6) vs. Public Service Announcement (Interlude) (11): Not even the powers of Ms. Cleo + Dionne Warwick + the rapture guy could have predicted that Hov and B would get married when 03 Bonnie and Clyde came out. It’s awesome to listen to now, though, mainly because it’s cute and the song is quite good (especially her breakdown with him coaching her “take em to the top”). Awwwww. Puppy Love. Over it. Public Service Announcement takes little to no prisoners and does not care about love. Not one bit. In ’03, Jay’s in love. In P.S.A., his focus is his girl wearing his chain. Nothing. Else.

Dirt Off Your Shoulder (3) vs. So Ghetto (14): On the surface, this is an easy win for Dirt Off Your Shoulder, but So Ghetto holds an unbelievable amount of significance in my personal life. This is the single greatest beat to freestyle over and my friends and I have been flowing over it for almost a decade now. So sad to see it go, but these things happen.

Jockin Jay-Z (7) vs. Renegade (10): The Oasis jab in Jockin Jay-Z is one of my favorite random Jay-Z moments ever (especially when he takes it 10 steps further in Glastonbury). Renegade is, however, one of the greatest meeting of the minds in hip-hop history. They were both SO huge in 2001. Also, I’m not in camp “Eminem humiliated Jay on his own song.” I’m more in camp “Eminem did a little better than Jay… in both verses.” Renegade walks into the next round.

I Just Wanna Love U (2) vs. Thank You (15): When you hear the first note of I Just Wanna Love U, you know it’s time to dance and sing about the gushy stuff. It’s too big to fail. Sorry Thank You.

Dollar Cab Region

On To The Next One (1) vs. All I Need (16): On To The Next One is the reason I sent in my $50 last year and joined the Illuminati. And Mr. Alicia Keys’ sample of Justice’s D.A.N.C.E. might be one of the coolest samples in hip-hop history. Sorry All I Need, you really should not be getting knocked out this early, but these things happen.

Change Clothes (8) vs. Money Ain’t A Thang (9): This is like the battle of old money/I’ve been rich for a minute (Change Clothes) vs. new money/I might lose it all any day now, lets spend everything (Money Ain’t A Thang). As much as I love blouses without bras, the NYC/ATL meeting of the minds between Jay-Z and JD is too good. And it might be the goofiest Jay-Z video ever. Money Ain’t A Thang is extremely underrated and is definitely advancing to the next round. #ATL

Can’t Knock The Hustle (5) vs. Best of Both Worlds (12): One would be hard-pressed to start your first album more wonderfully than Jay with Can’t Knock The Hustle. While hearing his multiple live renditions of the song with Mary J. Blige (Fade to Black, MTV Unplugged) lessens the studio version in my mind, it still out matches the Kelly/Hov collabo that I happen to love. (IMPT SIDE NOTE: if you downloaded Best of Both Worlds off of Kazaa back in the day, I promise your version skipped at “the combination of Pappy Mason and Larry Davis”. This fact has been proven by individuals from 4 different cities.)

I Know (4) vs. U Don’t Know (13): He said… He’d Sell… Fire… In… Hell… Buh-Bye I KnowU Don’t Know is pretty much unstoppable.

Can I Live (6) vs. Dear Summer (11): Dear Summer is actually on Memphis Bleek’s album, but only includes Jay so I’m calling it a Jay song. Plus, it’s awesome. Can I Live is a religious experience, though. The 3-word epic chorus doesn’t come in until 2:18 because he simply can’t stop rapping. Once it comes, though, I can’t help put put my arms in the air and triumphantly join in, be it behind the wheel, in the library, at a bris, wherever.

Dead Presidents II (3) vs. Jigga That Nigga (14): Calling Dead Presidents “iconic” is a gross understatement. I treat it less like a song and more like spoken word. Easy-ish win over the fun Jigga That Nigga.

Beware of the Boys (7) vs. Izzo (HOVA) (10): Why/How Punjabi MC and Hov collaborated for Beware of the Boys is still a mystery to me, but when it happened it was awesome. Not awesome enough, however, to best one of the more memorable songs of my life (Izzo-HOVA). One of the many examples of Jay further branding himself through his jams. Also, the song that truly made Kanye a producing star.

Excuse Me Miss (2) vs. Money, Cash, Hoes (15): Excuse Me Miss is classic grown and sexy Hov. The opposite of “grown and sexy” is Dark Man X in Money, Cash, Hoes. The combination of Hov and DMX overwhelmingly punks out “I see some ladies tonight that should be rolling with Jay-Z.” Woof. Arf. Growl. Bark. Grrrrrrr.

Holla Back Region

Run This Town (1) vs. 1-900 Hustler (16): 1-900 Hustler ousting Run This Town is the easiest 16 over 1 upset in the history of brackets. Yes, I say “All Black Everything” multiple times a day, but 1-900 Hustler, the 63rd most popular song in this bracket, easily dismisses the 2nd most popular. It’s hysterical. I love the idea of Beans as a phone operator, Freeway finds a way not to ruin it, and every now and then I find myself “Hollering at Purdue”, just cause. It’s also the 2nd best rap phone # of all time (281-330-8004).

Hey Papi (8) vs. Feelin It (9): The Timbaland beat + The yacht in the video + the fact that I still own the Nutty Professor II CD that this song is on + “No room service, just snacks and shit” makes Hey Papi a formidable opponent. But have you ever heard Feelin’ It? Have you? It might be perfect. After hearing it, none of those things I mentioned about Hey Papi matter anymore. Feelin It, next round.

Brooklyn Go Hard (5) vs. Who U Wit (12): So, Brooklyn Go Hard‘s line “I jack, I rob, I sin… Aw man, I’m Jackie Robinson, except when I rob base, I dodge the pen” is maybe the most clever wordplay of his career. I still can’t believe he came up with that. If he had a few more classic lines like that in the song, it might hold a candle to Who U Wit, but there’s something so endearing about ’97 Jay that quickly disposes of Brooklyn Go Hard.

Big Pimpin (4) vs. Politics As Usual (13): Politics as Usual, great song. The first note of Big Pimpin, however, destroys it. That’s all I’m going to say, because I have plenty of time to talk about the rest of the song, trust me.

Song Cry (6) vs. La-La-La (11): The “Yao Ming/Ya Mean” verse ender in La-La-La is unbelievable. So is the beat. So is the fact that it was from Bad Boys 2. With that said, Song Cry would make the entire cast of Oz weep. KEEP GOING, Song Cry.

Girls, Girls, Girls (3) vs. Brooklyn’s Finest (14): When Jay turns “contrary” to “contrilly” in Brooklyn’s Finest, I die. Very few wordplay things make me happier than that. Also, Jay and Biggie, back and forth, for 4 minutes, c’maaaaaan. Go away, Girls, Girls, Girls… I happen to like you, but think you’re horribly overrated.

Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love) (7) vs. The Watcher 2 (10): The Watcher 2 is my least favorite song in the 64, but I still love it. On the contrilly, the “take em to church” breakdown in Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love) gives me the chills. On to the next one, Heart.

99 Problems (2) vs. Jigga My Nigga (15): 99 Problems is one of my favorite rock songs ever. It’s almost rude to separate this song from the following track, P.S.A., because I like to pretend it’s this epic 8+ minute track, but alone it’s one of his career-defining songs. Bless you, Rick Rubin. Jigga My Nigga is awesome (good lyrics, better beat), it’s unfortunately up against one of his all-time best.


**Album Representation**

Reasonable Doubt: 7
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1: 2
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life: 3
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter: 1
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia: 3
The Blueprint: 6
Best of Both Worlds
The Blueprint 2
The Black Album: 7
Kingdom Come
American Gangster: 1
The Blueprint 3: 3
Watch The Throne
Outside Singles

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ROUND 2

Yellow Cab

Empire State of Mind (1) vs. Takeover (8): Takeover is not just a song, it’s a battle rap. I alluded to it earlier, but it’s counterpart, Nas’ “Ether” is simply a better, more vicious song and for me, ended the battle. Also, it’s going against Empire State of Mind. Yeah, sorry Takeover, but “Ether” ruined you with the machine guns before Nas even started rapping. Empire cartwheeling through the concrete jungle towards the Sweet 16.

D.O.A. (4) vs. Encore (12): Jay doesn’t inherently seem to have the ego that Kanye West does, but the brashness on Kanye’s production of Encore forces Jay to talk on the song like he’s God’s gift to humanity. It’s a very visual song, you feel like you’re at a concert when you’re listening to it on your iPod. D.O.A. was huge and an extremely important song (if for no other reason, for the health of hip-hop) but Encore is simply too powerful of a song to not advance. It’s the quintessential Diamonds in the Air song, the backbone of the Roc-A-Fella dynasty.

Where I’m From (11) vs. This Can’t Be Life (14): It’s both a shame and fitting that these two songs have to meet. These songs aren’t happy. Not one bit. Like Color Purple sad. With Where I’m From, you have Jay, alone, talking about where he grew up, Marcy Projects. This Can’t Be Life, on the other hand, is Jay, Beanie Siegel, and Scarface, telling 3 pretty emotional stories. 3 reasons This Can’t Be Life gets the nod: 1) Starting off a song with “I was, born in sewage” is pretty much rawer than anything else. 2) Beans gives the verse of his career. 3) While Where I’m From loses steam as the song pushes on, This Can’t Be Life pushes on, making me cry to the very end. Classic.

Roc Boys (2) vs. My 1st Song (10): I love listening to Jay-Z talk. Even though the first 2 minutes of My 1st Song are great, the last 2 minutes of him just shouting people out and telling stories is some of my favorite Jay-Z. There is a good chance my last blog post next May will be me, talking over this beat, shouting out people and telling stories, for 6 hours. As good as it is, Roc Boys gets the nod for being maybe the classiest song Jay has ever made. The horns alone might give it the slight edge. Also, Jay’s enfatuation with Judasim reaches a highpoint in this song “Black Bar Mitzvahs, Mazel Tov it’s a celebration bitches… L’Chaim (step on glass, put Jay-Z in chair, uncles lift him in the chair, commence with the horah).” Truly the standout on his American Gangster concept album, and it’s one of the better in his post fake-out retirement career (and the video is responsible for me and my boy Owen’s baller celebratory high-five…SLAP, SLAP, SALUTE).

Gypsy Cab

Hard Knock Life (1) vs. D’Evils (8): Beyond the Annie sample, perhaps the most unbelievable thing about Hard Knock Life is how minimalistic it is. 95% of the beat is just one note repeated over and over again. The song makes  people (myself included) extremely happy. When you match confidence with creativity, every now and then you get an end result as beautiful and weird as Hard Knock Life. It’s a one-of-a-kind. D’Evils, great song, great example of perfectly used samples, but it matched up with one of the most clever rap songs ever made. Laterz.

Ain’t No Nigga (12) vs. December 4th (13): This isn’t a spoiler for the winner of this contest, nor does it carry the most weight in my decision making, but I have to admit that I think December 4th is the most beautiful song Jay-Z has ever made. The way it begins, instrumentally (which forces me to throw my arms up in triumph) and ends with the almost cryptic “if you can’t respect that, you’re whole perspective is whack, maybe you’ll love me when I fade to Black” is sometimes too much to handle among company. It’s like the emotion of Oprah’s Legends Brunch, but divided by 367,000. Ain’t No Nigga is a great, fun track, classic early Jay, classic pre-Beyonce, flirtatious Jay. But at the end of the day, objectively and subjectively, it doesn’t hold a candle to December 4th. HIS MOM IS ON THE TRACK. SHE GOT HIM A BOOMBOX. IT DROVE HIS SIBLINGS NUTZZ.

Dirt Off Your Shoulder (3) vs. Public Service Announcement (Interlude) (11): You hate to see the intra-album battle. While both are good, there is a glaring difference between the two songs. I think a number of people could have rapped over that insane Timbo beat and had a hit with Dirt Off Your Shoulder. Ludacris, easily. Lupe maybe. Joe Budden, why not? NO ONE ON EARTH/MARS/PANDORA could pull of P.S.A. other than Jay-Z. You can’t say, “Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is WAKA.” I promise you can’t. P.S.A. is so Jay-Z, it hurts. Example of how insane the song is, a few weeks back a DJ turned on the beginning of P.S.A., thereby alerting the listener that they have 22 seconds to get in position. With about 7 seconds left before the explosion, 5 people stopped their conversations outside the bar and ran inside, simply to scream HOV at the top of their lungs. I was one of those 5 people. I’m always one of those 5 people.

I Just Wanna Love U (2) vs. Renegade (10): Renegade is Jay and Eminem at the top of their game. As much as I love I Just Wanna Love U, it can’t even sit at the adults table with Renegade. It’s going to take another track at the adults table to knock it off, because the song is one of the best rap duo tracks ever made.

Dollar Cab

On To The Next One (1) vs. Money Ain’t a Thang (9): Saying I “love” both of these songs is an understatement. The funny thing about both of them, however, is that they’re both pretty slept on tracks, On To The Next One because it was the 4th single on the Blueprint 3 and Money Ain’t a Thang because people often forget the song even exists. Throw either of them on at a party, however, and everyone goes bonkers. There’s something about On To The Next One that makes it overwhelmingly infectious. Maybe it’s the sheer number of times the phrase “on the the next one” is said. Maybe it’s the phrase “on to the next one” that has permeated slang as the new, cool way of describing “moving on” (it’s said on Basketball Wives 37 times an episode). Maybe it’s the part in the 2nd verse when the beat goes out for 2 seconds. Whichever, it is too much for one of my all-time favorites. Sorry Jerm.

Can’t Knock The Hustle (5) vs. U Don’t Know (13): If you think U Don’t Know is an average song, you need to stop listening to it through headphones. It should only be heard through large, loud speakers in a room/field of 100 people (minimum). It is such a powerful song, it makes many of his classics seem sort of soft, Can’t Knock The Hustle being one of those. To quote Jay, Can’t Knock The Hustle is the knife in the proverbial gunfight represented by U Don’t Know. Guns. Always. Win.

Dead Presidents II (3) vs. Can I Live (6): The thing about Dead Presidents is I feel it’s one of those songs you have to know every word to in order to have some sort of rap legitimacy. Or at least 95% of them. It’s a song that should end up on hip-hop timelines of important events and releases. It’s beyond classic. With all of that said, it barely edges out Can I Live. The chorus of Can I Live gives me the chills like very few other songs and it’s an overall classic track. Unfortunately for it, it went up against one of the few songs that could edge it out, simply because Dead Presidents is a similar, slightly better song.

Izzo (H.O.V.A.) (10) vs. Money, Cash, Hoes (15): This is actually one of the more lopsided matchups of the 2nd round, not because Money, Cash, Hoes isn’t great, but because H to the Izzo, V to the Izzay is, as he mentions, an “anthem”. All rappers need anthems and this is definitely one of his best. Also, probably his 2nd best summer-dominating jam.  (Side note: Mr. West, the Jackson 5 sample is perfect. You are the king.)

Holla Back

Feelin It (9) vs. 1-900 Hustler (16): The Cinderella story is over, 1-900 Hustler. It’s a heartwarming story, but let’s be real for a second. There might not be a better song to medium-speed head bob to in history than Feelin It. It’s a phenomenal song to blast in a residential neighborhood while doing no faster than 25mph. It gives the mostly intense all-the-time Reasonable Doubt a much needed chilled out tone. It’s a pretty near-perfect rap song.

Big Pimpin (4) vs. Who U Wit (12): Jay often talks about looking for beats “with that bounce”. Big Pimpin is the definition of “that bounce”. In terms of up-tempo, party Jay tracks, at this moment in time I don’t know what can take down Big Pimpin. Who U Wit is a jam, but not enough for the song that will permanently stay on loop when I finally get that yacht out of lay away from Rooms-To-Go.

Song Cry (6) vs. Brooklyn’s Finest (14): Okay. This isn’t good. Two classic, underrated songs from 2 classic albums, both exhibiting aspects of Jay’s dynamic abilities. With Song Cry, you have Jay at his most personal, an eyelash away from crying at all times, while on Brooklyn’s Finest you have sparring Jay, rapping with the then-king of NYC, Biggie Smalls, doing a full-fledged battle of wits. I might not be allowed to walk in Brooklyn after this (it’s all good, I live in Harlem, Cam’ron will protect me) but Song Cry is a better song. Rappers of Jay’s stature didn’t make songs like Song Cry before it’s release and haven’t made them like it since. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind and he should be applauded for it. And the line, “They say you can’t turn a bad girl good, but once a good girls, gone, bad… she’s gone forever…” is one of the best lines he’s ever delivered.

99 Problems (2) vs. Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love) (7): The line “If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems” I don’t even have to finish, because you know the rest. This lyric will stand the test of time. Rick Rubin’s decision to have Jay do that part a capella was almost as genius as the line itself. Every facet of this song out rocks the wonderfully soulful Heart of the City. (side note: the live version of Heart of the City with Jaguar Wright might outrock everything, except maybe the live version of 99 Problems.)

**What’s Left?**

Reasonable Doubt: 2
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life: 1
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter: 1
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia: 1
The Blueprint: 4
Best of Both Worlds
The Blueprint 2
The Black Album: 4
Kingdom Come
American Gangster: 1
The Blueprint 3: 2
Watch The Throne
Outside Singles

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SWEET 16

Yellow Cab

Empire State of Mind (1) vs. Encore (12): Continuing to advance Empire State of Mind isn’t the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s like rooting for the Miami Heat. No one wants the most popular song in recent memory to beat all of the more under-the-radar Hov tracks. unfortunately for the previous 2 songs, and now the epic Encore, this song has replaced an institution of a song, that being “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra. I’ll never forget NYE 2010 when the clock struck midnight, I had failed to kiss anyone, and they played Jay-Z before Frank Sinatra. Jay, in a prophetic move, calls himself “the new Sinatra” in the song… and then becomes to new Sinatra. The popular DJ transition from Frank to Jay is pretty awesome when it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME I GO OUT. I love Encore, love love love it, but when it comes to the creme de la creme, Empire is hard to beat. It’s his love song to his city.

Roc Boys (And The Winner Is…) (2) vs. This Can’t Be Life (14): I love this match up, because they represent two very different moments in Jay’s life and career. This Can’t Be Life is a tale of hardship, of sadness, of tough times. Roc Boys is a celebration of life, “This Can Be Life”, if you will. The thing I love about Jay is that he doesn’t pretend not to be rich/wildly successful now. Why pretend. With that said, he always acknowledges his past. These two songs are both quite good, but the edge definitely goes to This Can’t Be Life, an extremely personal account where each verse sounds like a private diary entry. It’s easily one of the best 2 or 3 collaborations of his career.

Gypsy Cab

Hard Knock Life (1) vs. December 4th (13): This isn’t fair. I never should have done this bracket. Having to explain why one perfect song is worse than another perfect song is miserable, but here we go. I’ve heard people criticize Hard Knock Life as being “too poppy”. That’s dumb. For one, you can’t dance to it, all you can do is bob your head, really really slowly. Secondly, he’s rapping over a silly sample, years before other people thought this was a cool thing to do. Hard Knock Life changed rap for the weirder and I love it for that. December 4th, on the other hand, did not change rap, but gave a sizable glimpse into Jay’s life like few other songs. This is easily the closest match up of the tournament so far, but the extremely small edge is going towards Hard Knock Life, for sheer creativity and for the fact it makes grown-up goons belt Annie at the top of their lungs. I’m not happy about knocking out my favorite Jay song, but it had to happen eventually. Great run, sorry Ms. Carter.

Renegade (10) vs. Public Service Announcement (11): What Jay-Z lacked in Renegade he made up for in Public Service Announcement. I like it when Jay has collaborations, but I especially love it when he needs the help of no one. P.S.A. is a perfect example of that. The amount that he packs into not even a 3 minute song is remarkable. It even makes an intense song like Renegade look sort of fluffy. In Renegade, Jay has a peer in Eminem. In P.S.A., you are reminded that at the end of the day, Hova is peerless. P.S.A. moves on.

Dollar Cab

On To The Next One (1) vs. U Don’t Know (13): I’m struggling to find a more brash, cocky, beautiful way to end a song than U Don’t Know’s “I. Will. Not. Lose. Ever… Fucker.” I mean, jeeez Jay. At least give other people a chance by saying something like, “I. Might. Not. Lose. Today… Colleague.” That’s what I would have done, but that’s why one of us is married to Beyonce and the other is about to update his avatar on BlackPlanet.com. On To The Next One is one of his flyest songs ever, but U Don’t Know is way too much.

Dead Presidents II (3) vs. Izzo (H.O.V.A.) (10): Jay’s line to begin the second verse of HOVA, “I do this for my culture”, is one of my favorite lines ever. Very simple, but completely sums up his legacy, that being the voice of his generation. With that said, he began doing it “for his culture” and speaking on behalf of a generation in Dead Presidents. Who knows the direction his career might have gone had Dead Presidents never been made. The song has aged remarkably well, is easily the highlight of many classic tracks on Reasonable Doubt, and lyrically has few peers. It gets the edge over the HOVA, not for one particular reason, but because I think it genuinely is an all around better song and a lyrical tour-de-force. Also, while coming out 5 years before HOVA, it has aged considerably better.

Holla Back

Big Pimpin (4) vs. Feelin It (9): The unfortunate thing for every other up-tempo song in the bracket is that I can’t help but compare it to Big Pimpin. I think I like I song, then I turn on Big Pimpin and I realize the other song isn’t that good. I think it might be the most fun song ever made. Try to listen to it and frown. I want it played at my funeral (maybe just the beat), simply to make everyone smile, and to give my funeral a little of that bounce. Feelin It, on the other hand, is also an extremely enjoyable song and probably my favorite song on Reasonable Doubt. Unfortunately, it’s just not enjoyable enough. Pimp C + Bun B + Jay Z are two much to handle. A classic, by classic standards.

Song Cry (6) vs. 99 Problems (7): I’m tired of weeping, Hov; I have no more tears for you. Listening to these two songs back to back is a hysterical experience, because after 5 minutes of reflection and watery eyes, 99 Problems wakes me up, I start throwing furniture, headbang a wall, get lightheaded, and then pass out. When I come to, I lather, rinse, and repeat. 99 Problems is one of the best rock-inflenced rap songs ever (NUMBER ONE). The reason it has become such an iconic song is that Jay doesn’t let Rick out rock him with the beat. Jay comes extra hard, creating one of the wildest, craziest rap songs he’s ever made. They are hard songs to compare, because they are polar opposites, but one has to go and that one is Song Cry. I was expecting it to get knocked out much earlier, but the more I listened to it, the more I re-fell in love with the song. Unfortunately, I think 99 Problems is simply a better track, one that deserves to continue on in the contest. It’s one of the tracks that made people realize Jay was much bigger than rap.

**What’s Left?**

Reasonable Doubt: 1
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life: 1
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter: 1
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia: 1
The Blueprint: 1
Best of Both Worlds
The Blueprint 2
The Black Album: 2
Kingdom Come
American Gangster: 1
The Blueprint 3: 1
Watch The Throne
Outside Singles

******************************************************

ELITE 8

Yellow Cab

Empire State of Mind (1) vs. This Can’t Be Life (14): It’s hard to think about Empire State of Mind without thinking about how played out it’s become. If you think about it with that lens, some unfair opinions will enter the equation. Don’t punish the song for being wildly popular and having more cross appeal than any previously-released Jay song. I’m not a New Yorker and this song makes me proud to have temporarily set up shop here. It’s an exquisite song, from Alicia’s voice and piano, to Jay’s uplifting chorus and ability to take the listener on a verbal field trip of New York City. This song took over the world, not because it’s gimmicky, but because it’s that good. It’s his city, he deserves to make a song like this. This Can’t Be Life’s Cinderella run ends here, but had it gone against some of the other tracks still alive, it easily could have made the Final 4. Well, not easily but it would have at least had a chance against a few. Jay-Z’s love letter = FINAL 4 Bound.

Gypsy Cab

Hard Knock Life (1) vs. Public Service Announcement (Interlude) (11): These are two extremely unusual songs. Neither of them remind me of anything previous to their release. In my mind, the only way to beat Hard Knock Life is to be even more creative/out-weird it. Public Service Announcement does that, and then some. Take a step back and think about P.S.A. Jay and Just Blaze are saying that this track (a measly interlude, lest we forget) is something the public/humanity needs to hear, for the sake of their well-being. That’s what a PSA is. The gall of these two. And then the spoken part: “Fellow Americans, it is with the utmost pride and sincerity that I present this recording as a living testament and recollection of history in the making during our generation”, followed by “Allow me to RE-introduce myself, my name is” FREEZE. (Side note: probably my favorite thing in music, due to my new-found love of house music, is the “build-up”. PSA is hip-hop’s greatest build-up. The first 22 seconds of this song alone could have advanced it a few rounds. Adding in the “HOV” easily takes it to the Elite 8. Then Jay has the nerve to have 2 ridiculous verses to accompany the intro, all for a measly interlude. Hard Knock Life, you had a great run, but PSA is proudly walking into the Final 4.

Dollar Cab

Dead Presidents II (3) vs. U Don’t Know (13): Two great songs with no guest stars, just Jay. Actually, I take that back. U Don’t Know has an important non Jay-Z vocal contributor. Whoever is screaming at the top of their lungs throughout this song adds to the drama and sense of urgency associated with this song. While U Don’t Know is loud and aggressive, Dead Presidents is calm and composed, but equally as intense. It almost feels like a toss up, but when I think of Jay at his best,  I think of instances in which he’s reminding you implicitly and explicitly, that he’s peerless. U Don’t Know is that, in the most explicitly way possible. He outlines the ways in which he’s the best, and in each example, I completely believe him. Leaving Reasonable Doubt out of the Final 4 seems like a sin, but an equally strong argument could be made about leaving The Blueprint out of the Final 4. If you have any beef with U Don’t Know making it, turn it up to 11 and tell me I’m wrong. Don’t worry… I’ll wait…

Holla Back

99 Problems (2) vs. Big Pimpin (4): I have so many props to give out. 1) Timbaland, thank you for having an obsession with flutes. 2) Jay, thank you for putting UGK on this song. 3) To all parties involved, thank you for making Big Pimpin the single greatest song to play between the months of May and August. When I hear the first note, I lose it. While I love Jay and B, this is the single, bachelor, “I be forever mackin” Jay that everyone loved. This song is like a time capsule of a time long ago when everyone was happy. This is pre-recession rap. I’ve yet to say anything about 99 Problems, which is rude because it’s an unreal song, but Big Pimpin is too important to music. Jay-Z has multiple summer anthems, but this one is the patriarch of the genre. RIP Pimp C and RIP 99 Problems.

**Still Hanging On For Deal Life?**

Reasonable Doubt
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (Big Pimpin, 4 Seed)
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
The Blueprint: (U Don’t Know, 13 Seed)
Best of Both Worlds
The Blueprint 2
The Black Album: (Public Service Announcement, 11 Seed)
Kingdom Come
American Gangster: 1
The Blueprint 3: (Empire State of Mind, 1 Seed)
Watch The Throne
Outside Singles

***************************************************

Final 4

Four songs are left, from four different albums. Half are 2 of the biggest rap songs in history, songs that even the causal rap fan might know every word to. The other two weren’t even released as singles, but from 2 of his 3 most classic albums.  Interesting. 

Empire State Of Mind (1) vs. U Don’t Know (13)

I knew, you knew, everyone knew at some point the top dog had to get knocked off. I wasn’t going to let it lose to any song, it had to be against a song so powerful, so “Jay-Z”, that Empire State of Mind’s status as New York’s new official song wouldn’t even matter. U Don’t Know is that song. Everything about it is larger than life. It’s one of the brashest songs I’ve ever heard, but the reason is works is because the dude rapping can back it up. I can’t perform U Don’t Know, because none of the lyrics apply to my life. I can barely sell water to thirsty people, so selling it to a well is completely out of the question. The fact that the listener tends to believe the extravagant things coming out of Jay-Z mouth is a testament to 1) how baller he is and 2) how convincing he is. I stand behind U Don’t Know beating Empire State of Mind and making it to the Final 2 as much as pretty much anything.

Big Pimpin (4) vs. Public Service Announcement (Interlude) (11)

I’ve mentioned a few times how Big Pimpin is just the greatest party song in recent memory and how other up-tempo songs suffer because it is in a league of its own. For me, there is the feeling of happiness that comes from plenty things, from winning something to hearing something you like to laughing, etc. etc. There is a level of happiness, however, that goes well beyond smiles and laughs. It’s the feeling of triumph. When I  hear something triumphant, I don’t smile and I don’t laugh, I just let the experience wash over me. There are a handful of songs in every genre of music that make me feel this wayPublic Service Announcement is one of those musical moments that exemplifies this idea of triumph. It’s overwhelmingly good and that’s the only way, in my mind, a song can oust such a classic like Big Pimpin. But it did. Yep, definitely did.

CHAMPIONSHIP

Public Service Announcement (11) vs. U Don’t Know (13)

I think it’s fitting that it comes down to two songs that true Jay-Z fans love, not just his two most popular songs. These songs are very similar, in the sense that they both are loud and in your face. Neither were singles from their respective records. Neither songs really have choruses. They are simply Jay-Z’s two finest examples of him doing what he does best, rapping like he’s the God MC he touts himself as. I listen to these songs back to back and I feel like I can do anything. They’re both unbelievable songs, but one is better. That song is Public Service Announcement. The first 9 tracks of the work of art that is The Black Album builds up to this song. All the high drama that took place in the early stages of this album leads up to the explosion that is “HOV”. It’s unlike any rap song I’ve ever heard and really should be thought of as one of the better hip-hop songs ever made. I don’t have one slightly negative thing to say about U Don’t Know, because there’s nothing wrong with it, there just happens to be one other song that out-everything’s it.

If you made it this far, congrats. I did this more for debates sake than to show of my knowledge of Jay-Z or throw my opinions on people. I will gladly argue with anyone about any decision in this bracket; that’s the whole point. Feel free to tell me how wrong/right you think this is, and I’ll gladly tell you if I respectfully agree/disagree with you.

It’s been fun. I’m going to take a nap now. 

Shout out to Lucky Lefty for having the most impressive rap resume of all time. I’m honored to have done this.

-Rem

p.s. For those of you counting, Word Count = 7,397

p.p.s. I didn’t use the word “swag” once. I consider this an achievement.

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About Rembert Browne

NYC via ATL //// rembert.browne@gmail.com 500daysasunder.wordpress.com
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95 Responses to Hovafest 2011

  1. Kozza says:

    This is epic…madness even.

  2. eimen says:

    First off, I salute you for completing this epic tournament of Jay songs. I probably wouldn’t have made it past the rankings. With that said, I disagree with you on several key matchups and the fact that only 2 songs from his debut made the sweet 16. How the hell did “U Don’t Know” make it further than “D’evils”? Better yet, how the hell did it lose in the SECOND round??? Don’t get me wrong “Hard Knock Life” is probably top 10 of the past 15 years but I can argue until my eyes turn “Bones”-like that “D’evils” is top 10 all-time. There is no way “Dead Presidents II” isn’t better than “U Don’t Know”. I don’t care how loud you play it, there are certain things in this world that shouldn’t happen and Dead Presidents losing to that song is one of them. I do somewhat agree with the rest of your choices. An interlude coming out on top is pretty Sheen-like but shit happens. It is definitely underrated so hopefully this makes up for it. Thanks for killing 2 hours of an average summer day in the life of a college student. This should be in mass distribution ASAP.

    p.s. Paper Trail slightly bests the Black Album for the “greatest collection of epic, triumphant songs”

    • pack says:

      because of your p.s. note.. its hard to take anything you said before seriously. paper trail? really? this cant be life..

      • young says:

        gotta agree with pack…paper trail outing the black album really??? eimen needs to check Hov’s resume

  3. You Sire are a genius of Hovaology and should be awarded for and showered with all kinds of treasure.

    All bullshit aside, nice post man. I agree with most of what you put up.

  4. Krissa says:

    I’m one of those casual fans – t I don’t know much more about Jay-Z’s catalog than a few songs you mentioned here (although I’ll bet I’d recognize a lot of them if I heard them) and I read this whole thing. Absolutely fascinating. Bravo.

    (Also, as a fellow LIS nerd, I applaud your methodology.)

  5. as a connoisseur of all things jigga, i must say that this is the greatest thing to ever be created. hov needs to see this. @elliottWilson needs to make that happen asaptually.

  6. KatchKenda says:

    Absolutely amazing!! As a bonafide Jay fan, I’m utterly impressed. I disagree with a few songs but loved reading your process. I’ve never seen anything like this done about just one artist. Great job.

  7. mattias says:

    how do you justify not including regrets in the top 64?

  8. Easy says:

    epic, worthy of the the goat that HOv is, i dont need any arguments with anybody, its my opinion and im entitled to it, testament to his greatness is. i think “what more can i say” “can I live”, HOVA” even his grammy family freestyle” deserve more wins but good job, some of his lyrics make me say damn how do you come up with that?

  9. miky mike says:

    u FORGOT :
    the champ SONG is here,
    Number 1.” Soon you’ll understand ” !!!

  10. mags says:

    I took notes:

    “1. o come on, empire over takeover? no way dude
    2. good call on you don’t know through speakers
    3. SONG CRY OVER JAY Z AND BIGGIE SMALLS MAKE YOU SHIT YOUR DRAWERS?!!?! WHAT!
    4. “Continuing to advance Empire State of Mind isn’t the coolest thing I’ve ever done” no, it’s not. 10 points from gryffondor
    5. That hard knock life / dec 4th matchup is heartbreaking (i felt similarly about dead prize vs hova…i went with hova)…i’d have given the edge to dec 4th though, impact or no
    6. I basically agree with you everywhere but the yellow cab bracket, which i don’t even understand what you’re thinking
    7. I’m glad we ended up in agreement on #1 though

  11. Saul Goode says:

    4 comments?! Come the fuck on. Show some appreciation for this dedication.

  12. Tyler Willis says:

    This is unbelievable, amazing job putting this together.
    Take that Master’s of Science and go forth to teach the word of Hov.

  13. Rav says:

    “Let me tell you dudes what I do to protect this,
    Shoot at you actors like movie directors”

    I concur with your choice.

  14. michellemichelle says:

    You’re amazing. I do think if you went to a few more concerts Jigga Who would have made it a little further, it’s a crowd pleaser. Also Party Life and Never Change kill me, just sayin’ .

  15. deszilla says:

    This is a work of art, a f*cking masterpiece. Kudos author(s)!!!
    I was hurt to see Rap Game/Crack Game left out of the running, particularly because it is lyrically astounding and it samples another beast of a song/artist. You say it made you weep but you did it anyway. How was this decision made?
    Great job. I will be back to this blog. Often.

  16. I don’t know, I read the whole thing and even though I don’t necessarily agree with every decision you’ve done, I think it all makes sense until you made U Don’t Know win Dead Presidents II… Dead Presidents II is classic Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt’s finest song in my opinion and to make it go until the end against P.S.A. would make a much better debate about the dicotomy of Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z vs. Blueprint Jay-Z. That’s the only amendment I would do to this, but very nice list anyway. Thanks for doing it!

  17. A-$ says:

    Why the hate on City is Mine? That shit is luxurious…pure 90′s fun.

  18. zach says:

    This redefines what the phrase “in my wheelhouse” means.

  19. William Murphy says:

    can’t forget lil kim in can i get a, she kills them both

  20. DG says:

    Props for putting this together, was agreeing with you almost 100% through the first round. Past the second round not so much, definitely think you should open this up to a panel cuz you def have a soft spot for Mr Just Blaze (Both spots in the finals?) One thing I definitely agree with is that Blueprint being his best album hence it having the most tracks in the tourney.

  21. mags says:

    Rem, the people know that dead presidents > u don’t know

  22. Elle says:

    Who are you? I love you.

  23. William Murphy says:

    having a hard time getting through this, just want to listen to every song

  24. Go says:

    Gotta admit, as a big jay fan, this was an incredible read, so I applaud u on that, def addin this blog to my favorites (and Elliott wilson should add u to his top 100). Only thing I really disagreed wit was dead presidents losing like that, but otha than that, I agreed wit almost everythin else

  25. Adam Gisborne says:

    this was a brilliant read, thank you so much for taking the time to put this together. its virtually impossible to disagree with your methodology or any of the verdicts you reached, however in my eyes that initial bracket had to contain these songs:
    - blueprint (momma loves me)
    - breathe easy (lyrical exercise)
    - come and get me
    - h.o.v.a. song
    - dynasty intro
    - young gifted and black freestyle
    and possibly kanye’s ‘never let me down’ featuring TWO superlative verses from jay (and more specifically the moment when his second verse kicks in and kanye is screaming ‘oh yeah! it ain’t over muthafucka! the roc!’).
    although what you’d leave out for them is another issue altogether….

    and finally from one jay-z fan to another, my favourite ever jay-z moment, the bizarrely rare westwood/marley marl freestyle; peak form jay-z over some of the best beats of all-time….

    thanks again…

  26. wiz says:

    I lost about 90 minutes of work reading this…..THANK YOU….You Don’t Know should have won….the passion he was rapping with was amazing

  27. pack says:

    much love for this. didnt think it could ever be done. of course every jay fan has differentiating opinions of songs.. but for the most part.. you appeased them all. not sure that empire should have ran as long as it did.. & im sure seeding killed alot of songs from being potential elite 8/final 4.. but thats just one opinion. it wasnt that you just listed songs.. you supported your decisions. i never really understood why i always leaned towards PSA.. (with shame because of the surrounding hov fans & their want for the gritty/gutta jay).. but you made it clear. claps..

    btw.. dead presidents should have never went against u dont know. thats like mother/wife picking sides territory.

  28. Pingback: Hovafest bracket | Life of refinement

  29. Not a lot of love for In My Lifetime Vol. 1 in this bracket…
    For me that was one of the first East Coast hip hop albums that killed it, every song = SOLID
    How you gonna forget:
    You Must Love Me – That is the most epic 6 minutes of rap storytelling ever. EVER.
    Real Niggaz – Jazzy and Too Short
    Imaginary Players – “I was pouring Cristal, when you all thought it was beer” Classic!
    A Million and One Questions – You should be weeping about leaving this out…”OK, I’m reloaded!!”

    and on a side note, where was Justify My Thug? The Grey Album version, dubbed over Rocky Raccoon is undeniable, but the lyrics stand on their own:

    I’d rather tighten my belt
    before I’d beg for help
    I just play the hand I’m dealt
    I can’t say I’ve never knelt
    before God and asked for better cards, sometimes to no avail
    But I never sat back feeling sorry for myself
    If you dont give me heaven, I’ll raise hell
    until it’s Heaven…

    That’s like Bob Dylan prime songwriting skills, right there.

    • quoteman829 says:

      “You Must Love Me – That is the most epic 6 minutes of rap storytelling ever. EVER.”

      Man, Truer words have never spoken

      ….maybe ya life was just that crazy
      and you was beggin’ for death
      tryin to justify this in my young mind
      but ya drillin’ it
      and my ego hurt combined
      drove me berserk
      Saw the devil in your eyes
      high off more than weed
      confused I just closed
      my young eyes and squeezed
      What a sound
      opened my eyes just in time
      to see ya stumblin to the ground…..

      Need I say more?!

    • Rohan Wilks says:

      Good point on “You must love me” That’s a real epic track right there

  30. wow, my post came across really negative. I should have started with props for coming up with this fantastic list and stirring the debate. Loved it, and it totally destroyed a Friday morning at work…

    Much thanks!

  31. Uncle Luke says:

    Where’s 22 Two’s? Don’t know what it would knock out of the 64 or how far it would make it in the tourney. Tell me you didnt listen to the song over and over again counting the “two?” Thoughts anyone?

    Btw, much respect for doing this. Great read.

  32. lesnemee says:

    thank you so much for doing this….perfect way to spend a saturday morning. you are wonderfully amazing.

    p.s. i would LOVE to see an Eminem bracket.

  33. Whitney says:

    Love this. Well done. I’m glad I wondered over here from the Black Weblog Awards

  34. Pingback: Inspiration: Hova v. Jigga v. Jay-Z

  35. 315Ness says:

    This idiot says empire state of mind is better than Takeover

  36. 7judah7 says:

    MAAAANNNNNN!….I got a couple disagreements once you hit the Elite 8, but I aint even guna express em. This piece of work is just so damn impressive AND exhaustive that it deserves only my SALUTE! Big ups to my homie Dean for puttin me on to this.

  37. l-boogie says:

    Lucifer going out in the first round was a shock at the beginning but you redeemed yourself by sheer knowledge and intensity if nothing else. Off to read the Outkast bracket now…

  38. Pingback: The Friday Shirk Report – Volume 114

  39. Sure says:

    You are an idiot.

  40. pack says:

    we need a kanye bracket..

  41. Aquaman says:

    Yo, we DEFINITEY need a KanyeFest

  42. Pingback: Hovafest 2011 « Wheelsontoast’s Blog

  43. Jay says:

    I had to listen to every song you put in the bracket and dissect the match ups myself so it took me two days to go through it. This was really an experience and I thank you for taking your time to do this (somebody should get this to Jay).

  44. Cody Smith says:

    So… what is your opinion of the Linkin park EP he did? I love it. but I’m really rapcore like that….

  45. How the fuck did “Dope Man” off Vol. 3 didn’t make the dance?
    - the metaphor of jay being tried for selling crack (his music)?
    - the reporter, courtroom drama narrative?
    - the triumphant last verse as his defense argument
    - “Your honor, i no longer kill my people. i raise mine….”
    - the ending “NOT GUILTY!”
    - how the camera shutter sounds and crowd cheers blends perfectly with the tolling bells of the beat, almost religious in power to move.
    That’s at least final four for me.

    Vol. 3 is the most criminally underrated Jay album!

  46. Pingback: Greatest. Comment. Ever. | 500 Days Asunder

  47. D-NOR says:

    Dead Presidents > U Dont Know.. easy call

  48. Beezybaby says:

    Two comments:

    I love the dough is left out because it is on B.I.G.’s song? I personally like this collabo better than Brooklyn’s Finest.

    I know Dear Summer can’t go that far (too many great other tracks), but not only is it a great song, but it also is a perfect analogy for how great HOV is. Who else gets their own track on someone else’s album? Me and my friend laugh about this on the regular. Memph rolling to the studio ready to drop his verse for the song and Jay telling him no, I got this! haha

  49. Patrick says:

    “If I should die” not included? Its a step below this can’t be life (glad it got so far)

  50. Jared says:

    Incredible effort, much respect for all the time and energy that clearly went into this. Once I got to the “Sweet 16″ it became painfully obvious how challenging it is to determine Jay-Z’s “best” track. PSA was an interesting choice for the overall winner, but it’s hard to find fault with your reasoning.

    Two minor complaints: you claim that Jay’s live rendition of songs shouldn’t be taken lightly, but then you declare Ain’t No Nigga superior to Nigga What, Nigga Who. I’ve seen Hov live about a dozen times since 1999, and I think it’s fair to say that Nigga What, Nigga Who is his favorite song to perform (aside from Encore, of course). I’ve never once heard him do Ain’t No Nigga at a show.

    Also, Already Home is one of the top two or three songs off BP3 (and my personal favorite on the album). Other songs on the album get more airplay, but the wordplay in that song (“H-O-V, I got my own lane already”) coupled with a beat that makes you instinctively jump up out your chair should’ve warranted a spot in the field. Another song that sounds great live (props to Kid Cudi for coming out to do the hook at the Garden two years back).

  51. Alex says:

    This is literally the first article ever that has moved me enough to post a response.. I would probably have to go with 99 Problems as best Jay-z song ever. I lost my mind the first time I heard it. As far as “build up songs” go the remix to U dont know with M.O.P, I would put in there

  52. Ethan says:

    With regards to songs that didn’t make it, I really enjoyed the philosophical nature of “Beach Chair” and the grittiness of “Streets is Watching.” “Blue Magic,” “History (ft. Cee-Lo),” and the two “Coming of Age” tracks are all worthy of making the bracket. All of these songs were in “Decoded,” an awesome book that I recommend. The book really sheds some light on Jigga and gave me a new-found respect for “The Mike Jordan of Recordin’.”

  53. John G says:

    I will start off saying that you totally made my evening by taking to the time to produce a highly enjoyable read. But as a Jay-Z fan I will have to throw out my two cents and see if it doesn’t ‘change’ your mind. First off, I agree with many that it’s kind of a shame that a reasonable doubt song didn’t end up in the final 2. I mean didn’t Jay say himself “Reasonable Doubt, classic, should have gone triple.” While I have no basis to say this, I feel like Jay would have wanted one of Reasonable Doubt’s tracks in the final 2, the way he still reminisces over it seems to say that for him that was the truth, his truth and the greater truth of the struggle him and so many rappers want to capture in song. Here are also a few underrated songs I’m astonished no one has mentioned:
    1. Meet the Parents (you talk about storytelling Jay, next to You Must Love Me this may be one of his best)
    2. There’s Been A Murder (Jay perfectly captures the conflict he so often faces with being both hustler and mogul)
    3. Blue Magic (you talk about how I jack, I rob I sin was one of his best play on words but what about Blame Oliver North, I ran contra, I ran contraband that they sponsored)

    I want to hear about what others think of these suggestions but more importantly I want to thank you once again for creating a tremendously good ode to the best in the game

  54. Mike says:

    Empire State of mind was overrated (should not have beaten Takeover or Encore). Never really liked Hard Knock Life (should have lost to December 4th).

    Would like to have seen: 30 something (nice new anthem), Snoopy Track (great verse after great verse), and Parking Lot Pimpin’ (just a fun song)

  55. I disagreed with alot of your rankings, but I feel the end result. My major gripes were:

    Streets is Watching didn’t get more

    What more can i say? “But the real shit you get when you bust down my lines
    Add that to the fact i went plat a bunch of times
    Times that by my influence
    On pop culture
    I supposed to be number one on everybody’s list
    We’ll see what happens when i no longer exist”

    • killakobe81 says:

      Agree, especially when he throws down the mike and exits the booth. I always thought he should of ended the Black albulm with it …but PSA u dont know are 2 of my faves so the end result was great …

  56. BigSmooth says:

    Great idea and execution, this was a really fun read. I do agree with comments stating some more live show experience might change your mind on a few, however you have PSA as #1, which in my mind is one of the more hype songs you could ever see live.

  57. Jide says:

    1st off, great f******** job, lets get that out the way.

    My main issue is that you really should have manually gone in and adjusted some of the seedings (like the NCAA would do in real life to set up higher rated matches down the line lol) because tracks like “I know”, “What more can i say”, “politics as usual”, and even “jigga my n****” are in his top 32 and should have been in the second round. This could have been even more classic and gut wrenching if a lot of the stronger songs didn’t go against each other so early. I had a few beefs with some of the winners but like the real deal, the cream eventually cut down the nets at the end.

  58. Antonio says:

    Is Weezyfest in the works?

  59. Marty says:

    I agree with the leaving out of Already Home. Shit is unbelievably classic, should have been in there somewhere. Otherwise an INCREDIBLE read and I’ll def be comin back to this blog (first time here from your Sprite/StIdes piece on Grantland)

  60. modest proposals says:

    I like the effort, but you’re fucking high to put Empire State of Mind that high up. I realize it’s popular, but that’s just because it sucks up to New York so hard. If he makes a track called “America is #1″ that gets played at every sporting event ever and not just New York ones would you redo this and put that in the final 4? It’s not better than Encore. It’s not better than Takeover. It’s not even on the same planet as Dead Presidents II.

    Again, loved the idea. Love that you took the time to do this. And I love Jay-Z, but really, really dislike that song…it’s just lyrically lazy and the hook is grating.

  61. Rohan Wilks says:

    Great Job. No two people will agree with all the picks but well done and thanks for the journey through the catalogue.

  62. killakobe81 says:

    Oh and already home … just filthy. “im in the hall already, on the wall already … Im a work of art Im a Warhol already ….how many rappers can pull that off? A Andy Warhol refference? Nice beat too …

  63. Yourmom says:

    Why didn’t moment of clarity make it?

  64. Tyrone says:

    D’Evils is the best HOV song off all time…Its even HOV’s FAVORITE TRACK OF ALL TIME…PEEP THE REASONABLE DOUBT DOCUMENTARY…there isnt another HOV song that fucks wit that track…the grittiness, the personal reflection, the pain, the metaphors, everything about that song was complete!!! Even the Prodigy and Snoop samples that was used. Thats my disagreement with this blog

  65. Hesse says:

    This is so sick… I don’t agree with all the choices but a great read for sure. HOV!

  66. MrMoGreene says:

    Sir you are in fact a true champion. Taking the time to put this together is simply incredible and as a native New Yorker, an MC, and a MONSTER Hov fan for the most part I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with all of your analysis of each matchup. I would also agree with your selection for PSA bein the best Hov song of all time (that, Renegade, and Feelin It are my 3 favorites overall).

    However, not only do I think u gave U Don’t Know waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much credit – and seemIngly only because Of the way it bumps, because lyrically its definitely middle of the pack at best when considering these 64 songs and conceptually/contentially it’s probably sitting sumwhere in the 50s. You also gave it the EASIEST path to the finals of any song on the bracket, only Can’t Knock the Hustle (which as classic as it is doesn’t really keep it’s energy and power after the 1st verse – probably why Jay usually cuts it after verse 1/chorus 1 in his live shows) and Dead Presidents (his first classic song and possibly his most important for that reason) were it’s only real competition in that part of the bracket.

    This fact is even harder to swallow when u look and see that – in my opinion – possibly the 5 best & most unique songs on the bracket (PSA, Renegade, D’Evils, Hard Knock Life, and December 4th) are all in the same “region.” Or that the “Holla Back” region’s Final Four were Feelin It, Big Pimpin, Song Cry, and 99 Problems, possibly 4 of the 7 most meaningful songs of his career (Feelin It I believe was his first single and put him on the map as a solo artist, Big Pimpin was his official step into greatness, Song Cry opened him up to a female market he had previously struggled to connect with, and 99 Problems was not only arguably his most creative song but 100% solidified him as the greatest storyteller of this generation). You look deeper into that particular region and see that there are AT LEAST 2 other classic Hov songs within it, Brooklyn’s Finest – his first official song with BIG – & Heart of the City – possibly the most memorable song on his most successful & memorable album The Blueprint. Thats 6 classic songs in 1 region, the Dollar Cab region BARELY has 2! If you put Big Pimpin as the 1 seed in that region – which I think it CLEARLY should have been over a near album throw away like On to the Next One (as u said it was the 5th single off of Blueprint 3) – Big Pimpin easily walks it’s way into it’s proper spot as either the winner or runner-up in this tourney.

    As an avid Hov fan the only other qualms I have with the bracket is that possibly his 3 most lyrically clever songs: Ignorant Shit “don’t believe everything ur earlobe captures/unless it happens to b as accurate as me/and everything said in song u happen to see/then actually believe half of wat u see/none of wat u hear even if it’s spat by me/n w that said I will kill niggas dead”, 22 Twos – he says the word “two/to/too” 22 times for god sakes nobody else has ever even thought of anything like that before or after – and Meet The Parents – clearly the GREATEST and most in depth story ever put on wax, I mean it’s 3 connecting stories all in 1 song, it’s literally like a novel over music there are characters, plot twists, story arcs all building up to a massive climactic ending all with the underlying socially conscience theme of fatherless households in the black community “nigga b a father ur killin ur son,” – honestly it’s pretty much the lyrical equivalent of the movie Crash and that won an Oscar for Best Picture, the least u could’ve done was add it to this tournament.

    All in all tho this was an epic piece that you took the time to write for our reading pleasure and honestly it may be THE BEST music blog post I’ve ever read. Thank you for that!

    Long live The King. ROC 4 Life…. Hov 4 Ever!

    • asar9 says:

      great feedback! I shamefully left out 22 two’s and Meet the parents in my shockers. even though I dont think it shouldnt have gotten that far anyway, Ignorant shit could have replaced Money aint a thang. Also from the Curse’s Blueprint 2, A ballad for the fallen soldier could have replaced Beware of the boys since the Hov in A ballad is often looked over and under-appreciated.
      must definitely second the sentiment you have towards U dont know in the post especially just as you nicely pointed out, it was chosen mostly due to its production, and to be honest, the remix w/MOP version is better in my opinion.

  67. Alex says:

    So I think the “It Was All A Dream” Mixtape skewed some of this, because “Allure” is even better as “The Life,” “Who Ya Wit” as “She’s Gone (Face It)”, and “December 4″ as “Find Your Way” (though they take his mom off the song for that one). Some songs on that mixtape are improved (most of them) and some are just different (even “PSA” gets a different spin). Not to mention the Linkin Park collabo, also, which elevates “Encore” to a different height.

    I do think “Ignorant Shit” should have made it onto the list cause of it’s old school feel, new school attitude.

    Either way, awesome job. Much props for the effort into this, and thank you!

  68. Sean says:

    I know these songs did not make the tournament because of the rules set up but I am curious how far people think Jay’s verse on Diamonds and on Go Crazy would have went. I think Jay murders both of those tracks to the point where when the original songs depress me because Hov isn’t on the track and barring them being put up against a monster track like Big Pimpin or Empire or PSA they would have made it to at least the sweet 16.

    Love the bracket, great job.

  69. Ricky says:

    Am I the only one with a deep, passionate appreciation for “meet the parents”?

  70. teo says:

    Great article! What an extremely tough task. I know the author is relatively young (around 25) so the list skews a little to more recent things. If i felt like the black album was old school Jay-Z my list would probably look the same. But in my opinion there are not any songs in rap history that are better then Dead Presidents and Brooklyns finest. There are songs on the same level but none better

  71. asar9 says:

    I thank you at the end of my observations for this undertaking but thank you even more for welcoming feedback. Understand that I’m coming from the “everyone has their opinion” camp not the “you’re wrong, I’m right” camp. I debated on whether I should properly label the rounds and seeds and all that but I think it’s pretty obvious…enjoy.

    Dirt off my shoulder vs So ghetto = one of the toughest matchups, but So ghetto is too raw to not have won

    Doesn’t matter since it wouldn’t have gotten far but for the record, All I need destroys On to the next one, even though I understand your observation on the latter

    Change clothes vs Money aint a thang = former sounds so much better, cant stand Jerm’s “uh huh huh” one bit, I just feel great every time I hear Change clothes, makes me feel fly. An older Dominican man (I mention his background since most old Dominican men, I can probably safely say ALL old Dominican men do not give hip hop a chance) came up to me asking me for the name of this track after I played at a party and I HIGHLY doubt that same man would have done that with Money aint a thang.

    Can I live vs Dear summer = wow

    Empire state of mind vs Takeover = great matchup

    Props on: “D.O.A. (4) vs. Encore (12): Jay doesn’t inherently seem to have the ego that Kanye West does, but the brashness on Kanye’s production of Encore forces Jay to talk on the song like he’s God’s gift to humanity. It’s a very visual song, you feel like you’re at a concert when you’re listening to it on your iPod. D.O.A. was huge and an extremely important song (if for no other reason, for the health of hip-hop) but Encore is simply too powerful of a song to not advance. It’s the quintessential Diamonds in the Air song, the backbone of the Roc-A-Fella dynasty.”

    Roc boys vs My 1st song = see your point on Roc boys but his flow on My 1st song cannot be ignored and you know it when you don’t skip over him talking for 2+ plus, sorry Owen lol

    Hard knock life vs D’evils = I wouldn’t have gone down the “production route” to choose the former but since you did, how can you go against a Premo beat!? Sampling is definitely superior, again your point is valid but the lessons in the latter are way too important and it’s Premo, DJ Premier, half of Gangstarr, smh…

    Lmao @ “if you can’t respect that, you’re whole perspective is whack, maybe you’ll love me when I fade to Black” is sometimes too much to handle among company

    LMAO @ You can’t say, “Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is WAKA

    Ok you were on a roll, lmao @ can’t even sit at the adults table with Renegade

    Cant knock the hustle vs U don’t know…not fair!!!!!

    Big pimpin vs Who you wit = ”…then I slide right in…” naaaah sun, Who you wit takes this without question. Imagine if you and another dude who is on your same level in just about everything are both trying to bag the same shorty, the “Big pimpin” dude will put his Aston Martin car keys on the table for her to notice while waiting for her to look at him so he can scratch his neck so she can the see the diamonds on his watch. The “Who you wit” dude will sit in the cut, enjoying a nice whiskey, glancing over at her, enjoying her curves, luring her in with his confidence and then after she walks over and enjoys an intelligent conversation, she asks herself, “am I going home with him because of how intelligent he is, how great of a conversation we just had or from how much money he without question has…oh well, I’m going to enjoy them all tonight!”

    99 problems vs Aint no love = Aint no love is tough but 99 problems, wooo! 99 problems is just filled with 99.9% (had to get corny) of wit, lessons, production, flow, confidence, intelligence, middle finger to corporate/music industry/rappers/”revolutionaries”/(fill in the blank)/society as a whole…too great of a song for Aint no love, as good as it is, to even stand a chance (we agreed, just had to share my 2 cents)

    Roc boys vs This cant be life = great observation

    lmao @ On To The Next One (1) vs. U Don’t Know (13): I’m struggling to find a more brash, cocky, beautiful way to end a song than U Don’t Know’s ”I. Will. Not. Lose. Ever… Fucker.” I mean, jeeez Jay. At least give other people a chance by saying something like, “I. Might. Not. Lose. Today… Colleague.” That’s what I would have done, but that’s why one of us is married to Beyonce and the other is about to update his avatar on BlackPlanet.com. On To The Next One is one of his flyest songs ever, but U Don’t Know is way too much. – funny but way too many words to describe a first round KO…On to the next one is super tough “world cant hold me – too much ambition – knew this when I was in the kitchen” just isnt enough for lessons “The coke prices up and down like it’s Wall Street homes – But this is worse than the Dow Jones your brains are now blown – all over that brown Brougham, one slip you are now gone – Welcome to hell where you are welcome to sell – But when them shells come you better return ‘em – All scars we earn ‘em, all cars we learn ‘em like the back of our hand – We watch for cops hoppin out the back of vans”

    Big pimpin vs Feelin it… ::sigh:: respectfully have to disagree…that’s it.

    Dead presidents vs U don’t know = ”I dabbled in crazy weight – without rap I was crazy straight – partner, I’m still spending money from ‘88” beats the intelligent ass math he does on U don’t know. Plus, I still believe that some the dollars in the millions he’s planking on today are from ’88.

    99 problems vs Big pimpin = if Big pimpin was a shorty, she’d be your wife, lol, don’t agree but respect

    U don’t know vs Empire state of mind = wow, you really just…wow, I cant say I disagree nor agree and I definitely do not have enough to time 1-listen to the tracks over and over again 2-put more brain energy into trying to decide BUT if my blue nose’s life depended on it, Empire would be my choice…lol, had to do my own build up there

    Regardless of all my feedback, PSA as the champ is a great choice, the route would have been different but the destination would have been the same. This track is one of those tracks in MUSIC that when I hear it, I react, I can be (fill in emotion) and I will react. Luckily my name starts with an “O” because I’m just not comfortable (not in a “no homo” stupidity manner) with repeating another man’s name over and over, so I get to proudly say “O” instead of “Hov” in order to properly rhyme along because even though I most definitely am not Mr. Carter, I completely ascribe to his philosophy not to monetary success but success in general. My success can be helping a million people whereas another’s may be planking on a million (too hilarious of a line to not refer to it twice) but regardless of what your view on success is, applying Jay’s philosophy will almost without question get you there and PSA is almost an affirmation of this lyrically, flow-wise, wit, intelligence and even his tone of voice. And he labels it an interlude…how could you?!
    Last thing I’ll say about PSA, 1st verse is absolutely nuts and then the 2nd verse comes which brings you to the great conundrum of throwing back the 2nd verse or the entire track which can only be answered by once again sitting at the edge of your seat enjoying “hip-hop’s greatest build-up” for the nth time.

    A few other general thoughts:
    1- I wept with you when I read you had to leave Blueprint (Momma Loves Me) out
    2- You must love me should not have been left out, sternly stand by that opinion. Verse 1 gives me goosebumps EVERY single time I hear it and then “hot gun in my waist – ran straight to Jaz’s house” I think I’ve tried applying a&d on my waist a few times after hearing this track.
    3- how long did it take you to get over leaving out Soon you’ll understand?
    4- leaving out Regrets but even more importantly the remix to In my lifetime, made me judge you and I don’t believing in judging others. Seriously, the latter track, I get lost in the experience of that song. The fact that the chorus is “what’s the meaning of life” and it actually makes me think of the meaning of life says so much. Somehow it would have been between this track and PSA for me as the champ and even though it would have hurt my heart to choose, PSA still would have won.

    Thank you for taking the time out for such an amazing undertaking, you’re a better man than me for taking this public, this was mad fun and completely worth it.

    Peace.

    PS:

  72. Ed says:

    Overall, a respectable job.
    1. Girls remix trumps the original everytime, huge oversight.
    2. Deciding some of these, specifically between 99 problems and big pimpin…i could not have done. when it got to that one, i stopped picking. That’s like picking between children.
    3. The formula for the initial seedings here, through youtube views i think you said, led to some really tough choices too early in the bracket. I think you could reseed these any number of times and end up with many different results for the final 4.
    4. You and I agreed on most of these matchups, which surprised me because your Outkast bracket this was not the case much at all. I was reading this ready to rip you because I think Jay is GOAT, but you got it right, mostly

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  74. Stony says:

    I got goose pimples when PSA won. Couldn’t agree more. Awesome Job!

  75. Adam S. says:

    I’ve never been to this site before – but my buddy sent me the link. Amazing job picking P.S.A. as the winner. No question about it. Glad to see someone else appreciates it.

  76. The J says:

    Songs I missed, the hugely, and I mean hugely underrated “You must love me”. I’ve never understood why that one has been discussed as one of the best for years. Until I read the comments here I thought I was the only one who thought that way.

    Streets is watching. Love it somehow the way it was in the video paired with Where I’m from.

    Not Guilty with R.Kelly. To be honest overrated, but it does deserve a mention.

    30 Something – If you wanted to inlcude something from the Kingdom Come album, this was a better song than Kingdom Come. “y’all respect the one who got shot, I respect the shooter”. Also I agree you might have a soft spot for Just Blaze, because you basically picked the Just Blaze beat over Dr. Dre.

    I wonder where songs like Otis and Murder to Excellence would be if you updated this.

    Anyways, great read, and great work. All my disagreements go out the window because you had me in stitches with this:
    “Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is WAKA”

  77. The J says:

    Sorry, in regards to “You Must Love Me” I mean’t I’ve never understood why that one has NOT been discussed as one of the best for years. A true overlooked classic.

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  80. Great bracket! I just wanted to let you and all your readers know that you inspired a similar bracket on my blog. We tackled Kanye West’s greatest tracks, see the full bracket breakdown here: http://bit.ly/vzNkFQ

  81. Pingback: An 137-Word Time Capsule | 500 Days Asunder

  82. Hov4life says:

    I agree with you in most of everthing except one thing. U dont know over DEAD PRES ll !!!!!!!!!!!!????????. Dead pres is a classic!!!! But yes, psa is numero uno

  83. Gabe says:

    My only real complaint from this contest is leaving out 22 two’s. Recently I had on Reasonable Doubt as I often do, when I can’t decide on something to listen to it’s inevitably going to be Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint or the Black Album. Anyway 22 two’s is playing and I think it’s a little annoying he keeps saying to many every line in the first verse. Then of course he raps it up with “that’s 22 two’s for yall motherfuckers out there.” And I start laughing, simply genius.

    Besides that, often I found myself in disagreement with your choices, but could accept the finals. More often than I disagreed strongly I found myself thinking how glad I was I didn’t come up with this idea because I really would rather not put it in terms of better and worse, I love both songs.

  84. Jonny S. says:

    Excellent work dude. The only problem I had was that “Reminder” wasn’t even on the list of songs that made u weep to leave off. My third fav song after PSA and renagade.

  85. Pingback: Toast To THE Douchebag: Kanye West’s Greatest Songs | Screen Invasion

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  87. DJ Ronnie says:

    Great job. You are a much stronger man than me, i would have quit at the matchup between hard knock life and december 4th, no one should have to go though that. I can’t believe Mr. Knowles’ greatest song is an interlude, but i agree

  88. Ross says:

    Fantastic job coming up with the bracket approach. I agree with previous commenters though that Already Home deserves a spot in the tournament and would have liked to have seen Heart of the City make it further.

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