Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, was born today in 1969. During the course of his almost-quarter-century career, he has established himself as one of the greatest rappers of all time, a billionaire, and an indelible part of pop culture. Not to mention, he married Beyoncé.

Literally speaking, Jay-Z is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, and the beauty of his career is that — despite being immensely successful — he has never been red-hot. Sure, he has more No. 1 albums than any other rapper (or any other solo artist, for that matter) in history, but he has never been a commercial juggernaut. Like MC Hammer in 1990. Or Will Smith in ’97. Or Nelly from 2000-2003. Or Drake today.

However, what Jay-Z has been able to accomplish is unique. He has achieved and sustained a considerable amount of commercial success for 24 years without ever losing critical acclaim. On most days, I would argue that critical acclaim shouldn’t *really* matter, but in a genre that has been dominated by intruders at different points in the last couple of decades, the critic class is not entirely useless.

Hov is a cultural icon, and his marriage to the world’s biggest star is now an institution onto itself. And while his public image might be taking a bit of a hit right now, his place in history cannot be denied.

Join me in celebrating five decades of Jigga.

“Sunshine” (featuring Babyface & Foxy Brown)

“’03 Bonnie & Clyde” (featuring Beyoncé)

“Can’t Knock the Hustle” (featuring Mary J. Blige)

“Empire State of Mind” (featuring Alicia Keys)

“Clique” (with Kanye West & Big Sean)

In 2000, the music gods blessed us with a supergroup called Lucy Pearl. The group included Raphael Saadiq from Tony! Toni! Toné, Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest, and Dawn Robinson from En Vogue.

Within months of the group’s debut, there was a lineup change — Dawn was replaced by singer Joi. And within months of Joi’s recruitment, the group disbanded. The music gods giveth and taketh away.

The consolation for Lucy Pearl’s short-lived existence is that they blessed us with timeless R&B. Their debut single, “Dance Tonight,” slaps as hard today as it did 19 years ago, and is easily one of the grown-and-sexiest songs ever. Click play.

Today in 1939, Martha Nell Bullock was born in Nutbush, Tennessee. Yes, you may have heard that her name was Anna Mae, but that was actually a nickname.

Martha would become known to the world as Tina Turner, the undisputed Queen of Rock. Her life’s story is stuff of legend and one that we all think we know — especially those of us who’ve seen What’s Love Got to Do with It a million times — but we actually don’t, and a review of her Wikipedia page will let you know that her life was filled with far more drama than that movie actually shows.

Tina Turner’s voice is raw and distinct, and her live performances have essentially served as the blueprint for some of the greatest performers of the last half-century. Beyoncé would be Exhibit A — from the moves to the outfits to the spoken ad libs. Shit, even the hair.

As she turns 80, Miss Turner remains an exemplar of talent, strength and longevity, and in her decades-long career, she gave us enough jams for me to have eight favorites. All hail Queen Tina.

“What’s Love Got to Do with It”

“The Best”

“Proud Mary” (with Ike Turner)

“A Fool in Love” (with Ike Turner)


“Shake a Tail Feather” (with Ike Turner)

“River Deep — Mountain High”

“I Don’t Wanna Fight”

Long before he was showing up to funerals in questionable attire, Jaheim was putting out soulful thug ballads about disadvantaged youth.

“Fabulous,” which samples “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, was the lead single from Jaheim’s sophomore album, Still Ghetto. The song is a touching ode to the experiences of black people living below the poverty line. It talks about all the obstacles to upward mobility (e.g., incarceration, teenage pregnancy) as well as all of the eccentricities (e.g., the fashion, the “funny” names) that make them fabulous.

At the time of its release, I could appreciate the positivity of the song’s message, but 17 years later, its lyrics ring poignant. So many of the people that are judged for “making bad decisions” are simply caught up in the cycle of poverty, and this song speaks to that.

If you weren’t hip to this gem, you’re welcome. Click play.

Another day, another iconic girl group celebrates a milestone anniversary. Today in 2004, Destiny’s Child released their final studio album, Destiny Fulfilled.

In 2002, the trio announced that they would be going on hiatus to pursue separate solo endeavors. It came as a surprise to some, but the group had openly discussed solo plans as early as December 2000, months before the Survivor album dropped.

Michelle would go on to release a successful gospel album; Kelly also released an album and had one of the biggest hits of 2002 as a feature on Nelly’s “Dilemma”; and then there was Beyoncé, who embarked on a solo career that has become one of the most illustrious in the history of show business.

After Beyoncé’s solo success, the writing was essentially on the wall for the group. In fact, many wondered if there would be another Destiny’s Child album, but the group stayed true to their word and got together one last time to give us Destiny Fulfilled. Eight months after its release, however, the group announced that they were disbanding during the Barcelona stop of their Destiny Fulfilled… and Lovin’ It tour.

Before we can discuss anything else, let’s talk about how they let McDonald’s put its slogan in the name of their tour. The 2000s were a dark time.

Lamentation about cheating men was the most prominent theme on Destiny Fulfilled, with five of the album’s 11 tracks touching on this subject. Elsewhere on the album, we have the ladies singing about sex for the first time, with “T-Shirt” being the most naked in its references. Pun totally intended.

Destiny Fulfilled doesn’t quite measure up to The Writing’s on the Wall or even Survivor, but the album is solid and many of its tracks have aged really well. Also, we get to hear more of Kelly and Michelle on lead vocal duties than we had on previous albums.

Picking a favorite track was fairly easy for this album. “Through with Love,” co-written by Sean Garrett, Mario Winans and all three members of the group, is the album’s winner by far. The track is sonically different from anything the group had ever done and yet consistent with the theme of the album and adjacent to the girl power messaging that the group was known for. The decision to not make it a single remains a burning question, but those who know know. Check it out below.

Today in 1994, TLC released CrazySexyCool, the group’s sophomore LP and an album that is remarkably representative of what was hot in the mid-‘90s. First of all, five of the album’s 16 tracks are interludes, which is the most mid-‘90s shit ever. Furthermore, some of these interludes are definitely better than some of the actual songs on the album. And one of them runs almost three minutes long. What a time.

And if the interludes were not enough of a timestamp, the songwriter and producer credits will definitely do it. The album’s credits include Dallas Austin, Babyface, Jermaine Dupri and Diddy, and based on those four names alone, you already know the vibes. Nothing but mid-tempo magic. From “Creep” to “Waterfalls” to even album cuts like “Kick Your Game,” it all slaps.

CrazySexyCool was a decidedly more mature album than Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, which was released before neither Chilli nor Left Eye were old enough to drink legally. The subject matter isn’t vastly different, but something about the vocal performances feel more mature – cooler and sexier, if you will. Also, the notoriety they had earned courtesy of Left Eye’s arson charges gave their image a smidge of crazy that worked in the group’s favor.

CrazySexyCool would go on to sell over 23 million copies worldwide, becoming the group’s biggest album by far. All four of the album’s singles reached the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, with two topping the chart. The album won Grammys, VMAs, AMAs, and every other award there is to be won.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from an album with so many classics, but in this moment, “Creep” might be the winner. If you ask me the same question in 30 minutes, I’d probably say “Kick Your Game.” Or “Red Light Special.”

You get the point. The album is amazing. Happy 25th birthday to CrazySexyCool!

The year was 1999 and the golden era of movie soundtracks was, unbeknownst to us at the time, coming to an end. The Best Man, which turned 20 years old just a few weeks ago, released a soundtrack that included one of Beyoncé’s earliest showings as a solo artist as well as tracks from Maxwell, Lauryn Hill and Faith Evans. And with all the greatness on that soundtrack, there is one track that stands head and shoulders above the rest: “The Best Man I Can Be” by Ginuwine, RL, Tyrese and Case.

With four sangin’-ass sangas on the track, you already know the vocals were crazy, but that’s not what makes this song so special. What makes “Best Man I Can Be” special is its subject matter: friendship. The subject of friendship, particularly friendship between men, is generally uncommon in popular music. We could hypothesize why that is, but whatever the case, this collaboration between four of the brightest stars in R&B is everything you should expect from such an effort. Vocals upon vocals upon vocals, with no one really outshining the rest because everybody can hold their own.

Written and produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (along with the late great Big Jim Wright), “Best Man I Can Be” is unabashed in its ’90s R&B-ness. And in an age where too many R&B artists are trying so hard to be “alternative” and “experimental,” this throwback will remind you of exactly what R&B is missing.

PS: The outfits in this video — in particular, Case’s red leather ensemble and Ginuwine’s orange turtleneck — need to be in one of the Smithsonian museums.

The Game just dropped the video for “Stainless,” the second single from his upcoming album, Born 2 Rap. The track samples 2Pac’s “Picture Me Rollin'” (featuring Danny Boy, Syke and CPO) and mentions the killing of Orlando “Baby Lane” Jordon, the man widely believed to have killed Pac. The Game also raps about being loyal to Dr. Dre despite no longer being signed to Aftermath Entertainment.

Though he is only “featured” on the track, Anderson.Paak gets way more track time, which is just typical. Many of your favorite rap songs have more singing on them than rapping, but I digress.

Much like the song, the “Stainless” video does a lot of retrospection, including a recreation of the artwork of the Game’s first two albums, The Documentary and Doctor’s Advocate. Check it out below.

In September of ’97, Janet Jackson released “Got ’til It’s Gone,” the lead single from her sixth studio album, The Velvet Rope. The song features Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell — the former provides a verse and one of the greatest ad libs ever (“Joni Mitchell never lies!”), while the latter provides the chorus (in the form of a loop from her signature song, “Big Yellow Taxi”).

It’s easy to think that “Got ’til It’s Gone” only borrows from “Big Yellow Taxi” because Joni is featured and shouted out on the track, but it isn’t. In fact, it is arguably the secondary sample.

British singer Des’ree has a song called “Feel So High,” and its verses are almost a note-for-note match to “Got ’til It’s Gone.” As you can imagine, Des’ree sued and won, receiving 25% of the song’s royalties.

“Got ’til It’s Gone” never charted in the States because it was ineligible under Billboard’s rules at the time, but it cracked the top in the UK and across Europe. The song is definitely as far away from “pop” as Janet has ever gone, and as you can imagine, the critics loved it. A guest appearance by critic darling Joni Mitchell didn’t hurt either.

When “Got ’til It’s Gone” first dropped, I was probably too young to appreciate it, and in many ways, my taste in music tends to be diametrically opposed to your average critic of the ’90s. Not to mention, I was accustomed to a Janet who mainly gave us up-tempo goodness, so this was quite the aberration.

Twenty-two years later,  however, I am proud to say that I fully understand the greatness of this song.

From his beginnings as an intern at Uptown Records 30 years ago to an almost-billionaire today, the life and career of Sean “Diddy” Combs has been a study in building an empire from scratch.

Many may challenge his rap bona fides, but few will question his cultural impact. From signing some of the greatest rappers of all time to charting new territory for hip-hop fashion, Diddy has earned his spot as a legend and one of the standard-bearers of hip-hop culture. And let’s not forget that he also discovered a few iconic R&B singers – Mary J. and Faith, to name a few – and produced some of the greatest remixes of all time.

Diddy’s impact on popular music — and pop culture at-large — is indelible. Haters may bring up the fact that he doesn’t write his raps, but to quote Mr. Combs himself: Don’t worry if he writes rhymes, he writes checks.

Check out my five favorite Diddy joints below.

“All About the Benjamins” (Remix) [featuring the Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim and the LOX)

“Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” (featuring Mase)

“I Need a Girl (Part One)” (featuring Usher & Loon)

“I Need a Girl (Part Two)” (featuring Ginuwine, Loon, Mario Winans and Tammy Ruggeri)

“I’ll Be Missing You” (with Faith Evans, featuring 112)