From the godfather of rap debuts to projects that made him “test [his] own limits,” US rapper Jay lists the ten albums that made him.
In the world of music, there are a select few albums that leave an indelible mark on a listener’s psyche. For Jay, Illmatic by Nas is one of those albums. As a child, he was introduced to Nas’s music by his stepfather, and to this day, Illmatic represents nostalgia and the bar that he strives to reach in his own music.
This is just one of the many albums that have inspired Jay as an artist, pushing him to test his limits, experiment with beats, and explore the depths of his soul. Join us as Jay delves into the music that has inspired him over the years, from D’Angelo’s Voodoo to Milo’s So The Flies Don’t Come.
With a lyrically rich and emotionally raw new album under his belt in this year’s Another Man’s Treasure, it’s no surprise that rapper Jay has an expansive list of influences. Arriving earlier this month, the New Jersey musician’s third studio project brims with a freewheeling genre-defiance, anchored by Jay’s commitment to candid explorations of acceptance, and resilience.
“I feel things very deeply,” Jay said of his honest approach to songwriting in an interview with Happy Mag. “I try to paint a stream of consciousness to follow in my albums, as if you were in my head yourself.” Acknowledging that both Another Man’s Treasure and his artistry as a whole stands on the shoulders of giants, Jay brings a repertoire of his contemporaries to his work, citing fellow rappers who “make me want to test my own limits.”
Though it pulls from a range of inspirations, Another Man’s Treasure feels distinct in its own right, blending lo-fi textures with personal stories that only Jay himself could pen. “I just try to do what makes sense for me,” Jay explained. “I think that has resulted in me creating my own sound that has elements from a bunch of different places, but is still uniquely Jay.”
Below, Jay names the ten albums that made him, from seminal Frank Ocean projects to “the Godfather of debut rap albums.” Scroll down to run through the rapper’s list of self-affirming albums, and listen to his new album Another Man’s Treasure above.
Nas — Illmatic
Illmatic, to me, is the Godfather of debut rap albums. Nas was one of the first artists I can remember actively liking when I was a kid, as my step-dad used to play his music all the time in the car. So this album Illmatic represents nostalgia, as well as the bar that I try to reach in my own music, as this is a certified classic album in the legacy of Hip Hop, still standing the test of time today.
D’Angelo — Voodoo
Voodoo is the epitome of the genre known as “neo-soul”. This album gave me the confidence to play around with dirtier, dusty sounds that to some people may sound like a demo rather than a finished product, as Voodoo has that feel to it. It feels so organic, as if you discovered some lost session tapes from an extended jam session.
It feels Black and it feels beautiful, with D’angelo layered harmonies painting scenes in the melodic lines. Truly incredible, inspiring me vocally to play around with harmonies more in my upcoming r&b/soul projects, and inspiring me to test the boundaries of today’s squeaky clean, quantized production standards.
Earl Sweatshirt — Some Rap Songs
Some Rap Songs is an incredible melting pot of emotions and beats, feeling more like looking into a muddy pool reflecting the self, rather than listening to an album. This album is raw, in ways that even the most underground of indie artists rarely go, which is a testament of the different types of experimentation rap music can provide.
It makes me want to test my own limits of playing around with off-kilter beats, distorted mixing and mastering, soul samples, and coded lyricism, though I’m sure I’ll never match the level of Earl Sweatshirt on this album.
Isaiah Rashad — The Sun’s Tirade
This album is truly a vibe that is hard to describe, but touches the melancholic parts of my soul in a way that still wants to party and chill with my friends on a midnight drive. It provides a feeling that tells you, you’re not necessarily sure things are going to work out, but you’re not so uncomfortable that you won’t still find moments of comfort.
I think the interesting part about this album too is that if you didn’t really listen to the lyrics, you might find an easy listen through with nonchalant melodic lines, and dirty production that feels like a home cooked meal. I find a similar thing in my own music that if you didn’t really listen to what I’m saying, you might not really feel the depth of emotion, and I would imagine that The Sun’s Tirade has something to do with that.
Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition
This album is just weird man, in the best ways possible. The beats are what could barely even be described as beats, as similar to the Earl Sweatshirt album, but in a polar way, it’s more like listening to someone rap over a musical masterpiece that’s melting. Atrocity Exhibition is visceral in a cathartic way and really explores some dark parts of addiction, mental health, and Danny Brown’s existence as a person up to this point, with a high-pitched, quirky voiced narrator pulling you through the void so that you don’t forget to have fun while you’re on the ride.
Though I don’t relate to almost any of the song topics in this album, it always acts as a source of inspiration to say whatever “weird” idea I might think of can’t possibly be too weird if Atrocity Exhibition exists and is amazing doing it.
Schoolboy Q — Blank Face
Blank Face is a grimy, swirling mass of aggression and brutal honesty. Schoolboy Q tells the bare- naked truth of his life, and the world, in a way that doesn’t apologize for how it might hurt your feelings. And he does all this on beats that for other people might not be gangster enough to convey such a message, but Schoolboy Q always finds a way to groove and glide with his schizophrenic flow that I look up to.
I take notes from his delivery and his messaging that you don’t need to say the most complicated things to make something sound poignant and dope, and to keep pushing myself with my flow to get closer to Schoolboy’s level of buoyancy.
Jpegmafia – LP!
This thing is just a vortex of genres and colors that Jpegmafia barely sews together, more so leaving you as the listener figure it out as he does whatever he wants. His production is incredibly layered and messy, but in a way that still has some pop sensibility that most people wouldn’t even appreciate at first, or even tenth listen, depending on how much you’re into alternative hip hop.
And his vocal charisma is awesome throughout the album, carrying so much sass and passion, that I can’t help but rap and sing alongside it. His vocal style, especially on the messy production he creates, inspires my singing style to try and cut through the instrumentation in a way that might not ever get me Harry Styles level of appeal, but will feel cathartic for the person who’s ready to let their hair down.
Milo — So The Flies Don’t Come
Milo, or now R.A.P. Ferreira, is just a beat poet freak of nature in the way he incorporates existential philosophy and talking shit like a doctorate level rapper. It was hard to pick just one album from this artist, as there are so many of his that I enjoy, but I think this one is the one that initially got me to become a fan.
He feels so familiar in the way that he raps, yet I truly can’t name anyone like him, I guess because honestly he raps in a similar way to how I think about things in my mind, though it usually doesn’t translate in how I express myself, even in my own music. I’ve shown so many people his music to have them marvel at it the way I do, and when they tell me that my stuff feels similar, I’m always quick to correct them because no, this guy is the one. I’m just a student.
Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly
What else can you say about this album, and this man, that hasn’t already been said? Visionary, empowering, Black, beautiful, painful, and honest are the words that come to mind when thinking about this masterpiece of To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick Lamar blended so many elements of black music that it’s almost underselling it to call it a Hip Hop album, and yet, it should never be taken out of that conversation because this album is evolutionary in exemplifying the things that Hip Hop can do.
It can be all those things, from jazz, to blues, to funk, to soul, and yet still be a rap album about the black experience. I play with social commentary and my thoughts about it, but this guy lives in that world, letting the world hear his cry in a way that I’ll probably never do, but will always look up to.
Frank Ocean — Blond(e)
I had to save the best for last, in that I’m not saying that this album is the best on the list, as there is no quantifying that, but it is certainly the most impactful for me. I probably would have never even created music without this album, truly, as I didn’t know how bare, and minimal poetry could be, while still emoting the pieces of you that have hurt a thousand times over in various heartbreaks, not just romantically.
He adds a piece of the masculine experience that many male artists never even touch on through his topic choices, vulnerability, and soul-cutting vocals. This album is truly revolutionary, at least to me, but I believe in general, for male voices, as well as black voices, in terms of what the world may see as our narratives in love, and in pain. With every ballad I write, especially in coming albums that are certainly fruit from the Frank Ocean tree, I am trying to achieve my own variation of Blond(e) because I hope to make other people feel how he made me feel with this album.