Even without a 2010 album, Jay stayed relevant with new singles and guest spots on Kanye West tracks.
Good music stands the test of time. Just ask Jay-Z.
The Roc Nation chief spent the better part of 2010 riding the wave of success from 2009's The Blueprint 3. Songs like "Empire State of Mind," "Forever Young," "On to the Next One" and "Run This Town" kept BP3 on the Billboard albums chart for 56 weeks, well into 2010. Jay racked up awards for Best Rap Solo Performance for "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song for "Run This Town" at the Grammys. He won CD of the Year for BP3 and Best Live Performer at the BET Hip-Hop Awards. He toured the country on the BP3 Tour (which yielded him a reported $1 million a show) and split Home and Home dates in Detroit and New York with Eminem.
All that was more than enough for the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust to crown Jay-Z the #2 Hottest MC in the Game this year, down one slot from last year's list, where he held down the top position (he was #2 in 2008 and #7 in 2007).
"Jay has legacy, which you can't ignore if you're just talking about the last 12 months," MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez said during the Hottest MCs roundtable. "What Jay does better than anybody is he leverages his past legacy to do things now."
The type of seniority Jay has in the game is evidenced best when he appears on others' songs, and 2010 found him doing a lot of that. There was his scene-stealing verse on Rick Ross' "Free Mason," on which he addressed the conspiracy theorists that took him to task for his "On to the Next One" video. Then there were a handful of Kanye West records, like "Monster," "So Appalled" and the "Power" remix. And there was the Drake cut "Light Up." He was even called on to make a song for charity in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, linking with Rihanna and U2's Bono and The Edge for "Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)."
"There's nobody in the game that's even coming close to spitting how Jay is doing," MTV News' Shaheem Reid said. "When you talk about Hottest MCs, that's the very foundation ... and Jay is just murdering everything in hip-hop right now, lyrically."
And then there's the things Jay does outside of hip-hop (he's not a businessman; he's a business, man). Despite not being able to woo LeBron James to New Jersey, he's still a minority owner in the Nets. Along with Will Smith and his wife Jada, Jay produced the Tony-winning Broadway play "Fela." Plus, he's the head of Roc Nation, which manages acts as wide-ranging as Mark Ronson, the Ting Tings and recent signee Willow Smith. He also still has a pair of 40/40 sports clubs in New York and Atlantic City, New Jersey. All these ventures allowed Jay to top Forbes' Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, with $63 million earned in 2010 alone.
But Jay didn't make it to #2 without contention. In fact, the roundtable initially voted him #1. He wasn't demoted because of anything he did, per se, but more so because Eminem had a more impactful year.
"Jay owned last year; it carried over into this year," MTV News senior producer Rahman Dukes said. "[But] if you want to look at it like a 12-month period, it's not been bigger than Eminem. If you asked Jay himself, I bet you he'd tell you Eminem had a better year than him."
Many on the roundtable claimed Jay was using his verses on Kanye's songs to keep himself relevant, since Hov didn't drop a new album this year.
"All the legacy aside and everything we talk about, we made Jay #1 last year based on the work that he put in," MTV New supervising producer Sean Lee said. "I know he shined on some verses, but when you look over the course of a year ... "
Put to a vote, Jay-Z and Eminem swapped positions, with Eminem landing at #1 and Jay at #2.