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When JAY-Z proclaimed himself as the King of Rap during his prime, he was faced with various competitors throwing rocks at the throne in an attempt to wear the crown themselves. A few artists may have come close in their efforts to remove him from that position but, overall, many of his most bitter rivals have even acknowledged that he is, indeed, the most powerful figure in rap and should be revered as hip-hop royalty.

However, while JAY-Z has been able to extend his reign into the twilight of his career and remains active, that hasn’t stopped fans and artists themselves from speculating about which artist has the potential to follow in his footsteps and pick up where he left off. Even Hov himself has hinted at their being a “new and improved JAY-Z” waiting in the wings to eventually take his spot, making it clear that he’s aware of his own mortality within the realm of hip-hop. This has led the notoriously competitive rap legend to pay it forward, embrace, and take an interest in rare talents that possess many of the same traits he has—whether lyrically or otherwise—resulting in a number of moments in which rap fans felt they were witnessing a changing of the guard.

REVOLT TV looks back at six rappers often perceived as heirs to JAY-Z’s throne and ones he himself deemed worthy enough to spar with over the years.

Memphis Bleek, “Coming of Age,” “Coming of Age (Da Sequel)”

Legend has it that upon forming Roc-A-Fella Records, JAY-Z only planned to release one album before retiring and leaving the future of the label in the hands of Memphis Bleek, a fellow resident of the Marcy Housing Projects whom Hov took under his wing prior to recording Reasonable Doubt. JAY-Z would showcase Bleek’s talent throughout his career, most notably on the Reasonable Doubt cut “Coming of Age,” on which he and his protégé trade bars about rising in the ranks of the drug game—a topic that would be revisited when the two reconnected on “Coming of Age (Da Sequel)” from Hov’s third studio-album, Vol 2… Hard Knock Life.

Drake, “Light Up,” “Pound Cake”

During Drake’s rise to stardom, his slick lyrical ability and knack for crafting hit singles garnered him comparisons to JAY-Z, a compliment the Canadian spitter welcomed as he positioned himself to become the newest King in mainstream hip-hop. On Drake’s debut album Thank Me Later, the two faced off on “Light Up,” an anticipated showdown that—due to his lyrics—was perceived as Hov acknowledging a changing of the guard, further cementing Drizzy as a likely heir to the throne. In 2013, JAY-Z and Drake would lock horns again, this time on “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2” from the latter’s Nothing Was the Same album, and have since collaborated on multiple occasions. However, their first two meetings of the mind stand as the most epic thus far.

Kanye West, “Never Me Let Down,” “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)”

Kanye West turned heads when the producer decided to add rapper to his role, even of those at Roc-A-Fella Records, who were initially skeptical of the Chicagoan’s prospect of becoming a credible rap star. However, Yeezy’s debut album, The College Dropout, would not only win over listeners, but JAY-Z himself, who hopped on the track “Never Let Me Down,” ultimately fostering a creative bond that would manifest in additional collaborations like “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix),” and the duo’s ballyhooed 2012 album, Watch The Throne, a project that put the former heir on equal footing with his former idol as a king himself.

Lil Wayne, “Hello Brooklyn 2.0,” “Mr. Carter”

When JAY-Z announced his plans to retire from rap in 2003, fans were left wondering which rapper would fulfill the void left by the absence of arguably the best rapper alive. One artist that instantly took on the challenge was Lil Wayne, who began proclaiming himself as such on his fourth studio album, Tha Carter. Although Wayne’s willingness to throw rocks resulted in the two sending subliminals at one another on numerous occasions, the mutual respect between the two was made clear in 2007 when Wayne hopped on the American Gangster track “Hello Brooklyn 2.0,” with Hov returning the favor with a rare guest appearance on Weezy’s Tha Carter III track “Mr. Carter” the following year.

J. Cole, “Mr. Nice Watch”

Like most rappers that came of age during the late ’90s and aughts, one of J. Cole’s rap gods was JAY-Z, whom the North Carolina had every intention of inking a record deal with. After allegedly being snubbed by the Brooklyn legend, Cole’s music would eventually end up in Hov’s hands, who handpicked the New York transplant as the flagship artist of his Roc Nation imprint, an honor that instantly cast Cole as the chosen one that JAY-Z deemed worthy of passing the torch to. However, despite being signed to Hov’s label, Cole has only traded bars with him once, on “Mr. Nice Watch,” a jittery selection from Cole’s 2011 debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story.

Lupe Fiasco, “Pressure”

When JAY-Z was in the thick of his dominant run at Roc-A-Fella Records, one unsigned artist that Hov coveted like few other in his career was Lupe Fiasco, a rapper out of Chicago with a prenatural lyrical ability that was universally touted as one of the best in recent memory. Although Fiasco would ultimately pass on becoming a member of The Roc, the two got their chance to see what could’ve been in 2007 when Lupe released his Atlantic Records debut, Food & Liquor, with JAY-Z appearing on the song “Pressure,” their sole collaboration to date.

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