Re-visiting Jay-Z’s “Streets Is Watching” 24 Years Later

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Roc-A-Fella Records/Def Jam Recordings

Roc-A-Fella Records/Def Jam Recordings

One of the most underrated Jay-Z songs of all-time.

Before the days of Jay-Z rapping about real estate and Picasso paintings, the Roc Nation founder spit about what his life was like moving weight from Brooklyn to Virginia and back.

On his second full-length release, 1997’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, Hov attacked some of the most iconic beats in hip-hop history, including “A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More” and “Where I’m From,” but also spit some of the best bars of his career on album cuts like “Friend or Foe ’98” and “Streets Is Watching.”

And 24 years after In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 dropped on November 4, 1997, “Streets Is Watching” remains one of the most underrated Jay-Z tracks of all-time.

Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty Images

Whether it’s because it doesn’t reside on a major album, like Hov’s 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, or 2001’s The Blueprint, or because it’s easy to lose records in his prolific discography, “Streets Is Watching” just doesn’t get the respect it deserves. (Despite it being turned into a movie with the same name in 1998.)

Rapping over Ski Beatz production, Jay lays out the specifics of his early-90s operations and all the money they made him, but with the fair warning that, once you start walking around with something in your pocket, everybody starts watching. From other hustlers to the boys in blue, everybody wants their piece of the pie when the cashflow is crazy and life is luxurious.

Starting with one of the most iconic Hov lines ever (Look, if I shoot you I’m brainless // But if you shoot me, then you’re famous, what’s a n***a to do?) “Streets Is Watching” is the perfect throwback to a time when Jay-Z was on the edge of superstardom, but still had to deal with his old life.

Quotable Lyrics
The streets is watching you when you froze your arms
N****s wanna test you when your gun goes warm
Can’t get caught with your feet up, gotta keep your heat up
Sweet n****s running ’round swearing shit is sweeter
Once you’re tagged lame, the game is follow the leader
Everybody want a piece of your scrilla, so you gotta keep it realer

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