Jay-Z announced the first rappers to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, during the induction ceremony. Now he comes full circle, being inducted himself this year. However, Jay-Z’s induction is not without controversy. Even though other rappers have been inducted since 2007, like Run-DMC, N.W.A, Tupac Shakur, and the Notorious B.I.G. last year, there are some who still question whether rap artists “belong” in the hall of fame dedicated to “rock and roll.” Others think the hall of fame should just get a rebranding.
Something I hope we can all agree on is the fact that “99 Problems” is one of Jay-Z’s masterpieces, managing to be both flippant with a hook and serious while recounting his experiences of driving while black. The song has stuck around long after its debut in 2004. Jay-Z has updated the lyrics in two election cycles to be political: in 2009, he had 99 problems but a Bush wasn’t one and in 2012 a Mitt wasn’t one. He has used the song to cross over into other fan bases, jamming to this song with Phish and Pearl Jam.
The song has inspired covers and mashups that genre-bend, and here we’ll find other covers in the same spirit of those innovative covers.
Rae Stremmurd – 99 Problems (Jay-Z cover)
Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” was controversial from the get-go. It was a bit of a cover in its own way because Ice-T originally released the song “99 Problems,” and then Jay-Z borrowed the hook from that song, adding his own narrative in the rap surrounding that borrowed line. Here’s a free-style inspired by the beat of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” Sure, it’s technically not a cover, but it’s in that same spirit of remixing to create something new. These bragging words are more fit for a rap battle than retelling a full narrative like Jay-Z, but given the constraints of this performance and everything happening on the fly, I’m impressed that they never stumble or miss a beat. Maybe they’ve just internalized that beat just like the rest of the “99 Problem” fans.
Ekobirds – 99 Problems (Jay-Z cover)
In 2008, Jay-Z was a headliner for the Glastonbury festival, making him the first hip-hop artist to be in that position. Brady recounts the drama that ensues, but we’ll give a brief recap here. Noel Gallagher of Oasis dissented with this lineup choice, and in response, Jay-Z started his Glastonbury set with a cover of “Wonderwall” that then led into, you guessed it, “99 Problems.” Mic drop! In honor of that iconic moment, we have a cover from across the pond. The acoustic guitar is really assertive, instituting its own swagger. There is even more intensity in the frenzy of “ninety-nine”s between the two voices before a violin leads us out with a sigh of relief.
Indiana Stickland – 99 Problems (Jay-Z cover)
There were two popular and surprising mash-ups featuring “99 Problems”: one was with The Beatles’s “Helter Skelter” and one with Linkin Park’s “Points of Authority.” The latter has that edge that lends itself to a screaming-heavy cover, and Indiana Stickland delivers. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (screamo is polarizing after all), but it fits nicely into the niche carved out by the original Linkin Park mashup. I also appreciate his specific acknowledgment that he is adjusting the words as necessary to avoid saying the “n” word (the same cannot be said for another “famous” cover by Courtney Love).
Papa Shandy & the Drams – 99 Problems (Jay-Z cover)
I am a sucker for a bluegrass-style cover that surprises me with a song choice from a completely out of nowhere genre, and when Hugo did just this in his cover of “99 Problems” I was a big fan. Here’s a cover in the spirit of that country-rap marriage. It starts out with a little more outlaw ambiance. This is right when a character would shout “call the sheriff,” but perhaps this is actually a subtle nod to the presence of the police in the original. The fiddle and banjo are prominent as you might expect; the fiddle is fairly light, contrasting the gravelly vocals, while the banjo brings the feistiness.
Philadelphia Grand Jury – 99 Problems (Jay-Z cover)
It’s rare you get a performance described as both “risibly twee” and “eternally genius,” but that’s the position Philadelphia Grand Jury finds themselves in, thanks to their cover of “99 Problems.” The Sydney, Australia trio performed this version on Triple J’s Like a Version program, and if comparing the original to theirs is like comparing basketball to badminton, well, nobody can say they’re taking themselves too seriously.