DAR Classic Hip Hop: 20th Anniversary of Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt

1. Can't Knock The Hustle
2. Politics As Usual
3. Brooklyn's Finest 
4. Dead Presidents II
5. Feelin' It
6. D'Evils
7. 22 Two's
8. Can I Live
9. Ain't No Nigga 
10. Friend or Foe 
11. Coming of Age 
12. Cashmere Thoughts
13. Bring It On 
14. Regrets 

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-The year was 1996. Jay-Z, Dame Dash, and Kareem Burke all set out to make history. They had worked together feverishly to earn some respect in the game, but to no avail so far. Jay-Z had a reputation from being with Jaz-O and Original Flavor, and opening up for Big Daddy Kane. Jay had noteworthy contributions to "Hawaiian Sophie" and "Show and Prove", but still was unable to find a deal. He would begin selling tapes with Dame out of his car, employing an independent grind and hoping to get on. In 1995, he linked with Payday Records to put out the single "In My Lifetime", along with the B-Side "I Can't Get Wid Dat", and it seemed as if he would end up acquiring that record deal he so desperately wanted.

In a bit of poetic justice however, Jay, Dame, and Burke would forego a long term deal with Payday Records and use their own money to create Roc-A-Fella Records. They rented out a small office space as their starting point business wise, and from there the journey began. Jay began working on an album that would change his life and his career forever. Mostly working at the infamous D&D Studios in New York, he would work closely with producers DJ Premier, Ski, Clark Kent, and a few others to create a classic gem. With the 20 year anniversary of this classic coming up, we definitely have to reflect back on this album and what it took to make it. The team will give their thoughts and rank their top 5 songs on this album. Today, we pay homage to Reasonable Doubt and one of the all time great MCs as it approaches 20 years. Let's get into it.

Once again, I thank 1996 for being one of the most notable years in hip hop. That was the year of debuts and with each release, a legend would be born. Amongst those, Jay-Z would release his first studio album and that classic was none other than Reasonable Doubt. It is favorite in his catalog and with good reason.

What some people may not understand about 1994-1998 in hip hop was that is was different, we had a ton of excellent MC's making debut albums of substance, of very high caliber,  and each was either something fresh with a new take on existing styles, or utilizing old styles but perfecting it. That's what Jay did. He took the familiar sounds of the new jack swing era (to me), packed it with samples and features and killed it with detailed accounts of his street hustling, which would serve as the lyrics.

What I love the most about this album is really simple. It’s Jay at his purest, most untainted and uninfluenced by industry politics. We all know his biggest influences were Jaz-O, Big Daddy Kane and he always aspired to be at BIG’s rhyming caliber and although some may think he came up short, he did deliver a phenomenal album. That is undeniable and unquestioned. Although Reasonable Doubt did well, many (including Jay himself) believe it should have done much better commercially. I definitely agree, I think it’s only in hindsight that we appreciate and understand the gem this album is. I have to be really clear, in my opinion, every track is great and necessary. They all add to the collective and serve as proof of Jay's lyrical ability. Back then, winning over fans and getting noticed was no easy task, but he did this with ease and in my opinion, it was these 5 tracks that created his every growing and every loyal fanbase.

At number five, I have "22 Two's". If you weren't convinced this man was a genius from the features he had done before this album was released, THIS track should have you convinced. He starts off with an ode to ATCQ's "Can I Kick It?", which any hip hop fan will appreciate and gets right into the first verse. From the first line he flexes his literary ability and THAT is what hooks me! After he spits a whole bunch of truths and laces each line with every form and use of "to", he then leaves you with"

"That's 22 two's for y'all motherfuckers out there, ya nah mean? Shall I continue?"

Absolutely brilliant in every way. He's got alliteration executed perfectly and he uses a variation of to, too and two in succession all appropriately as well. This is lyrical flexing at its finest.

The number four spot goes to "Cashmere Thoughts" and it's not because he mentions Persian rugs, although I love the reference. It's because once again Jay perfects literary devices, but on this track he leaves the alliteration behind and uses extensive rhyme scheme. The whole entire song just flows in a perfectly rhythmic way. Even though he's saying some wild shit in this song, he's so incredibly smooth with the delivery, it really is like "cashmere". Also the use of cashmere sets a tone of high end luxury and his lyrics follow suit, the references to Dom (Pérignon), diamonds, filet mignon, etc... all maintain that image and create a perfect coherence. Once again Jay delivers!

My number three spot goes to "Politics As Usual". I appreciate this because it's the reference to Jay's drug dealing days. I love the title and I love how this track plays out like he's recounting a story of his experiences. Insight is always appreciated and there is a ton here. I also appreciate the wordplay and the references that he uses are fantastic. Take this for example:

"My life is, based on sacrifices/ jewels like Isis/
And fools that think I slip/"

I'm going to assume you all see the brilliant reference and word play using "jewels" and "isis" here so let's move right along.

The number two spot goes to "Brooklyn's Finest" and I have 3 words: It. Features. BIG!! Of course I absolutely love the Carlito's Way reference at the beginning. This was destined for greatness and it truly was. Biggie has an incredibly complimentary voice and flow and it went great with Jay's. The way they end verses and pick up where the other left off speaks to their dynamic and is such a treat for the fans. The overall continuity is great and is an incredible listen. Here take a look:

"Sprinkle coke on the floor, make it drug related/
Most hate it../"

".. can't fade it/
While y'all pump Willie/
I run up in stunts silly/"

They do that the whole way through. The chorus/hook is dope and the shoutout to Brooklyn and Marcy is obviously fitting. These two killed it and created such a great song....I just wish they had the opportunity to do an entire album together.

And my most favorite track on the album is of course "Can't Knock The Hustle" with Ms. Mary J. From the sample, to the beat, to Jay's lyrics and Mary's vocals, this track is pure and utter perfection. I like how the word hustle is used because some feel it refers to drug dealing and others to his pursuing rapping as a career. Once again Jay leaves much to the listeners interpretation and the lyrics support whichever you choose to believe. The whole entire track is a double entendre and for someone so new to the "game" this was just plain dope! This in my opinion is the best:

"See me got the US Open, advantage Jigga, serve like Sampras/ 
Play fake rappers like a campus/ Le Tigre/
Son you're too eager/
You ain't having it? good, me either/"

Great play on words and dope use of "Le Tigre" to reiterate the point. I'm not surprised because of course, Jay is a genius!!

"Reasonable Doubt" will always be one of my favorites. It's got everything you could want as a fan and such a solid tracklist. It truly is a mark of a legend in the making and although it wasn't received the best by fans upon its release, I think it's appreciated more now and considered a critical part of Jay's catalog. It is the epitome of hunger, drive and motivation and truly was the catalyst to the Jay-Z we would see evolve over the years. I'll leave you with this in his own words because every time I talk about this album this plays over in my mind:

"Reasonable Doubt" -classic, shoulda went triple"

Reasonable Doubt. My personal favorite album by the man himself, Jay-Z, aka Hov. This album is a certified hip hop classic. Every song on this album is perfect. From production, to lyricism, to flow, everything is top notch. It was pretty difficult for me to choose my 5 favorite songs, but here they are.

5. "Can I Live" 
-A great song. This song basically asks a simple question we all ask ourselves on a daily basis, though not the same activities we go through, as explained in the song however. Regardless, it's a song that we ALL can relate to at one point in life. Being tired of anything. From work to bills to your environments to health issues, etc. We all want a better life for us yet these sick ideas keep popping up in our brains.

4. "Can't Knock The Hustle" 
-We witnessed lyrical greatness on this record. You can't fuck with his hustle to become the greatest rapper to ever live is the whole motto of this song. This song was talking to the streets specifically. Gangsters don't let nobody knock their hustle. Jay-Z was made fun of due to rappers always being taken advantage. In this song, he lets New York City know ain't nobody gonna stop him to pursue his dreams and get out the hood, no matter what his peers say.

3. "22 Two's"
-Just lyrical greatness once again.

2. "D'Evils"
-How money corrupts the violent streets of America and the world is all explained in this song. Ain't nothing out here nice and handed to you. You have to work for it all.

"9-5 is how you survive I ain't tryna survive/ I'm tryna live it to the limit and love it alive/" 

That is something I think we can all live by as it is something very relatable for all of us.

1. "Dead Presidents II"
I don't really have to explain why, right? I hope not. Money talks, son.

Jay-Z started off his successful career as a hip hop mogul and MC with Reasonable Doubt. He had no major label to his name and the norm was to profit off his CD’s for people to hear his work. Jay, Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs decided to form Roc-A-Fella Records. Of course, Reasonable Doubt is significant to his career because many of his fans and critics favor this album as his best work. The mafioso-rap style in this album clearly worked for Jay-Z’s wordplay throughout this project. I love the boom-bap beat production provided and songs like “Brooklyn’s Finest” obviously are notable with my favorite rapper of all-time, Notorious B.I.G. These two juggernauts went at it with that song no doubt. “Coming of Age” with the heartfelt bass and Jay’s raw lyrical delivery in the first verse is crisp. “Dead Presidents II” had to be mentioned with another GOAT sample in Nasir Jones. The sample of “The World Is Yours” works in hand with the overall theme of the song. This album is one of the best albums of all-time. It’s a fantastic debut album and is sonically pleasing to the ears. If you are new to Jay-Z and want to get into him, you need to listen to this before you hear anything else in his discography.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-When I look back on Reasonable Doubt and everything that it represents for Jay, it stands as his greatest achievement. Beyond the Live Nation deals, Rocawear, marrying Beyonce, selling platinum every album, going no. 1 about a dozen times, none of that would even be possible without this album. This is the album that truly showed the public who Jay was. Priority Records took notice and helped distribute this album, and while Jay didn't see instant success commercially, nor critically (none of the critics in 1996 ranked it as a classic or perfect), this album would continue to grow over time. My fondest memory of Reasonable Doubt as a listener had to be a few years after the album came out. When it first dropped in 96, I wasn't really old enough to go out there and buy the album myself, so I just listened to the album through other people who were old enough to buy. However, when the year 2000 hit, young True was involved in street related stuff himself and I was able to pick up CDs and cassettes on my own. After purchasing my own copy of Outkast's ATLiens and Nas' It Was Written, I went back and purchased Reasonable Doubt. I was getting older and entering the teenage stage of life, and with what I was surrounded by at the time, I truly felt Reasonable Doubt.

As far as the album as a whole, there's not one song that I truly skip, but if I had to pick my top 5 songs, I think I know where to start. First off, let me just say that one of my least favorite songs on this album is actually "Brooklyn's Finest". That's not to say the song isn't dope, because it's amazing. It's just that the album itself is so classic that even a gem like this one gets a bit lost in the shuffle beneath the rest of the classics. Jay has likened this album to being his therapy at the time, putting all the emotions and stress involving his life into this album.  It is probably the most in depth look into his mind and stress, as he was going through the rigors of transitioning from the street life to the music game. It was as if Jay was the spokesperson for the hustlers of the world and he detailed their psyche. This is no more evident than on "Regrets", one of the tracks that delves deeper into the pitfalls of street life.

As for my top 5 tracks on this album, I'd rank them as such:

*Feelin' It
-This track sounds like it was meant for Camp Lo, and well, it was. Jay definitely went to Ski and got this beat out of his Camp Lo sessions, convincing Ski that he would sound better on it than them, and Jay was right. While Jay doesn't slack lyrically, and the production is top notch, my favorite part of this entire track is the hook. It's infectious from top to bottom, full of energy and it seems to recall a night full of champagne bottles, partying, and the overwhelming feel of success. It's easily one of the best songs on this album, and supplies the right energy.

*Bring It On
-I love this song man. Premier laced the track with one of the most solid beats, giving it an old jazz boom bap feel, allowing Sauce Money to start off the track with some of my favorite lyrics on the album:

"Ayo we patting down pussy from Sugar Hill to the Shark Bar/
Fuck a bitch D in a marked car/"

I think that whole vibe of his verse is amazing, and then Jay comes in and spits one of his best verses on the entire album. I struggled between putting this one or "Dead Presidents II", but the fact remains, this song is a true classic.

-This is lyrically the best song on the album, and Jay at his most clever. He discusses the evils of the world, but mostly the evils of the underworld. He weaves through an amazing Premier production to paint on his greatest pictures. I could go on and on about what I love about this song, but I'll just say each verse is like its own story, with the third verse being my absolute favorite of them. That last Jehovah Witness/Testify line is just ridiculous. Dope.

*Politics As Usual 
-The story I love the most about this one is the differing accounts from Ski and Clark Kent. Both submitted the same sample on this beat and while Clark says his was better and that Ski only got picked cause he gave his beat first, the beat that Ski provided was flawless. The smooth sample backed by Jay spitting his effortless best is amazing and regardless of who made the beat better, the song turned out to be a classic.

*Can I Live
-This is honestly a top 5 song of his career. Nas was supposed to be on this song, but he never showed up to the studio. He wasn't needed honestly as Jay handled this song effortlessly. Lyrically he's flawless on this song, and he manages to paint a perfect picture through the smooth, almost jazz inspired production that gives off such a triumphant feeling. This is the best song on Reasonable Doubt.

With that being said, Reasonable Doubt is a seminal hip hop classic that still stands the test of time. It is the best album from Jay and will definitely hold a special place in the hearts of hip hop fans forever. Happy 20th Anniversary, Reasonable Doubt.



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