Happy Anniversary to Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt
Sixteen long (or short, depending on how you look at it) years ago, one of Hip-Hop’s finest opuses was released. Reasonable Doubt is an album that would transition Jay-Z from an underground aficionado to a rap superstar, and it also changed the Hip-Hop game forever. Jay-z had been a hungry emcee as early as ’89, and he was sick of the way that his label (Payday) had been promoting him; he decided to take things into his own hands, and he started Roc-A-Fella Records. Together with Priority Records, Roc-A-Fella Records released Reasonable Doubt.
From the moment that Pain In Da Ass opens the album on “Can’t Knock the Hustle”, the gangster mentality takes hold, and Jay-Z displays a lyrical ability that pierces the listener’s brain like a nine millimeter. I don’t think anybody, including Hov himself, knew how much of an impact this album would have on emcees for decades to come.
When glancing at the producer credits on this album, it’s obvious that Jay wanted to craft a classic album; DJ Premier, Ski Beatz, DJ Clark Kent, Irv Gotti and Knobody all had a hand in bringing the malicious mafioso sound of this album to life. The production on this album was ahead of its time, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s still a benchmark for the way soul records should be sampled. On tracks like “Dead Presidents II“, it’s amazing how well Ski was able to capture the feel that Jay was going for; the whole track plays out like a mobster’s message to the people: No matter what I do, my motive is going to be the money.
The vocal appearances on this album are few and far between. For the most part, Reasonable Doubt just showcases Hov’s talent on the mic, and every once in a while you’ll get an additional vocalist or two on the chorus; however, this album does contain one of the greatest duets of all-time: “Brooklyn’s Finest“. Jay-Z and Biggie tear apart Clark Kent’s beat like a street sweeper, and put together one of the greatest tandem displays of all-time; it truly makes me wonder what the Hip-Hop game would be like if these two had done an entire project together. Could anyone have ever touched that? Probably not…
One track on this album (in my opinion) towers above the rest, and I still consider it one of the greatest songs in Hip-Hop history. Of course, I’m talking about “Can I Live”; basically, the entire track is one giant Hip-Hop quotable: “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant, that’s how we on it/Live at the main event, I bet a trip to Maui on it/Presidential suite’s my residential for the weekend/Confidentially speaking in codes since I sense you peeking”. That last line about codes is a double entendre that will slip right by if you aren’t listening closely, but at the same time, it’s one of the most clever lines ever written.
Reasonable Doubt is an end-to-end burner with absolutely no flaws. Much like Illmatic or Ready To Die, it’s an album that defined an artist; furthermore, it’s an album that defined a genre. There’s a reason why Jay-Z is one of the greatest emcees in the history of the game: he came from absolutely nothing, but he was able to use those hardships in an intelligent manner that you can’t help but admire. Reasonable Doubt is the perfect tale of illegitimate beginnings and legitimate endings.