"Roc-A-Fella Forever. Hov for life. First debut classic. First album four mics. I should've got a five but niggas lack foresight. But I don't give a fuck I didn't do it for the hype. I did it for the hustlers for the ghetto for their plight." - Jay-Z (44'4's)
I didn't like Jay-Z initially. In 1996 I vaguely even remember knowing who he was. I wasn't listening to "Aint No Nigga." I knew it was on The Nutty Professor soundtrack but I'd be lying if I said I was listening to it in 1996. I was listening to "All Eyez On Me" by Tupac. Jay-Z wasn't anywhere on my radar. A year later I hear him on "Love The Dough" with Biggie. Didn't care. Hard Knock Life comes out. I didn't care. Today I still don't care for that song. Vol 2 is one of my least favorite Jay-Z albums. Blasphemy to say that right? Money Ain't A Thang. Didn't care. Vol 3 comes out. Didn't give a fuck. The year 2000 is where everything changed.
Watching Rap City I see the video for "Change The Game" feat Memphis Bleek, and Beanie Sigel and I loved that song. The west coast influence was surely a factor. Loved it so much I went out and bought The Dynasty album. The Intro is what did it. Out of all the rapping Jay-Z did before that album, that intro made me a fan. I understood what he was saying. I learned how to break down lyricism because of that intro. After that I listened to hip-hop differently. I wore the dynasty album out.
Blueprint drops a year later. I pick it up the same day of the 9/11 attacks and maybe a few months later Jay drops his "MTV Unplugged" album and I go buy that album too. I bought the unplugged album because there was a song I saw him do with Mary J Blige when it aired on MTV that I was hooked to. I loved the melody. The song was "Can't Knock The Hustle." Once I heard it was on Reasonable Doubt. I went to Best Buy and bought it. 5 years late but what I heard changed my life as a hip-hop fan forever.
Something about hearing that heartbeat when the album starts. Pain In Da Ass giving his best Omar Suarez impression while comparing Jay-Z to Frank Lopez. As you hear this album you find out that Frank Lopez and Jay-Z are nothing alike. Frank was soft. Jay on this album is subtly evil and unreasonable. Sounds harsh but that's what the content suggests. Frank could be reasoned with. Jay on "Reasonable Doubt" could not. This album rarely show moments where a grey area is present. Jay gives you the dirt he does and then tells you the consequences of it. It's black and white like the album art. I didn't understand that when I first listened to Reasonable Doubt as a teenager. When I became an adult and listened to it I understood how wicked this album was. Bane said it best in "The Dark Knight Rises." He said he was "necessary evil." Reasonable Doubt was necessary evil. The hood, the suburbs, everyone needed to hear what was going on in the streets.
Jay took you on this ride through the depths of the underworld that would leave anyone outside of the game mortified and traumatized. You're hearing a hustler who's in the fire and it seems that he's in it so deep that it's at his neck. As listeners we're uncertain if he can even recover from this life. That uncertainty is what hooked me to this album. On the album Jay explains this life to you as if you're just sitting on a stoop with him and having a regular conversation. He shows little to no emotion in his voice. What's foreign to us is his everyday occurrence. It's like Jay is being inducted into a criminal hall of fame and Reasonable Doubt is his induction speech. All he's doing is recalling and you're left wondering "How in the fuck are you still here?" When you hear lines like "Murder is a tough thing to digest/It's a slow process and I ain't got nothing but time." It's a miracle he's still here.
"We offer our lives. What do you bring to the table?" - Jay-Z (Can I Live)
The music on R.D is so up and down. It's a roller coaster because despite all the crime and evil in the streets there's also materialistic benefits from the risks taken in that lifestyle. Money. Real Estate. Diamonds. Benz's. Beautiful women. Hard to not have good times with those prizes in your reach. Jay brags about all of these things because they're in his possession and can you blame him for doing so? He risked his life and freedom to attain it. The ultimate gamble payed off. The fact that Jay-Z is a incredible and witty M.C help make all of it listenable and not get stale. He can present it to you in various ways and forms. He acknowledges his stupidity in how he handles his dirty money thanks to what the streets showed him but in the same vein he has a fuck it mentality and just keeps living and spending the way he does. He shows the contradiction that's there. It really exists. We contradict ourselves everyday in life. Eat fucked up food. Have fucked up vices but we just keep living with them because they make us feel good.
The production on this album I really can't explain because it's so good and everything fits. When I hear it I think of a Hood Sinatra. I think of side street hustles. I think of alleys. I think of street clubs where gangstas meet whether they're partners or rivals. I think of a droptop Lexus. From Clark Kent to Ski Beatz to Irv Gotti to Premier all of these legends made it seem like they were creating a soundtrack to a movie. It really makes R.D so special. The production helps Jay get his point across and we can never overlook that. Not just the production side either. Dame & Biggs and various other people put in work to get this classic out in the streets and the world. This album and "The Chronic" showed me it's not just the artist that make albums like this special. A lot of stars have to align and sacrifices have to be made. It's like everyone's child.
I don't have a favorite song or least favorite. It does the album a disservice if I got picky about it. Dead Presidents II is all about what we do this for. Feelin It is the celebration of the spoils the underworld can provide. The fruits of the illegal labor. D'Evils is probably one of the most underrated Jay-Z songs and is storytelling at it's finest. The second verse of that song is just so masterful and well put together. It shows why Jay is on another level. Friend or Foe is reverse robbery at it's finest. 22 two's is just a beautiful display of Jay's lyrical prowess. Coming Of Age shows us the classic example of the teacher and the student. Can I Live is the blessings and stress of the game that no matter which one happens you ask yourself "Can I Live?" Regrets is all the things you compromised in this game. Your happiness. Your peace of mind. Your time. Your safety and your friends and family safety. You compromised so much and you have to live with it. You regret it but you have to live with it. This is what the game comes with. I love that song so much because it is the realest way to end Reasonable Doubt. All the sin you heard before it lead to the moment that is "Regrets."
Reasonable Doubt is a album that you hear and it inspires you to go out and get it. It's hustler motivation. Very inspirational. There are a TON of quotes on this album. My favorites include
- "Illing for revenues Rayful Edmund like"
- "If every nigga in your clique is rich then your clique is rugged nobody will fall cause everyone will be each other's crutches."
- "I keep one eye open like CBS."
- "Whoever said illegal was the easy way out couldn't understand the mechanics and the workings of the underworld granted."
- "10 thou or 100 G's keep your shit the same."
- "Fuck em, they hate a nigga loving this life."
- "In order to survive gotta learn to live with regrets."
- "Still in all we living, just dream about the get back."
There's a lot more but we'd be here all day.
I wasn't there in 1996 when it arrived. 5 years later was my experience. On time or late doesn't matter as long as I understand that this album is one of a kind. It's the type of album that gets greater and greater as time progresses. From showing me every crime that usually plague communities (murder, drugs, prostitution) to showing me what lyricism looks like. Reasonable Doubt I can honestly say is a C-word (*Whispers* Classic). Thank you Shawn Carter for a masterpiece that changed my life and still does 15 years later (20 for the day ones).