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TBT: Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt (Review)

Ahead of the HTF’s review of Jay-Z Magna Carta Holy Grail, we thought we’d go back and review reasonable doubt. Read here.


Reasonable_Doubt_NewArtist: Jay-Z

Album: Reasonable Doubt

Release Date: 25th June 1996

Jay-Z once told Rolling Stone that during the making of Reasonable Doubt“The studio was like a psychiatrists couch for me”. However, what makes this album the exception to many that claim to be ‘from the streets’, is it’s depth and diversity. The first impression of “Reasonable Doubt” seems to be a pure mafioso and hood experience, however everyone in someway can relate to one part of this album and that what makes it so special. Perfection is something that is chased by every artist and at first sight it doesn’t seem that Jay-Z has come close to grasping it, but once explored; through its production, execution and delivery, perfection doesn’t seem to far away.

When I heard this album it was my first experience of Jay-Z and what I loved instantly was not the generic, enthusiastic story of the hustler, it is a story that has been told many times before, but how he told the story of the darker side of the streets. The album opens with ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle‘.

The third of the albums singles and probably the one with the most crossover potential. However this was ’96, so a song with Mary J. Blige, didn’t mean what it means to have a song with Rihanna. Jay sacrifices none of his deep lyrical content, and barely pauses for Mary  push her voice to breaking point only to kick off again. He raps like he’s in his own world, already miles deep into the character he has created for himself. It’s an early indication of where the album will go, with three of it’s main components: lush soulful production, and deep verses with catchy flows. On the lesser known “22 Two’s” he is reflective about the fact that bad behavior gets in the way of making money; surely the true goal of a true hustler: “You never ready, forever petty minds stay petty, mines thinkin’ longevity until I’m seventy“.

He never commits to being the bad guy, allowing him to create a relatable persona. He is in two minds once again on “D’Evils” where he tells the story of kidnapping the lover of a childhood friend turned drug dealing rival.

The darker side rears it’s head again on the much discussed Nas sampling “Dead Presidents II“. Rapping over an almost tear jerking instrumental, Jay touches topics of murder and greed with such vigour he sounds possessed. It speaks to the other side of his hustler personality that is ruthless and will stop at nothing to have what he wants.

He could come off self centered quite easily, as rappers do. However unlike most he shows the importance of friends and family, on “Feelin’ It“: “If every person in your clique is rich, your clique is rugged/Nobody will fall because everyone will be each others crutches.”

He enjoys the fruits of his labors but he feels success is itself a trap. “Politics as Usual” makes the duality of his life clear when he raps, “Y’all feel a nigga’s struggle, y’all think a nigga love to hustle behind the wheel, tryin to escape my trouble.

It’s not all street politics however, Jay-Z calls himself the greatest and even on his first album you can see why. On “Brooklyn’s FinestJay goes back to back with mentor, and the “other” greatest rapper Notorious B.I.G. He shows no fear here, and casually goes trades bars with Biggie at the height of his power.
Bt far the albums strongest moment is “Can I Live“. This track embodies all of the albums struggle and ambition. If Jay never made another song it would serve as his theme music, and the soundtrack for growing into a man and achieving. “I’d rather die enormous, than live dormant”

On “Reasonable DoubtJay doesn’t just deliver a well crafted tale from the streets, but a vivid look inside the mind of someone whose options are limited but is determined not to become a victim of circumstance. The record touched people in a way that they’ve been with him ever since. However his fans aren’t simply here to watch him win, this is aspirational music that carries a simple message. If even I can do it, what’s stopping you?


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