[Album Review] “Reasonable Doubt” by Jay-Z

Bold and unforgettable, Reasonable Doubt works both as an epic debut that started the career of one of the greatest rappers ever and a classic Hip-Hop album that will be studied and appreciated for decades by every new generation.

Jay-Z, Shawn Corey Carter, is a legendary rapper hailing from Brooklyn, New York. His career began all the way back in the 90s when he used to sell CDs out of his car. Since then, Jay-Z has gone on to release a series of some of the most influential, iconic and critically acclaimed albums and become one of the absolute greatest and most essential rappers ever in history. In his nearly three-decade long career, Jay-Z has done and seen everything, in his own words, he has gone from “Grams to Grammys”. But before the multimillion-dollar business deals and his own Champagne brands, at the very beginning of Jay-Z’s glorious rags-to-riches story is his debut album “Reasonable Doubt” which was released on June 25, 1996, on Roc-A-Fella Records.

Track List :

  1. Can’t Knock The Hustle
  2. Politics As Usual
  3. Brooklyn’s Finest
  4. Dead Presidents 2
  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
  15. Can I Live 2

Reasonable Doubt is the prime example of a Hip-Hop album whose qualities just boil down to the replay value, the production and the good rapping of each and every track. It’s blunt, to-the-point and simple, but extremely hard-hitting. This all-thrills-no-frills record details the ins and outs of the life Jay-Z used to lead, the listeners get an eagle-eye perspective of the everyday-activities of a dealer in the cold and brutal streets of Brooklyn, New York. Reasonable Doubt explores every little nooks and crannies of the nature of the streets. The intro “Can’t Knock the Hustle” is a fantastic track where Jay-Z copes with the crime-ridden life he lived by simply stating that it was a necessary hustle you can’t ridicule. Right off the bat, Jay-Z’s bravado is unmatched, his flows are slick and refined and Jay already sounded like a veteran of the genre as opposed to a newcomer. And the track is packed with Godfather-esque, Mafioso-themed lyrics that the album has in droves.

The production on this album is quite significant too. “Dead Presidents 2” has one of the greatest rap instrumentals ever made, period. Producer Ski Beatz’s sample of “A Garden of Peace” by Lonnie Liston Smith is spine-tinglingly beautiful. And Jay-Z delivers some incredible verses, still to this day, people argue over which version of Dead Presidents is superior. The first one had a raw edge to it whereas the sequel establishes Jay-Z as this incredibly smart and witty, work-hard-play-hard kind of businessman and worked better within the context of the album in my personal opinion. Regardless, both versions are phenomenal. “D’evils” is a chilling track about how the pursuit of money and fame corrupts people and turn them against one another. Reasonable Doubt is a complete and nuanced portrayal of the violence of the streets, the luxury you can achieve once you’re able to grow beyond it, how even the good life on the otherwise still has perils of its own, the whole nine yards basically. And it’s presented in the form of a brilliant piece of art.

The cultural significance of Reasonable Doubt continues to grow as the album ages. Many rappers have put their own spin on some of the lyrical gems on this record and more rappers have done remixes of “Dead Presidents” than I can count. And there are more to this album than just heavy and meaningful songs about the workings of the underworld, there are also tracks like “Feelin’ It” that you can just listen to on any occasion. Classy, dusty, laid-back beat, stellar performance by Hov, what’s not to like. In conclusion, Reasonable Doubt is a benchmark in Hip-Hop history, Jay himself has dubbed the record as “the joint I took my whole life to make” and that passion and authenticity bleeds through the music.

There will never be another Reasonable Doubt, for a good reason. Jay-Z did not try to recreate Reasonable Doubt on his second LP, instead he inhabited an almost completely new sound on “In My Lifetime Vol.1” and it proves how elusive and rare an album like Reasonable Doubt is. Jay-Z’s hunger at that time, the state of mind he was in, the producers he was able to get in touch with, it’s practically lightning in a bottle, and it also kicked off the musical journey of one of the most influential rappers of all time, so, there’s no reason for reason for Reasonable Doubt to not be considered a certified classic and one of the most important rap albums ever made.

Rating : A+

Reasonable Doubt contains tracks written by The 24-Carat Black, Andrew Noland, August Moon, B. Bacharach, C. Biggz, Clark Kent, Dahoud Darien, Dennis Lambert, DJ Premier, D.Willz, F. Di Pasquale, Foxy Brown, Greg Webster, Hamilton Bohannon, H. Davis, Irv Gotti, James Mtume, JAY-Z, Jaz-O, J. Burks, Junie Morrison, Knobody, K Rob, Leroy Emmanuel, Lesette Wilson, Lonnie Liston Smith, Marcus Miller, Marshall “Rock” Jones, Marvin Pierce, Mary J. Blige, Meli’sa Morgan, Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson, Memphis Bleek, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Pain In Da Ass, Pete Rock, Potter, Ralph Middlebrooks, Sauce Money, Sean C, Ski Beatz, Sugarfoot & Tyrone Thomas and production by Clark Kent, Dahoud Darien, Damon Dash, DJ Premier, Irv Gotti, Jaz-O, Knobody, K Rob, Peter Panic, Sean C & Ski Beatz. The album is now available for digital and physical purchase.

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