When I reflect about historically great hip hop albums, there is always one that comes to mind: Reasonable Doubt. I have read many blogs, and participated in many discussions about the greatest hip hop albums of all time. Usually, Reasonable Doubt is mentioned after Illmatic, Ready to Die, and the Chronic. Although the aforementioned albums are certified classics, Reasonable Doubt is easily my favorite.
Developing a Love for Music
Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (in my best Big Mike from the Wood voice), I was influenced by music at an early age. This is not surprising to me considering my father’s love for music. He remembers events in history based on what he was listening to at the time. I thought this was very interesting and decided that I would be like my father by trying the same technique. It worked out pretty well for me.
In my early years of listening to music, I listened to the albums my dad played on his record player. This could range from James Brown and Isaac Hayes, to the Supremes, to Sade to Michael Jackson. Then, in the early 1990s, I started listening to the radio where I began hearing a new genre of music called hip hop. During this era, west coast hip hop artists were experiencing mainstream success. I remember listening to Ice Cube, Ice T, NWA, MC Eight, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and many other west coast artists. At that point, I was very young, so I had not developed my pallet for music. I loved anything with a good beat.
If I Got to Choose a Coast I Got to Choose the East . . .
My love of east coast hip hop began once I heard Wu-Tang Clan. The Clan was not rapping about low riders, beaches and 40 ounces; instead, they were rapping about MPV’s, Timberland Boots, and Tommy Hilfiger. Although I was still very young, I was hearing about many of these topics at school, and around older members of my family. This made me want to listen to hip hop from other artists. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to other east coast artists such as: The Notorious B.I.G, Nasir Jones, Big L, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest and many others. It was at that time that I knew what my musical pallet would consist of.
[Hip Hop] and Basketball
In the summer of 1996, I was playing basketball for an Amateur Athletic Union team called North Carolina Select. I was 14 years old, but because I was a pretty good player, I played with the 17 and Under team. Our team played extremely well in the North Carolina state tournament, so we earned an invitation to the AAU Nationals that were being held in Orlando, Florida. We rented a van for the trip to Florida. At this point, people were transitioning from using cassette tapes to using compact discs. I was fortunate to have a Discman and was listening to the 4 or 5 CD’s I had brought with me. At this point, I had not heard of Jay-Z. I saw one of my teammates constantly bobbing his head, so I asked him what he was listening to. He said “Jay-Z.” I asked him to let me listen when he was done with the CD, and he said “okay.” I must have listened to the album three times from start to finish without skipping one track. This is really rare for me because I am easily turned out by a track. It might be because I do not like the beat, or because it sounds too much like an R&B track. I’m very picky when it comes to the hip hop music I like.
After the tournament concluded, and we made it back to North Carolina, there was only one thing on my mind: to purchase Reasonable Doubt. I bought the album from a music store on Stratford Road. I must have listened to the album 30 times during that first week. By this point, I had fully developed my pallet for music; I knew that east coast hip hop was going to be my choice.
“Friends” and “Classics”: Two Overused Terms
I do not use the word “friend” loosely at all. I am more likely to say that someone is an associate. Likewise, I do not throw the term “Classic” around often. In fact, I think I have a much higher standard for a classic than most people do. If I skip one track it cannot be a classic in my eyes. With that being said, Reasonable Doubtis an undeniable classic. From the start of the album to the end, Jay-Z seamlessly weaves in stories about money, power, respect, struggle, street life, fashion, regrets, and everything in between.
What’s Your Favorite Track?
Can’t Knock the Hustle. Jay-Z came out of the blocks swinging with this track. Being able to get Mary J. Blige on a track was a pretty big move for an artist who had to start a record label in order to be able to push his own product. This track grabs the listener’s attention and sets the tone for what is to come.
Favorite Line: “Got the US Open, advantage Jigga/Serve like Sampras, play fake rappers like a campus Le Tigre, son you too eager”
Politics as Usual. I love the way this song begins. The beat is unbelievable, which should not be surprising considering that Ski Beats was the man behind the boards. If you have ever hustled anything—legally or illegally—you can probably relate to this song.
Favorite Line: “suckin me in like a vacuum, I remember telling my family: “I’ll be back soon, that was December 85 and Jay-Z rise 10 years later, got me wise still can’t break my underworld ties”
Brooklyn’s Finest. Anytime you combine Jay-Z and B.I.G on a track, you are in for a treat. You could sense that each artist had respect for the other, but you could also sense the competitiveness in each artist. I love this song because Jay and B.I.G. went toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow for over four minutes. It is still difficult for me to definitively declare a winner.
Favorite (Jay-Z) Line: “From 9-6, the only MC with a flu, Yeah I rhyme sick, made afortune off Peru, extradite, China white heroin Nigga please, like short sleeves I bear arms”
Dead President’s II. This might be my favorite Jay-Z song. Ever. If you have been living under a rock and have not heard this track, please go to youtube to listen to it. This song epitomizes true 1990s hip hop.
Favorite Line: “The Icon, baby, you like Dom, maybe this Cristals change your life, huh? Roll with the winner heavy spinners like hit records: Roc-A_Fella don’t get it corrected, this shit is perfected . . .”
Feelin it. When I am having a good day, I will listen to this song because it is all about celebrating individual and group success.
Favorite Line: “Making sure every nigga stay rich within my cipher, we paid the price to circle us, success—they turned the mic up, I’m bout to hit these niggas with some shit that’ll light ya life up if every nigga in your clique is rich, your clique if rugged, nobody will fall cause everyone will be each other’s crutches”
D’Evils. What is a dope hip hop album in the 1990s without a DJ Premier beat? Jay-Z made sure to get a Premier beat on his first album, and as always, Premo delivered. The play on the word “Devils” is pretty clever I might add.
Favorite Line: “Whoever said illegal was the easy way out, could not understand the mechanics and the workings of the underground, granted nine to five is how you survive, I ain’t trying to survive, I’m tryna live it to the limit and love it a lot”
22 Two’s. Ski Beats delivered a dope beat on this song.
Favorite Line: “If you could catch Jay right, on the late night with the eight, right, maybe you could test my weight, right”
Can I Live. D.J. Irv Gotti masterfully sampled an old 70s track for this epic song. This song is flawless. No more explanation needed.
Favorite Line: “The youth I used to be, soon to see a million no more Big Willie my game has grown prefer you call me William, illin for revenues, Rayful Edmund-like, Channel 7 News, round seven jewels, head dead in the mic”
Ain’t No Nigga. This is an iconic track featuring a young artist by the name of Foxy Brown.
Favorite Line: “Yo, ain’t no stopping this, no lie promise to stay monogamous, I try but love you know these ho’s be making me weak, ya’ll know how it goes B so I stay deep”
Friend or Foe. Once again, Jay-Z retained the services of DJ Premier for a banger. “Friend of foe yo, state your biz . . .”
Favorite Line: “You draw, better be Picasso, you know the best, cause if this is not so, ah, God Bless . . . “
Coming of Age. I believe this was Memphis Bleek’s first time rhyming on wax.
Favorite Line: “Yeah, the only way to blow you let your shit bubble quietly and then you blow, hey keep your cool.”
Cashmere Thoughts. This song has a catchy beat, and the lyrics are on-point.
Favorite Line: “Ghetto’s Errol Flynn, hot like heroin young pimps is sterile when I pimp through your borough and I gotta keep your tricks intact, cause I walk like a pimp, talk like a mack . . .”
Bring it On. Another Dj Premier banger featuring Sauce Money. Sauce Money was really on-point on this track.
Favorite Line: “Can’t do for dolo, had to turn away when Tony killed Manolo, that’s real, mixed feelings like a mulatto, thug thought he was O.G. Bobby Johnson, I played him like Benny Blanco . . .”
Regrets. This song is the perfect way to end a masterpiece. After all, who does not have regrets?
Favorite Line: “Time waits for no man, can’t turn back the hands once it is too late, gotta learn to live with regrets.”
The authenticity of the lyrics, stellar production, song placement, and collaborations catapult this album to the top echelon of hip hop albums. I would put this album above Illmatic, Ready to Die and Chronic any day.