Reasonable Doubt - Album Review
On June 25, 2016, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Reasonable Doubt. Reasonable Doubt is the debut album of rapper Jay Z. Before Reasonable Doubt, Jay Z had released songs with rappers such as Jaz-O and Big Daddy Kanye. Those songs gave Jay-Z a buzz but it was not enough to get a major label to back him. Let’s fast forward to 1995, Jay-Z, Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs founded Roc-A-Fella Records and after striking a distribution deal with Priority Records, they dropped Reasonable Doubt.
Reasonable Doubt is the epitome of a classic album. It was the perfect way to introduce Jay-Z to the world. Reasonable Doubt is full of the Mafioso rap themes that Jay-Z is known for. Reasonable Doubt is also littered with lyrics about the in’s and out’s of the drug game and the glory of a hustler's lifestyle. Reasonable Doubt had four singles and they are all classics tracks. “Dead Presidents,” which sampled Nas’s classic “The World is Yours” which was the starting point of their beef, did not even make the album. It was still released as a single for the album and the subject matter of this song is based on Jay Z wanting dead presidents to represent him (money) not any thing else. “Feelin It,” is a smooth track, something you cruise down the highway with. Even though “Feelin It” is a smooth track, Jay-Z dropped some jewels. One of the many is this line, “If every n**** in your clique is rich, your clique is rugged/Nobody will fall cause everyone will be each others crutches.” According to Genius.com the meaning of that line is: “There’s a theme in rap of successful artists coming back and putting their friends on.” Jay-Z holds his friends in high regards and want them to succeed like him, so he puts them in a position to make money. The other two singles from the album is “Ain't No N****” and “Cant Knock the Hustle.”
According to Jay-Z the album is called Reasonable Doubt: “because with anything you do in life, people are going to judge you. Whether it be through interviews or radio. So the album is basically on trial… this being my first album.” When Reasonable Doubt dropped it was well received and it peaked the Billboard 200 spot at 23. Reasonable Doubt went platinum in 2002, six years after it was released. It is Jay-Z lowest charting album to date but to some it is considering his best album. Let’s return back to the analyzing rest of the album.
“Friend or Foe” is a shortest track on the album. At a 1:49, it still packs a lyrical punch and it tells a story. Jay-Z is having a conversation with a rival drug dealer trying to invade his turf. Jay-Z is talking down to the rival, hitting him with witty bars such as “Chance is slimmer than that chick in Calvin Klein pants is” and “You draw, better be Picasso, you know the best.” “Can I Live” is a self reflecting track. Jay Z is asking the audience, can he live in peace without having to worry about friends and rivals trying to end his life or worse take all of his riches. His first bar explains his paranoia: “Why I'm watchin every n**** watching me closely?/My s*** is butter for the bread, they wanna toast me.” In this song Jay-Z also examines who really is the addict? Is it the dealer who is addicted to the money the drugs bring or the addict who is addict to the drugs?
Songs such as Cashmere Thoughts and 22 Two’s are gaudy classics that are littered with witty rhymes about the fast life.
“Bring it On” is track that Jay-Z shares with his namesake Jazzo and Sauce Money. The first two lines that Jay-Z spits are iconic. “Mannerisms of a young Bobby DeNiro, spent Spanish wisdoms, In a whip with Dinero/crime organized like the Pharoahe.” In these two lines Jay-Z is comparing himself to the main character of the Godfather and is comparing his organization to the Mafia. He references other moves like Carlito's Way and Scarface as well. “Bring It On” is an ode to the mafia like lifestyle Jay-Z lived before he released this album.
Reasonable Doubt introduced Jay-Z to the world. The albums and the hits that came after it are byproducts of this masterpiece. Even though it was not appreciated when it first came out, in hindsight Reasonable Doubt was ahead of its time. The gems that were dropped in Reasonable Doubt are still applicable to anyone trying to be successful in any business. Jay-Z was ahead of his time.