February 12, 2007

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (June 25, 1996)

Shawn Corey Carter (that's right, I brought out the middle name) is privileged enough to have his name pop up on a regular basis when the debate rages over "Who's the best MC?". It's not like he doesn't deserve it; he's been honing his craft for a while. He also has his fingers in a bunch of different pies (and no, I'm not talking about Beyonce): CEO of Def Jam Records, the biggest hip hop label ever; part owner of the New Jersey Nets; co-owner of the 40/40 Club; his own clothing brand, Rocawear; and he also owns the patent on water (H2Hova!) or so MTV would lead me to believe.

Dude's been working for years, whether he was selling drugs or pimping out Memphis Bleek to his fan base. And he deserves all of his success. He's certainly in my top five, dead or alive. I've picked up all of his albums based solely off of his conversation-style flow, and I'm sure a lot of his fans have done the same. He's one of the few rappers that can bring out the street single that actually sounds grimy, and follow it up immediately with the club banger that doesn't make you hold your head in shame at the club. And this is a formula that he's been following, more or less, for his entire career, with little to no effort on his part.

As big of a fan as I am, though, I don't blindly follow anyone. I would be the first person to tell you if something is awful, and Jay-Z songs are no exception. He's a great rapper but he's not critic-proof. His taste in beats has always been a little suspect, and he gives a lot of chances to both guests and producers that continually let him down. His subject matter has also gotten a beating ever since Kingdom Come was released late 2006.

Anyway. The purpose of these artist discography reviews is to show, step by step, track by track, the legacy that your favorite artist has left at the local CD spot; the music that defines them and made their career, and sometimes the massive fuck-ups that threatened to derail the money train. Also, it serves to "pay homage" to Bol's own album reviews on his blog.

The first part of any Jay-Z story has to start with Reasonable Doubt.
(I should note here that I will only review proper releases, not singles unless noted; and yes, I am aware that Jay-Z was around long before Reasonable Doubt, but for my purpose here, I don't give a fuck.)

Reasonable Doubt was released by Roc-a-Fella / Priority Records in 1996, where it proceeded to gain critical acclaim but sell no copies, until it was re-released when Jay signed Roc-a-Fella up with Def Jam. It is one of the earliest known records from New York that promoted the 'mafioso/gangster' stereotype that permeated the culture until my grandmother started calling herself Lucky Fingers and effectively killed the movement. The idea behind the album was that Jay-Z was a drug dealer that now raps; he was the Young Jeezy of his time. (I would say here that the difference is that Jay-Z can actually rap, but that's such a cheap shot, I refuse to do it.) He had the luxury of already being rich (thanks, cocaine!), so in theory he didn't have to try that hard on his debut record, but the fact that he had talent makes the listening experience that much more enjoyable.

(This based on the original pressing of the album and not the Def Jam re-release, so I don't have the bonus tracks afforded by the latter.)

A very boring way to start off what's supposed to be a five-mic classic. Lyrics are okay, but the beat is too simple. Mary J's chorus is dull as well. This just isn't a very engaging song. Remember the video where the limo blows up at the end? Yeah, me neither.

Ski went from producing classic Jay-Z songs to primarily being Camp Lo's go-to producer. (Am I wrong? Anyone?) This would have made a better Track One. Things are starting to look up.

One of the very few actual collaborations between Jay and the King of New York. The beat is much weirder than you would expect for a song of this nature, so I assume that's why Clark Kent doesn't produce many songs anymore. It's disconcerting to hear Biggie reference his wife's alleged infidelity with 2Pac; he tries to come off making a joke, but he doesn't even sound like he's amusing himself.

To this day I don't understand why "Dead Presidents", the original version, wasn't on the album, but hearing new lyrics over the classic Ski beat is a treat. The Nas sample that started a war is still pretty hot.

The pinnacle of the 'conversation-style flow' that Jay owns the patent for. I'm guessing Mecca was the Roc-a-Fella studio songstress, and she didn't do a completely horrible job with the hook, but it kinda makes sense that we haven't heard anything else from her.

Jay + DJ Premier = crazy delicious.

7. 22 TWO'S
I always thought the talk show skit format of the track was awkward, but the song itself is hot. Can I rip off A Tribe Called Quest? Yes you can!

Notable for being produced by "DJ Irv", a/k/a Irv Gotti, late of Murder Inc. The song itself is pretty good; Irv must have bumped his head and switched it on us, since after this he unleashed both Ja Rule and Ashanti onto the unsuspecting public.

By far the most blatantly offensive jacking of a Temptations hook I have ever heard in the past five minutes. Also the funniest song on the album, at least until you get to Foxy's verse. You can't change a player's game in the ninth inning, ya know.

The shortest song on the album. Also the most visual, the fastest paced, the best produced, and the most likely to be used in any argument regarding why Just Blaze will never replace Primo when it comes to Jigga.

Those Primo trademarked scratches of Bleek vocals on Jay's third album intro? All from this one song. I read on some other blog somewhere that Bleek must have saved Jay's life at some point; that's the only fathomable reason why Jay's loyal to Bleek and to no one else on the label. Bleek is young and inexperienced (read: his verse is meh).

Hova received the distinction of having a 'Hip Hop Quotable' in The Source when the album came out. Unfortunately, the beat overpowers Jay on this one. Which is too bad, since the beat isn't very good.

DJ Premier returns! Big Jaz (now known as Jaz-O) and Sauce Money (now known as out of work Sauce Money) sound much more natural with Jay than Bleek ever will. Why the fuck was Sauce never signed to the Roc? Jay's mentor/arch-nemesis Jaz will never sound this good again.

Nobody makes beats like this one anymore. (I'm not saying that they should.) First in a long line of serious, downbeat songs that Hova has used to end his albums.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Reasonable Doubt still holds up to this day, with the exception of "Can't Knock The Hustle" which I used to like back in the day, but now puts me to sleep faster than Ambien. There aren't many rap albums that celebrate the highs of the mafioso lifestyle, and at the same time reflect the thoughts of the gangster that wants to try harder to better himself. And also, the CD itself is shiny.

BUY OR BURN? Buy this one, definitely. The overall stock of your CD collection will rise when you pick this up. It will also get you laid, though probably by other hip hop backpackers who hate mainstream Jay, so watch out for that.

BEST TRACKS: "Friend or Foe"; "Dead Presidents II"; "Ain't No N---a"

Shit, that took a long time to write. Look out for album number two, coming soon.



  1. Nice review. Great insight into your subject. I actually ended up learning a lot just from reading your review. Its been a long time since I really followed Hip-Hop, so it was nice to see some of the things that I have missed. Can't wait to see what's up next :)

  2. what a great blog....i plan to get stoned and read this very regularly from now on....only complaint is not having d'evils on the best tracks...but it's not my review i guess

  3. ^PD, that's a great idea. I didn't know this was your first review!
    Great work. I still haven't listened to this completely.

  4. actually jigga jacked his flow on feelin it from camp lo who he jacked the beat from.

  5. I read much, much later (since this post was written over a year ago) about the Camp Lo beat jacking, but I don't buy that he stole the flow. True, it is a bit slower than it is on the rest of the album, but having heard both Geechie Suede and Sonny Cheeba, their respective flows are a bit too rapid for me to believe.
    I did also find out much later that Shawn was trying to take their beat for "Luchini" as well, but today, in 2008, I just think, "What the hell could he have done with it that would sound better?"

    Thanks for reading, especially this far back in my catalog.

  6. http://www.zshare.net/audio/18331588959bf0/

    their it is if you havent heard it...

    i just see too many similarities in the bar structures and even ski said jay bit the flow wholesale

    It was me and Geechi Suede from Camp Lo, it was my hook and everything. Jay heard it and was like, "I want that record. I don’t care what you do, I want that record." I didn’t want to give it to him, but I had to because I knew he was going to be the man at the time. So I said, "Fuck it, take the record." It really was me and Suede from Camp Lo, the flow and everything, the way he was flowing on it. That’s the way we was flowing on it. So he just took the whole thing. But you know, he killed it in his own way"




  7. Fuckin' A. How old is that demo? They didn't even sound like that on their first album! Anyway, I stand corrected. Thanks for finding that download; that's some fascinating shit. And feel free to leave a comment on the Camp Lo post, since nobody bothered to when I originally wrote it.

  8. AnonymousMay 07, 2008

    man, where are you from, how old are you,i didnt think you really existed, but you do...you say almost everything that I feel, do some nas reviews...I relly appreciate the time you took to sit down and pour out your opinions and views...keep going strong...and you already know what the icing on the cake would be, don't ya?...peace


  9. Ain't no nigga was the WORST song on the album, hands down.

  10. Better late than never. RD is an excellent album but it stops just short of "classic" status. The production was revolutionary and indeed out of sight and Jay and his crew put the drug money to good use by purchasing some of NY's finest producers. For myself, Jay's lack of originality stops this album from being classic. When it comes to a classic mafioso rap album, Only Built for Cuban Linx reigns supreme and I cannot think of another album that can match it. RD would hold the title if Cuban Linx didn't precede it.

  11. Only good album from Jay cuz like Nas said "What's sad is i love you cuz your my brother, you traded your soul for riches" 8 really good songs n then he throws it all to waste with Ain't no Nigga w/ boring tracks right after that.. the only album i can see close to this one getting good deserving critical acclaim is "The Black Album" but even that i will say he shouldn't deserve the term greatest.. in my eyes he's anything but "Great" goo review tho, peace..

  12. wtf??? no Bring it On on the best tracks list?? what is wrong with you max??? thats the hardest track on the album!!!!

  13. can i live = one of the best songs ever

  14. This review wasn't that bad... its certainly better than those review where you used a sentence for each song.

  15. I always liked this review...I never liked your Illmatic review though...

  16. So this is where it all started, I've been searching far a wide for your first review. Well done Max, this blog is amazing.

  17. i did notice a massive change in your writing from these old reviews to the new ones. personally, though, i agree that this review is not bad. one that hit me as being very simple is your review on Sun Rises In The East

  18. For your first review, this is impressive. Compared to your Illmatic review at least.
    I love this album. It's definitely my favourite Jay-Z album. It makes me feel happy when I listen to it.

  19. Good review on a classsic album

    Oh that was a four tops hook on aint no nigga

  20. Out of interest Max would your top 5 MCs list look a little something like (in no particular order):
    Jay Z
    Black Thought
    Royce da 5'9

    1. Top 10*

      Starang Wondah
      Andre 3000
      Big Boi


      Chief Keef

    2. No, but bonus points for remembering Starang Wondah, a dude most of the readers forget about rather easily.

    3. Erm Max, it's not really remembering anything... It's in the sidebar. Also you have mentioned every single rapper mentioned above to be your favourite rapper at least once on your blog, so that means your lying, because i doubt anyone in today's climate would replace anyone on the list.

    4. Interesting that you would immediately jump to "I'm lying" when I merely advise that the list, which you all came up with yourselves (since I've never listed anyone myself), isn't quite right. I've never written out a list myself because my tastes change rather frequently.

      A list of that nature is subjective, and unless you're me, you'll never get it quite right, but I'm enjoying the attempts being made. The choices are definitely interesting, I'll give you that.

      And it is remembering, because the sidebar lists damn near every artist I've written about, so that means someone would have had to have paid attention to WHEN I mentioned my interest in Starang Wondah, since I haven't written about the OGC in years.

      Thanks for reading!

    5. I was actually joking about the 'lying' concept: I'm fully aware that your personal favourite rappers may change over the course of running this blog - every MC is supposed to make you feel that they are the best when you listening to them anyway. But you took me calling you a liar literal, and here I thought sarcasm reigns supreme on this blog.

      It it definitely NOT remembering. I am a longtime reader of this blog, and if new reader came along and chose to look at his favourite rap artists/groups that you have reviewed, all he has to do is go to the sidebar. If he wants to see your reviews on Originoo Gunn Clappaz, that's all he has to do, and through reading your reviews on those dudes you wrote about several years ago, he can find out your opinion on Starang Wonder in a matter of hours. What's so 'bonus' about remembering that? Do you expect every reader to have read your whole blog from the beginning? I am concerned that you think it's a skill of memory. Quite frankly, I think it's stupid.

      Having known that, for the most part, your sentiment of rappers and albums still manage to be the same over the years (well, you DO like U-God much more nowadays), I question your favouritism for Starang Wondah. He isn't severely underrated. He IS the best out of OGC, but that isn't saying much at all, and he does have some quotables on Da Storm, but they don't deserve a space in the Hip Hop Qu'ran or anything. I also question your favouritism for Jay-Z, but that argument can be saved for another day. Especially how I have the audacity to say such ill words about Jigga in the comment section of his magnum opus.

      And I don't even think YOU can get the list right. Seriously if someone asked you right now who your top 3 wrappers are, you'd tell them Christmas wrapping paper, chicken wrap fajita, and the Waste & Resources Association Programme.

      Thanks for reading!

    6. No, thank you. Never ceases to amaze me just how seriously people will take my general bullshitting in the comments. Thank you for spending so much time writing several paragraphs on the subject on how you feel my mind should be working regarding my own blog, my posts, and a list that I have never even thought to ever compile. That was awesome.

    7. (I'm the original person who listed five) well Max, would you say I wasn't far off?

    8. I like all of them, but as I keep saying, I don't have a list going, since I don't like comparing rappers to other rappers.

  21. You are very most welcome. I guess you saying that and evading my question means you've lost the argument. Just be sure to say something reckless again so I can Mike Tyson your ass.

  22. The only album that Corey Carter can be proud of. (Even though I also hate the crapfests that are Ain't No N***a & Feelin' It)

    After this, he relegated himself to the realm of excellent SONGWRITER. NOT ALBUM MAKER.