Classics Revisited: Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

Written by Aaron. Posted in Reviews, Spotlight

Published on April 23, 2012 with 2 Comments">2 Comments

These days, the word “classic” is thrown around as loosely as a Nerf ball at a picnic. However, we at TRU consider classics to be something which stand the test of time and have a resounding influence on their respective fields. But how do albums considered classics sound to the ears of TRU’s young blood? Aaron J. McKrell was born in 1990 and we’ve convinced him to turn his scope on a classic from the rich history of hip-hop to view it through a contemporary lens in a weekly series we call…

Jay-Z isn’t a rapper. He’s a hustler. It just so happens he knows how to rap- extremely well. Reasonable Doubt, released in ’96, was groundbreaking proof of that.

If Jay was a mixture of his younger self and Frank Lucas on American Gangster, then Reasonable Doubt finds him in a mesh of a young Shawn Carter and a young Don Vito. Yeah, yeah, that comparison has been made before- even by me. There’s a reason why people compare the two; like the flashback scenes from The Godfather, Part II, Jay takes small-time crime and turns it into art of epic proportions. “Dead Presidents II” is a foray into the psyche of a hustler; “I’m out for presidents to represent me.”

Of course, this is Jay-Z we’re talking about. He’s not your typical hustler-rapper, bragging about how real he keeps it and how many drugs he’s sold. The crime always comes with consequences. Whether Jay’s side is the one that’s hurting- “Hospital, dazed I’m reflecting while my man laid up/On the uptown high block he got his side sprayed up”- or the one bringing the pain- “Who could ever foresee/we used to stay up all night at slumber parties, now I’m tryna rock his b*tch to sleep”- Jay’s crime tales usually end in pain. Fortunately for Jay, he was able to make it out, but not without learning that “In order to survive, gotta learn to live with regrets.”

This is not to say Jay doesn’t stop to enjoy himself. “Feelin’ It” finds him “Doin’ a buck-forty in the rain, hydroplaning,” and “Cashmere Thoughts” is an all-out celebration of the pimp lifestyle. The difference is, on Reasonable Doubt the joy only lasts for so long. Like an epic gangster flick, things eventually go south.

Jay has a brutally honest take on hustling, though:

“Yeah, I sold drugs for a living, that’s a given, why is it?/Why don’t y’all try to visit the neighborhoods I lived in.”

He knows drug dealing is wrong, but he won’t let the world forget the circumstances that led him into that life.

Don’t forget, this is still a rap album, and regardless of what Jay will tell you, he’s a true emcee. “22 Two’s” is too dope, and Jay brings the metaphors and double entendres throughout the album:

About his whereabouts I wasn’t convinced/I kept feedin’ her money ‘til her sh*t started to make sense.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is an emcee’s dream session, with Jay and the late Biggie Smalls going back and forth, attempting to one-up each other every time. Man, if those studio walls could talk…

As far as the music goes, Jay enlists the likes of Clark Kent, Ski and DJ Premier to match his smooth rhymes with crisp production. The drums always knock, and the piano loops are lush but dark- perfect for a crime-epic. The one misstep in production is on ‘Ain’t No N***a,’ where the funk is painfully misplaced. The hook doesn’t help matters, but fortunately Jay’s wit saves the song: “They say sex is a weapon/So when I shoot, meet your death in less than eight seconds.”

That song exposes the only flaws on the entire album. Jay never misses a step lyrically throughout, and there are several classic cuts, from “Can’t Knock the Hustle” to the larger-than-life “Can I Live.” On the album’s bonus cut, ‘Can I Live II,’ Shawn Carter drops his hustler personality and embraces his Jay-Z moniker in full. It’s telling of a man ready to take over his new hustle: hip-hop. We all know what happened next, and there will forever be a debate on whether Jay-Z is a “sellout,” one of the best that ever did it, or both. Whatever one may believe, Reasonable Doubt cements him in the pantheon of hip-hop’s elite. Alas, some people just don’t get it:

“The percentage who don’t understand, is higher than the percentage who do/Check yourself, what percentage is you?”

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Aaron is a journalism major at Edinboro University with a deep passion for hip-hop culture and music. He hails from Erie, Pa., and loves all things Pittsburgh and the Sixers. He has been down with hip-hop since "Lose Yourself" and has been all in since "What You Know." As a Christian, Aaron enjoys both secular and spiritual hip-hop. Besides his standard 6-11 servings of hip-hop per day, Aaron enjoys helping people out and hanging out with his crew, Platoon Squad.

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