Reasonable Doubt (album)
|Studio album by Jay-Z|
|Released||June 25, 1996|
|Recorded||D&D Studios, New York City|
|Producer||Big Jaz, Sean Cane, Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Irv Gotti, Knobody, Peter Panic, Ski|
|Singles from Reasonable Doubt|
Reasonable Doubt is the debut album of American rapper Jay-Z, released on April 9, 1996, by Roc-A-Fella Records and Priority Records. It features production by DJ Premier, Ski, Knobody and Clark Kent, and guest appearances from Memphis Bleek, Mary J. Blige, and The Notorious B.I.G., among others. Reasonable Doubt features Mafioso rap themes and gritty lyrics about the "hustler" lifestyle and material obsessions.
The album peaked at number 23 on the US Billboard 200, on which it charted for 18 weeks. It was promoted with four singles, including the Hot 100-charting "Ain't No Nigga" and "Can't Knock the Hustle". Reasonable Doubt has been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and, as of 2006, has sold 1.5 million copies in the United States.
Well received by critics upon its release, the album has since been heralded by music writers as Jay-Z's "crowning achievement", "a seminal work" and an "undisputed classic". It appears on numerous best album lists by music publications, including The Source, Blender, and Rolling Stone, which ranked it number 248 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
In 1989, aspiring rapper Jay-Z was recruited by mentor Jaz-O to appear on his song "Hawaiian Sophie". He appeared on two more Jaz-O songs in the next year, but after Jaz-O was dropped from his record label, Jay-Z dealt drugs to support himself. He continued to pursue a rap career and appeared on two songs from Original Flavor's 1993 album Beyond Flavor. Jay-Z then caught Big Daddy Kane's attention and toured with him; they collaborated on Kane's 1994 posse cut "Show & Prove" along with Wu-Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard, Wu-Tang affiliate Shyheim, Sauce Money, and Scoob Lover.
Despite the exposure he received from Kane, Jay-Z was still without a record deal. He began selling tapes from his car with help from friend Damon Dash. The success of his street-level marketing led to a deal with Payday Records, which released his first solo single, "In My Lifetime" and its B-side "I Can't Get wid Dat". In an unconventional move, Jay-Z then spurned the record contract he had long sought and left Payday Records to form his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, with Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke. Jay-Z later explained that he thought he could do a better job of marketing his records on his own:
[Payday] eventually signed me to a deal, but were acting shady the whole time, like they didn't know how to work a record or something," says Jay. "The things that they were setting up for me I could have done myself. They had me traveling places to do instores, and my product wasn't even available in the store. We shot one video, but when the time came for me to do the video for the second single, I had to be cut out. They gave me the money and I started my own company. There was a little arguing back and forth, but our conflict finally got resolved. The bottom line was they wasn't doing their job, so I had to get out of there.
Jay-Z rented a small, cheap office for Roc-A-Fella Records on John Street in one of the "dreariest parts of the busiest city in the world". Jay-Z and his compatriots thought of their low-rent headquarters as a "starting point" that would eventually lead them to Manhattan. In 1995 and early 1996, Jay-Z appeared on records by Big L and Mic Geronimo, further raising his profile. At this point, he was still considered an "underground" rapper with a "new jack" style. Roc-A-Fella released Reasonable Doubt with Priority Records.
Reasonable Doubt was recorded at D&D Studios and mixed at Platinum Island, however, its beats were formed elsewhere. "Can't Knock the Hustle" was produced by Knobody at his mother's home in 1994, while the vocals were recorded on tour at a studio in Tampa Florida named Progressive Music with Mary J Blige. Ski produced "Feelin' It" and "Politics as Usual" while recording with Camp Lo.
The recording sessions for the album were generally dominated by competition; Ski and Clark Kent created similar beats for "Politics as Usual", but Ski submitted his to Jay-Z first causing his to appear on the album. "Brooklyn's Finest" was a competitive, though friendly battle between Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. in which Jay-Z tried proving that he is of Biggie's caliber, while Biggie tried brushing his rhymes off as insignificant. Although the rappers had already met on the set for the "Dead Presidents" music video, they discovered that neither wrote down their rhymes while recording. The recording of "Brooklyn's Finest" spanned two months and moved from D&D Studios to Giant Studios where the Clark Kent-sung chorus was recorded. The studio sessions affected Jay-Z mentally: as he told Rolling Stone, "The studio was like a psychiatrist's couch for me".
Reasonable Doubt has Mafioso rap themes. David Drake of Stylus Magazine considers the lyrics to be characterized by "gritty realism". Journalist Dream Hampton explains Jay-Z's lyrics saying: "MC's had definitely touched [...] on hustling. But Jay, talks about what it can do to a person's inner peace, and what it can do to their mind". Allmusic's Steve Huey describes him as a "a street hustler from the projects who rapped about what he knew—and he was very, very good at it...detailing his experiences on the streets with disarming honesty". Huey summarizes the album's subject matter saying:
He's cocky bordering on arrogant, but playful and witty, and exudes an effortless, unaffected cool throughout. And even if he's rapping about rising to the top instead of being there, his material obsessions are already apparent [...] the album's defining cut might [...] be the brief "22 Two's," which not only demonstrates Jay-Z's extraordinary talent as a pure freestyle rapper, but also preaches a subtle message through its club hostess: Bad behavior gets in the way of making money. Perhaps that's why Jay-Z waxes reflective, not enthusiastic, about the darker side of the streets.
Allmusic's Steve Birchmeier writes that the album's production exhibits characteristics of "the pre-gangsta era, a foregone era when samples fueled the beats and turntablism supplied the hooks", which "sets Reasonable Doubt apart from Jay-Z's later work". "Can't Knock the Hustle" features a smooth beat. "Politics as Usual" has an R&B sound and a sample of "Hurry Up This Way Again" by The Stylistics. "Dead Presidents" samples Nas' voice from "The World Is Yours" in its chorus. According to IGN's Spence D., "Ski brings back the stripped down piano fill style lending the track a late night jazz vibe" on "Feelin' It", and "22 Two's" has a "mournful jazz inclined groove" that prominently features string instruments. "Coming of Age" contains a Clark Kent-produced beat that samples the melody and drums from "Inside You" by Eddie Henderson.
After its release on June 25, 1996, the album peaked at number 23 on the Billboard 200. It spent 18 weeks on the chart, and 55 weeks on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, on which it reached number three. By the end of 1996, it had sold 420,000 copies in the United States. On February 7, 2002, Reasonable Doubt was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipments of one million copies in the US.
Four singles—"Dead Presidents", "Ain't No Nigga", "Can't Knock the Hustle" and "Feelin' It"—were released in promotion of Reasonable Doubt. "Dead Presidents" is the only single that did not chart, though it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. The second single, "Ain't No Nigga", featuring Foxy Brown, was the most commercially successful single, reaching #50 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales. "Can't Knock the Hustle", the third single, features guest vocals by Mary J. Blige and reached #73 on the Billboard Hot 100 making it the second most successful single on the album, and #30 on the UK Singles Chart making it the most successful single in the United Kingdom. The fourth and final single was "Feelin' It", which reached #79 on the Billboard Hot 100.
|Los Angeles Daily News|||
The album was well received by music critics upon its release. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+ rating, while Charlie Braxton of The Source gave it four out of five mics. The magazine later revised it to its "classic" five mic rating, and in 1998, it was listed one of The Source's 100 Best Rap Albums. Allmusic's Steve Huey noted that its lyrical appeal lies within Jay's "effortless, unaffected cool" flow, "disarming honesty", and his knack for "writing some of the most acrobatic rhymes heard in quite some time". Huey writes that this lyrical depth "helps Reasonable Doubt rank as one of the finest albums of New York's hip-hop renaissance of the '90s". Fellow Allmusic writer Jason Birchmeier claims that Jay-Z's lyrics are "candidly professional, but it's the producers more so than Jay-Z himself that make this album so untouchable". Birchmeier remarks that the album "boasts an amazing roster of producers", and Steve Juon agrees describing Ski, Clark Kent and DJ Premier as "the best beatmakers in rap". Juon also recognizes the album's lyrical strength and describes the album's reception saying:
This is not only the definitive album from H to the Izzo's catalogue, it's one of the ten most important rap records of the entire 1990's. It's possible to live without having heard it - but after you do, you'll wonder how you ever managed without it. Even nearly six years later, this album stands up to the best production and strongest lyricism coming out of any rap around the globe. If an album could be said to have made corny MC's into Jay-Z haters, this is the one.
In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau gave the album a one-star honorable mention () rating, indicating "a worthy effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well like". In a 2011 review, he revised it to an A- rating, indicating "the kind of garden-variety good record that is the great luxury of musical micromarketing and overproduction. Anyone open to its aesthetic will enjoy more than half its tracks." He wrote in retrospect, "Designed for the hip-hop cognoscenti and street aesthetes who still swear he never topped it, his self-financed debut album is richer than any outsider could have known, and benefits from everything we've since learned about the minor crack baron who put his money where his mouth was. You can hear him marshalling a discipline known to few rappers and many crack barons, and that asceticism undercuts the intrinsic delight of his rhymes".
Reasonable Doubt ranks on top of albums lists by Rolling Stone (2003's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time", Blender (2003's "500 CDs You Must Own Before You Die"), Vibe (2004's "51 Albums Representing a Generation, a Sound and a Movement"), and Hip Hop Connection (2006's "The 100 Greatest Rap Albums 1995-2005").
|About.com||United States||100 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums||2008||14|
|Best Rap Albums of 1996||2008||2|
|10 Essential Hip-Hop Albums||2008||5|
|Blender||500 CDs You Must Own Before You Die||2003||*|
|Tom Moon||1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die||2008||*|
|MTV.com||The Greatest Hip-Hop Albums of All Time||2005||6|
|Rhapsody||The A's, B's and Kilos of Coke Rap||2010||*|
|Rolling Stone||The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time||2003||248|
|100 Best Albums of the Nineties||2011||17|
|The Source||The 100 Best Rap Albums of All Time||1998||*|
|Vibe||The Greatest 50 Albums Since '93||2013||18|
|150 Albums That Define the Vibe Era (1992–2007)||2007||*|
|51 Albums representing a Generation, a Sound and a Movement||2004||*|
|Hip-Hop Connection||United Kingdom||The 100 Greatest Rap Albums 1995-2005||2005||13|
|New Nation||Top 100 Albums by Black Artists||2007||13|
|(*) designates lists that are unordered.|
Legacy and influence
Hip hop music
The album's success helped popularized Mafioso rap and its associated imagery of high class and expensive lifestyles, including drinking Cristal, driving Lexus automobiles, and living out the plots of films such as Scarface and Carlito's Way. This in turn displaced gangsta rap as the dominant style of hip hop at the time. Stylus Magazine writer Evan McGarvey claims that hustler rap group The Clipse try emulating Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt sound on their 2006 song "We Got It for Cheap".
Reasonable Doubt is often "considered one of hip-hop's landmark albums", according to Pitchfork Media's Ryan Schreiber. It is compared to The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die and Nas' Illmatic as a classic hip hop album.
Subsequent work by Jay-Z
Despite being the lowest charting Jay-Z album, it is often considered his best record. Carter himself lists it as number one on a list of his albums from best to worst. It differs from his future albums in its lack of "pop-crossover" songs and chart topping hits. Jay-Z's follow-up to Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was primarily produced by Sean "Diddy" Combs and his team of producers, The Hit Men. Future Jay-Z albums included production by Combs, The Neptunes, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and later Kanye West. Shaheem Reid of MTV explains, "Reasonable Doubt might not have the radio hits or club bangers of many of his other albums, but it may be Jay at his most lyrical—and certainly at his most honest, according to him".
Jay-Z has said that recreating Reasonable Doubt would be challenging, as he was living a different lifestyle with a completely different state of mind when he wrote the album. Ian Cohen of Stylus Magazine writes of its significance in context of Jay-Z's catalogue, "Reasonable Doubt was the come-up, The Blueprint was the comeback, and The Black Album may not have found him at his strongest lyrically, but it gained gravitas from meta-awareness and introspection".
Tenth anniversary concert
In 2006, Jay-Z performed the songs from Reasonable Doubt at the Radio City Music Hall to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The concert's band included The Roots' drummer Questlove, the Illadelphonics, a 50-piece orchestra dubbed The Hustla's Symphony and Just Blaze, the performance's disc jockey. On "Can't Knock the Hustle", Beyoncé Knowles replaced Mary J. Blige, who was preparing for her Breakthrough Tour at the time. Jay-Z rapped The Notorious B.I.G.'s verses on "Brooklyn's Finest", and Jaz-O's verse was left out of "Bring It On". Jay-Z added a verse to "22 Two's" in which he says variations of the words "for/four" 44 times over the beat of "Can I Kick It?" by A Tribe Called Quest. Other alterations include Jay-Z changing a lyrical mention of Cristal to Dom Pérignon and Jay-Z's band "spruc[ing] up tracks like 'Regrets' to add more energy". Celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Young Jeezy, Jadakiss, Chris Tucker, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony attended the concert. 3,000 tickets were put on sale; all were sold within two minutes according to Roc-A-Fella Records' website.
|1||"Can't Knock the Hustle"||S. Carter, M. Miller,
J. Foster, A.Rochelle
|Knobody, Sean Cane||5:17|
|2||"Politics as Usual"||S. Carter, D. Willis,
|3||"Brooklyn's Finest"||S. Carter, C. Wallace,
R. Franklin, L. Bonner,
|4||"Dead Presidents II"||S. Carter, L. Liston-Smith,
N. Jones, P. Phillips,
|5||"Feelin' It"||S. Carter, D. Willis||
|7||"22 Two's"||S. Carter, D. Willis||
|8||"Can I Live"||S. Carter, I. Lorenzo,
B. Bacharach, H. Davis
|9||"Ain't No Nigga"||S. Carter, I. Marchand,
J. Burks, D. Lampert,
|10||"Friend or Foe"||S. Carter, C. Martin||
|11||"Coming of Age"||S. Carter, R. Franklin,
|12||"Cashmere Thoughts"||S. Carter, R. Franklin,
H. Bohannon, L. Emanuel,
|13||"Bring It On"||S. Carter, C. Martin,
J. Burks, T. Gaithers
|14||"Regrets"||S. Carter, F. Di Pasquale||
- Bonus tracks
Bonus tracks that appear on later pressings of Reasonable Doubt.
|*15||"Can I Live II"||S. Carter, M. Cox,
|U.S. Billboard 200||23|
|U.S. Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums||3|
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