Because I don’t want anyone to get it confused, I’m going to start a statement and complete it at the end of this story. There is a 98% chance that Jay Z is going to go down as the greatest figure in hip-hop history…
Summer 1996 is why many across the world feel that 1996 is the greatest year in hip-hop ever. On the surface you can’t deny that. I feel the greatest year ever is 1998 and we can rap about that later.
By Summer of 1996, Pac ruled The World, but Biggie ran the East and was doing it with an album he had dropped about 2 years ago at that time. Fugees dropped a gem in February, Busta Rhymes finally went solo and pulled what some today would call “A 2 Chainz” without changing his name, Too Short would drop his 10th album and “retire” and Nas was dropping what had to be the most anticipated album of Summer 1996, It Was Written, especially with “If I Ruled the World” and “Hit Em Up” being apart of everyone’s summer soundtrack.
Another album was on the way for Summer 96. That album was Jay-Z’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt. This album is deemed classic now, but during the time, I remember a different narrative.
Some music conversations, I just don’t forget. I remember being in the car with my cousin Courtney in what had to be Late July into August.
He said “Aye, have you heard that album by that one dude? Think is his name is Jay-Z “
Cam: Naw, what’s it called?
Courtney: It’s called Reasonable Doubt. I heard it over Torrence crib. It’s kind of bumping! At least the parts I heard was.
Cam: Oh yeah? I might have to look for that then. It’s tight though?
To sum that day up, I didn’t buy the album and I honestly forgot the name of it until I seen it on the YO! MTV Raps Top 10 Albums list a week or so later.
I remember MAYBE 2 people at MAX having Reasonable Doubt. My cousin Torrence, because he was a super fan of East Coast rap like me and I believe it was my guy Jermaine Tidwell. I known him since I was like 7-8 years old. Our moms hung out and he was always up on music. In fact, I believe he was the first “Kid DJ” that we had in our town, so he was always up on music that regular people just didn’t have. My guy Dub didn’t even have it, but he was engulfed in Wu-Tangs catalog at the time. Yep, Cuban Linx and Liquid Swords played well over into 1996.
Other than that, I along with quite a few people couldn’t even tell you who Jay-Z was. Sure we seen The Nutty Professor and know “Ain’t No Ni**a” was one of the lead songs for the soundtrack, but don’t forget, Case, Mary and Foxy had “Touch Me, Tease Me” on that same soundtrack and AZ Yet had “Last Night” on there. You clearly see, that’s not the biggest record or the biggest star. In fact, you can make the argument Foxy Brown benefitted most from that soundtrack on songs that weren’t even hers.
Did I like Dead Presidents? Not at first. I used to turn the channel when I saw that helicopter beginning to land in the video. Can’t Knock The Hustle? YEP! Feeling It? Eventually. Ain’t No Ni**a? At first, but then it got extremely overplayed so it was, f**k that song. So with Jay being 1 for 4 in singles, “I slept”….or did I?
2 out of 26,000 people had this album IN 1996 from what I remember from where I’m from. I know people will come out the woodwork now and proclaim “they been rocking since day 1” but of course you say that now; It’s Jay Z! In 1998 I was told by a “rap fan” Vol.2 was Jay-Z’s debut album. Yes, that sounds stupid but it happened several times until 2001.
This album did eventually go gold and had to be re-release in 1998 to then go platinum years later. For some reason or another it was hard for Jay to sell a rap album with Mary J Blige, Foxy Brown, Biggie and DJ Premier on it. Think of how many times that recipe was used in the 90’s and how many platinum plaques were distributed because of it.
Is this album dope? YEP! SUPER DOPE! “22 Two’s” “Regrets”, “Friend or Foe” and “Can I Live” are great songs and complete this albums experience.
Is this album classic? To me, No. Classic albums don’t need re-releases. Classic albums don’t get lost in the shuffle of other albums dropping months before and months after.
Are people definitely telling you Reasonable Doubt is a better album than All Eyez On Me? The Score? It Was Written? ATLiens? Ridin’ Dirty? Hardcore? The Ice Cream Man? The Shocker? How about Soul On Ice by Rass Kass or Piece of Mind by Tela?
That’s 10 albums that dropped in 1996 and I didn’t name The Coming, Gettin’ It, Ill Nana, Ironman, Tha Doggfather or Muddy Waters.
Mike B of Cool Hype Radio made a great point not too long ago. He said “Pac dissing Jay before he came out hurt him more than people realize…” To a degree I understand that logic. What we can’t deny is nobody with an album dropping in 1996 got it worse than Nas and he went Double Platinum.
People gloss over how bad Pac was on Jay a$$ in 1996 just because he was B.I.G homey. That’s also why nobody can tell me Jay-Z’s freestyle on Funkflex 60 Minutes of Funk Vol 2 isn’t about Pac! If Pac had lived long enough to respond, I think that changes rap in a big way. Big ways that benefit Jay. We’ll speak on that later.
There is a 98% chance that Jay Z is going to go down as the greatest figure in hip-hop history. A large part of that is because he consistently changed the culture and the way to maneuver in it while telling us his worst received album, is his best album. People call Reasonable Doubt classic now because Jay told them to tell themselves that.
More people had heard the line “Reasonable Doubt. Classic. Should have went triple.” than had the actual album in 2001.
This album not being classic to me doesn’t take away from this album being a great body of work. The lack of love for this album caused the bigger hits and the bigger moments from Roc-A-Fella Records. We probably don’t get 3 Jay-Z albums if his self proclaimed classic goes triple….Listen to Vol. 2’s intro and Hard Knock Life the song, 3rd Verse.
Respect to the 96 gem known as Reasonable Doubt.
The following reflection is from a midwest kid from Northern Illinois. Maybe someone my age from Brooklyn can tell you a 180 version of what I’m saying….I’d love to see it.