20 years ago, Jay Z would began to resonate with me musically like never before. He would turn the corner lyrically, album structure wise and finally break out of the shadows of Biggie, Nas and even Pac, with two of them being deceased and one of them taking a year to get The Firm going. That resonation began with In My Lifetime Vol.1.
It’s 2017 now and you can’t find many people that will tell you “Reasonable Doubt was a dope album that nobody really went hard for outside of New York state”. They will also screams it’s praises of how classic it is, but can give you no real food for thought as to why or what changed with the albums appreciation. I’ve argued that enough so let’s move forward.
Truthfully, Vol 1 is the album that establishes Jay’s core. It’s the album that was the litmus test for how he would make music for the next 20 years. I watch people ish on this album like it’s terrible, but I’m summing them all up to casual listeners who buy and love albums based on singles and not for content. Here’s why.
Songs people remember from this album.
-Sunshine with Foxy Brown and Babyface. Ok the songs not the greatest. I get it. But can you really ish on any song with Babyface on it? The Jay and Foxy collaboration percentage is high on the “like meter”. How many Jay and Foxy songs do you LOVE? [Waits for people who can only name “Ain’t No…”]
-The City Is Mine featuring Blackstreet. The song for Biggie with the Glen Frey sample and interpolation. Let’s be clear the only “Dope Biggie Tribute” is I’ll be Missing You by Diddy, Faith and 112. [Shout to Sauce Money] If you look beneath the surface, Jay knocked off that formula. 80’s sample and interpolation, dope R&B Group, expensive video. I honestly think the “miss” is the beat wasn’t hard and it was more about Jay saying “I run ish now that Big ain’t here”. Nobody wants to hear that 8 months after the passing of a man we [hip-hop] were undoubtedly calling the Greatest Rapper of All Time after March 9th.
-I Know What Girls Like. Known as “The trash song with Diddy and Lil Kim”. No argument there. Again, Jay trying to use the Bad Boy formula for Rocafella success and failing. Diddy was smart by giving Jay B-Team ideas and keeping the A-Team stuff for No Way Out and Harlem World. Bad Boy didn’t expect their Franchise players death and needed all they had then some, just in case. Jay seen how big the “Take hits from 80’s and make it sound so crazy” wave was and wanted in. After all, Reasonable Doubt was no more than critically acclaimed and he needed to make a splash. End of day, in real time, it just didn’t work.
Now that we have the 3 songs that people actually remember but want to forget. Lets talk about what’s on this album.
Intro/A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More: Possibly in the Top 3 of Jay Intros ever depending on how you feel about “Hova Song”
Imaginary Player: A Top 10 Jay song ever. Maybe Top 5. The song that is relevant every year in hip-hop since it’s release. It’s the reason why rappers stunt on the gram and why others get made fun of for stunting on the gram.
Streets Is Watching: Top 5 Jay song ever. I don’t have to explain this one. They also made this into a movie with a lot of Vol 1 songs being the transitions.
Friend or Foe ’98: A gun in your face and that’s all you can come up with? HARD!
Lucky Me: Another great song to prove that Jay does more than rap about drugs. Top 30 Jay song easy.
Who You Wit II: I liked this version and the one on the “Sprung” movie soundtrack. Not sure why many people don’t speak highly of this song. It’s anything but trash.
Where I’m From: Top 5 Jay Z song ever! He slaughtered this! Many people hop on this beat and do it no justice. Layered with “Hip-Hop Quotables”. The only flawless Bad Boy-Roc-A-Fella collaboration post Biggie.
You Must Love Me with Kelly Price: I think it’s a Top 10 Jay song ever. More story telling and Introspect from Jay-Z. These song are always dope.
To pad the album and make it 14 tracks. He gives us the following.
Face Off with Sauce Money: The first time he took from Big for a hook. Not a bad song, you’ll let it ride cause the spitting.
Real Ni**az with Too Short: The second time he took from Big for a hook. Another decent joint.
Rap Game Crack Game: The last great Jay-Z and Jaz O moment. I thought Premo did this. Either way it’s dope!
The bright spots of this album appreciate greatly over time. This is one of the albums that inspires a young Kanye West. It take the great New York debate of “Biggie, Jay Z and Nas” to the national stage. It’s the “Voltron formula” for what Jay would do format wise for countless albums to come. I became a fan of Jay-Z because of this album. A solid 11/14 is never bad in any era of rap music.
Respect to In My Lifetime Vol.1. My hands down favorite Jay-Z Album.