Probably one of the most hard hitting debut rap albums of all time is Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt. Jay Z at the time was a 26 year old aspiring rapper and businessman out of Brooklyn, New York, whose life was filled with things that were anything but legal from selling cocaine to gun fights. Along with the release of this album, a dynasty began with the help of Jay Z’s friends and business partners Damon “Dame” Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, The Roc-A-Fella dynasty. Something that makes this album so significant is that it is at the forefront of a sub-genre of rap that not many artists venture out into, Mafioso rap. Mafioso rap was a style of hip-hop that came out of New York that centered on an opulent lifestyle, but at the same time this lifestyle was brought to them through illegal activities, mainly selling drugs. Rappers nowadays seldom attempt to venture out into this style because the public tends to question their authenticity and occasionally it gets revealed that they do not live that lifestyle. It’s like Rick Ross, rapping about selling cocaine. C’mon Rozay, we know you’re clearly not doing that now. Many references are made to famous gangsters in Mafioso raps like Griselda Blanco or Pablo Escobar. One of the first albums to bring this style of rap into the game was Raekwon’s, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx or, The Purple Tape. Raekwon’s album paved the way for artists like Jay Z, Biggie, and even Nas to take on this same persona when they spit in order to describe the struggles of growing up in the Big Apple.
From the moment this album starts Jay Z uses nothing but an East Coast boom-bap beat, and a young Mary J. Blige to grab attentions. It is also amazing to me how his wordplay remains consistent throughout this project, something I wish his most recent projects did.
“I dip spit quicker than you’ve ever seen/ Administer pain, next the minister’s screaming your name/ At your wake as I peek in, look in your casket/ Feeling sarcastic, “Look at him still sleeping.”
Brooklyn’s Finest is the song that stands out the most due to it featuring the great Biggie Smalls. This track is filled with clever wordplay from both Jay Z and Biggie who both seem to be going back and forth throughout the song trying to outdo one another with boastful and witty rhymes like:
Gotta go it’s getting “Too Hot”/ If fay’ had twins she’d probably have two Pacs/ Get it? /Tu-Pac’s
Something that cannot go unnoticed is the singles that were on this project. “Dead Presidents II” a song that sampled Nas’s, “The World is Yours” and was one of the beginning factors that led up to rap’s biggest feud in history. Legend says that Jay Z wanted Nas to have a verse on this track and have Nas along with his friend AZ appear on the song, “Bring It On.” However the two never showed up to record verse, creating minor tension between the two that eventually escalated. “Ain’t No Nigga” is probably the most radio-friendly song on this album due to its catchy hook sung by Foxy Brown and Jaz-O. Although I found this chorus to be a little cheesy, Foxy Brown makes up for this by spitting a jaw dropping verse that made me want to listen to her solo projects.
At the end of the day, this project seemed to be another product of Mafioso rap and is considered Jay Z’s defining album not only because it was his debut, but because his style was original. Now Jay Z obviously went on to create a couple more classics like The Blueprint, and The Black Album but Reasonable Doubt will always be his greatest achievement because it was what gave him buzz and led to him to be the man he is today. The last track on this project, “Regrets”, claims in order to survive we have got to learn to live with regrets, something I am sure he does not have in regards to this project.