“If everybody in your clique is rich, your clique is rugged, no one will fall because everyone will be each other’s crutches.” Lyrics rapped over a record called “Feelin’ It” by a man named Shawn Carter, aka, Jay-Z. A couple of weeks ago, in 2016, he came out with a new record with Future and DJ Khaled called “I Got The Keys.” When I first heard the record, I was worried. As a super Jay-Z fan, I thought one of my favorite rappers of all time was falling off. But even if he was, I wasn’t worried I would have to bash him, but worried I would have to defend him against a bunch of younger internet trolls, like I sometimes have to with DMX and Eminem (two of the best rappers ever by the way), but that’s for another article. But then I heard a bunch of people praise the song, way more than I did. Then I listened a few more times and started to like it. I don’t like it as much as his cut on Pusha T’s “Drug Dealer’s Anonymous” but I like it. Then I finally saw the video and it’s pretty good. Scratch that, combined with the video, it’s dope. Then I realized it’s been 20 years since the release of “Reasonable Doubt.” When it comes to songwriters/rappers we are literally looking at the Michael Jackson or Prince of hip-hop.
“Reasonable Doubt”, was released June 25, 1996. After the street single, “I Can’t Get With That”, Original Flavor’s “Can I Get Open”, and Jaz-O’s “Hawaiian Sophie” which came out in 1989. This guy has been putting out rap records for 27 years and he has been consistently good. At worst he has put out some exceptional records, but nothing really terrible, in my opinion. I mean, we could block out the R. Kelly and Linkin Park years, but should we? I mean when “Fiesta” comes on in a bar, I’m jamming. When “Numb/Encore” comes on Pandora, I don’t hit skip. But back to “Reasonable Doubt.” Jesus Christ, what a classic, 20 years since it’s release, I can throw that album on and listen to it from beginning to end and not skip a song. I feel the need to watch documentaries and interviews with all the masterminds behind this album to see what their mindset and game plan was, not because I want to do research, but because I’m obsessed, because I’m a fan. “Pain in Da Ass’s” intro, “Dead Presidents”, “D’Evils”, “Bring It On.” I know who Emory Jones is. I can make the connection and break down the relationship between “Dead Presidents” and “Seen It All.” The reason for all this being that Jay-Z is an incredible storyteller.
The first hip-hop record I heard and fell in love with was “Money, Power, Respect” by The Lox, featuring Lil Kim and DMX. My mother had it on a cassette tape she used to play in the car. My favorite verse was DMX’s verse. I was no older than 10 at the time. It wasn’t too long before I got my hands on DMX’s album, “It’s Dark And Hell is Hot.” I was obsessed, I listened to it everyday. When I was with my mother I listened to it on the walkman and when I went to visit my father I played it on his stereo, because he didn’t care about explicit lyrics being bumped at high volume throughout his place. But I think he did notice, that some of the lyrics were extra harsh and probably didn’t want me obsessing over just that album at such a young age. So one day, he brought me “Reasonable Doubt.” I remember him telling me that this was a little smoother, but I know he thought it was a less explicit album, not realizing the super dark tones in Jay-Z’s metaphors and similes. When I heard that album, I immediately became a fan. I bought every Jay-Z CD after that. In 27 years, I haven’t missed a beat. He is to me, what I think Michael Jackson and Prince are to older people. He’s more explicit, sometimes rude, ghetto, hood, but I don’t care, he’s one of the iconic musical figures that raised my culture and he did a very good job. I’ve been to three Jay-Z concerts and honestly after those, I don’t even really go to concerts. Once I go to a DMX and Eminem concert, I’ll be through, maybe a Notorious BIG hologram concert will draw me back on the live show scene. But anyways, I’m a big fan, so big, that it also makes me a huge critic. When I say huge critic, I mean like, me seeing him put out an “ok” song is like a head coach watching his star player have a bad game. I think it hurts me more. So originally I was gonna write an article about how the great J Hova was finally falling off, but as I thought about it, he’s not.
Over 20 years, Jay-Z has put out 15 platinum albums. 15! That’s insane. Every single album had a hit single, whether you liked it or not. He’s a Grammy Award winner. He’s a self-made billionaire that came up from the projects and escaped a very deep drug dealer’s lifestyle that most former drug dealers can’t even speak about because they are no longer with us. He’s married to Beyonce. He sits courtside at any NBA game he wants. He watches Cowboy games on the sidelines with Jerry Jones. If he even does a feature on someone else’s song, the world stops. Not to mention, this is a guy who no one in the entire music industry believed in at first. No one would sign him. Not a soul. They said he rapped too fast. He had to create his own label, with the help of Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke of course. With all that being said, you don’t have to like the guy, but you got to respect it. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to mention Jay-Z and falling off in the same sentence, he’s too smooth. So, instead of ending this article saying Jay-Z is on a decline, I’m just gonna list my top 5 Jay-Z albums of all-time which I’m positive will stir up a whole different debate. Number 5, Vol.3…Life and Times of Shawn Carter. Number 4, Vol.2…Hard Knock Life. Number 3, The Black Album. Number 2, The Blueprint. And Number 1, Reasonable Doubt. Happy 20th Anniversary.