Wednesday, June 07, 2006

# 5 - Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt

When Original Flavor's "Can I Get Open" video came out, each MCs name was shown as they rhymed. In the 7th grade me and this kid named Chris were talking about how "nice" Jaze was (there was no hyphen to my recollection). Fast forward a few years, this DJ Clue tape had a great song called "In My Lifetime" (not the corny remix that I believe was produced by Dame Dash with the Soul II Soul reworking, the hook went "I need to see a whole lot of dough, I need a whole lot of dough...") Then the "Dead Presidents" video came out and "Aint No Nigga" hit radio airwaves, both becoming instant classics in their respective underground and mainstream fields. Funkmaster Flex played "Aint No Nigga" like Suge Knight held his life in the balance. "Brooklyn's Finest" would surface a few weeks before the album dropped, a collaboration with hip-hop's reigning champ at the time Notorious B.I.G. That made for three scorchers in a row. Who knew Shawn Corey Carter would go on to become the G.O.A.T.? (It's not even debatable, 8 albums in 8 years, had more influence than anyone else, made household names out of numerous producers amongst other reasons)

This album had to be for striving Brooklyn youth what Illmatic was for kids in Queens who saw no escape from disenfranchised living. It's the audio personification of what I understand the borough to be, tough confident and slick on one hand yet sophisticated on the other. Every song had Jay-Z rapping street life amazingly in a way that hadn't been done before. It's like if Lil' Fame went to charm school, coming out refined while retaining the thug streak within. In one package he was a gangster, gentleman and a baller at the time called a "Big Willie" (but his game was grown and he preferred to go by William) "Feelin' It" "Cant Knock The Hustle" and "Politics As Usual" were as smooth as "D'Evils" was sinister. "Can I Live" and "Friend or Foe" (he held a whole conversation while being the only one to talk!) captured both worlds and made it look easy to do so. The moment I hold most dear to my heart is "22 Twos", a simulated live show where he not only displays how lyrically clever he is but me pays homage to "Can I Kick It?" exclaiming "Yall mufuckas must aint hear that Tribe Called Quest shit, let's do it again"

Reasonable Doubt took a lot of shine off of Nas, dopping the same summer as "It Was Written", and surely had Biggie on his toes a few months before his untimely demise. Jay-Z was free to do him, before feeling the pressure of carrying the throne and having to go mainstream. Premier & Ski laid down tracks that many say define Hov at his finest. Sadly it wasn't really appreciated "until the second one came out."