Today is one of the most highly acclaimed hip-hop albums ever, the debut record from perhaps the most financially successful rapper of all time. “Reasonable Doubt” by Jay-Z is rated as album #67 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and is rated #4 on the Top 10 hip-hop albums of all time as rated by definitivedose.com. For all of the hype around this record and for Jay-Z in general, I have never been an over-the-top fan of Jay-Z, and this record does nothing to change my opinion.
I will acknowledge that he is a brilliant businessman, and a highly accomplished producer and talent developer. However, as a songwriter, and much more so, as an MC, he just is not my cup of tea. The tone of his voice is high and nasal, his flow is not as smooth or fluid, and he makes a lot of weird grunts around his rapping that just sounds weird. There are certain other singles he has done over the years that I do like better, but there isn’t much on this album I really connect with. To make it worse, like many in the hip-hop culture, there is a fascination with one of my favorite gangster movies, “Scarface”, but the content on this album taken from that movie is woefully amateurish and frankly embarrassing to any true “Scarface” fan.
The album isn’t without highlights, even if they also magnify my point. One of my favorite tracks is “Brooklyn’s Finest” (after the terrible Scarface intro), as it is a good back and forth for Brooklyn dominance between Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls. I like the tune, but mainly because The Notorious B.I.G. lays down a much smoother compliment in contrast to his hosting artist.
This album taps in a lot to the rap sounds of the time. “Dead Presidents II” borrows a main verse from Nas, “Devil’s” heavily samples Snoop, and “22 Two’s”, a hard diss on west coast rap, leads it off with the main chorus from “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest.
Among my favorites within these road-bumps is the chill tune “Feelin’ It”, with a very Amy Winhehouse-esque vocal from Mecca. It is one of the best blends of street anger and sweet relaxation, and her singing is top-notch. “Cashmere Thoughts” has a really funky opening that pulls me in, and “Regrets” has a R&B feel that resurfaces elsewhere on this record. One last preferred track I will call out is the last track, “Call I Live II”, with a pretty infectious horn riff that hypnotically drops a solid slow beat.
Overall, not a terrible record, and there are some highlights, but I definitely don’t rate this anywhere near some of the other legends we have heard from recently. In my naïve and relatively uninformed opinion, like Dr. Dre, I think Jay-Z would have been better served focusing on the production with limited rapping, letting smoother and better MCs carry a bigger piece of the rapping load.