Roc-a-fella Records Inc., 1996
REVIEW BY: Ben Ehrenreich
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/10/2006
When your debut album has three tracks from the greatest producer of all time, DJ Premier, a track with the best rapper at the time, The Notorious B.I.G., and his full support, there are going to be high expectations. It’s a shame this was not the record that made Jay famous, because the type of music from the dismal Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life for awhile became synonymous with him.
Jay cleared up what happened between this debut record and “Moment Of Clarity,” the best track from his latest album, The Black Album. Jay reflects, “I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars / They criticized me for it yet they all yell "HOLLA!" / If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be / lyrically, Talib Kweli / Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / But I did five mill, I ain't been rhymin like Common since.” It’s with lines like these that he slowly not only kept the respect of commercial fans but won back hip-hop heads. The excellent wordplay and delivery that was displayed in “Moment Of Clarity” defines Reasonable Doubt.
Reasonable Doubt has three songs that are absolutely incredible: “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” “Dead Presidents II” and “D’Evils.” Even The Source rated “Dead Presidents II” in their top ten songs of all time; I still believe “Can’t Knock The Hustle” is a slightly better track. It contains a smooth melody, courtesy of Knowbody, that is very beautiful but also allows Jay to do his thing without the beat getting in the way. Jay provides wordplay and delivery at its finest while Mary J. Blige gives the song a vintage element.
“D’Evils” is an absolutely haunting track that is actually based on a dream Jay had. Even the fact that the title of the song is a play on words gives it a mystic quality that makes it a hip-hop classic. The one and only DJ Premier is the producer who could have provided Jay with the proper backdrop to deliver a story about friendship, business, and corruption. The beat contains Primo’s signature scratching that weaves in lines from Snoop Dogg’s “Murder Was The Case” and from Prodigy’s verse on “I Shot Ya.”
The only weak moment on this album is the bonus track “Can I Live II”, which I don’t even consider on the album. I always considered this album ending with the personal confession “Regrets,” which caps off this debut as one of the greats. Reasonable Doubt is one of the top ten hip-hop albums to date and displays great discipline while including absolutely no filler. With fourteen perfectly-produced, perfectly-constructed songs, Reasonable Doubt is a landmark for not just tales of drug dealing but hip-hop in general.If you didn’t listen to anything I said in this review, listen to these three words; BUY THIS ALBUM.