” I GAVE YOU PROPHECY ON MY FIRST JOINT AND Y’ALL ALL LAMED OUT, DIDN’T REALLY APPRECIATE IT TILL THE SECOND ONE CAME OUT” – Jay-z
Remember that one tomboy from school no one knew was fine until her parents finally got some money and got her dressed up for the school dance, then all of a sudden it’s ass galore?
Well that’s what “Reasonable Doubt” was like.
There’s many variables that need to be considered when determining why an album as great as Reasonable Doubt didn’t sell millions and become a game changer out of the gate.
The first being that Jay-z was an independent artist.
A lot of the videos, promotion and travel expenses were paid for out of Jay’s pockets. So he wasn’t getting the same push or exposure on the same platforms as a B.I.G , Nas and other artists who were on a major label at the time.
Many hip-hop fans didn’t even know who Jay-z was until VOL 1 came out and in some cases VOL 2.
In this respect, Reasonable Doubt is very similar to Quentin Tarantino‘s Reservoir Dogs. Another low budget project that received mixed reviews and had low numbers at the box office but would later be considered a masterpiece and remains influential to it’s successors. It’s hard for anything to become a game changer when not even half of your target audience knows it exists.
Which brings us to the climate of hip-hop during that time.
A lot of high profile artists were dropping quality music, namely Tupac. He was on God status in 1996. All Eyez On Me went platinum in 4 hours……. FOUR HOURS. Not only that but we also had The Fugees release The Score which was scorching hot!
There were a handful of other high quality projects that all dropped around the same time. So to expect an independent release to outshine albums from artists of that magnitude is absurd.
However, when Jay finally started getting shine 2 years later in 1998, hip-hop fans went back and listened to his debut and just like Reservoir Dogs and the tomboy with the hidden phatty, Reasonable Doubt‘s magnificence was finally appreciated.
In 1998, The Source, who many considered to be the hip-hop bible at the time, went back and changed the rating of Reasonable Doubt, from 4 mics to the perfect rating of 5 mics.
Now let’s talk about the original 1996 review The Source wrote for Reasonable Doubt.
As stated earlier, the original rating was 4 mics, which equated to “Slammin, Definite Satisfaction.”
So even at the time it was released it was never considered to be a trash album that Hip Hop heads collectively used as weed trays. In retrospect it’s easy to say the writer of the review was wrong, but let’s see if the reasoning for not giving Reasonable Doubt a classic rating is justifiable. The writer says:
” He mars the LP with an almost religious disrespect for women with songs like “Cashmere Thoughts” and “Aint No Nigga”
I’m thinking the writer just got out of a bad break up and was feeling extra emotional that day. One of the songs he mentioned has maybe 2 lines even relating to a woman and the other is considered by many today as a “simp anthem” with lines like “you gotta know you’re thoroughly respected by me, you’ll get the keys to the Lexus.”
Plus the song included a female’s POV from Foxy Brown to rebut anything that may be considered “disrespectful” towards women.
To make things worse, this critique was made in an era where The Chronic and Doggystyle were considered the greatest albums ever with songs like “Bitches Aint Shit” and “Aint No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None).”
The sad part about that review is that this was the only downside he could find throughout the entire album.
So did we all lame out? Not necessarily, but we were definitely sleeping. Is that the fault of The Source? Partially, I believe had they given the album it’s rightful 5 mics more light would’ve been shed on it from the beginning, but they’re not the ones to fully blame. The album was just ahead of it’s time in many ways, but now 20 years later it’s considered one of the greatest rap albums of all-time.
Reasonable Doubt is Jay Z’s autobiography and one of the most honest portrayals of the street hustler in rap history.
The hip-hop mafioso masterpiece detailed both the pros and cons of street life with vivid illustrations on songs like “D’evils” and “Regrets,” while still lyrically remaining clever with unmatched flows and bars like “we used to fight for building blocks, now we fight for blocks with buildings, to make a killin.“
There’s entendres that I’m still catching to this day on Reasonable Doubt. If there was any reasonable doubt about this album being classic when it was released in 1996, 20 years later there is little doubt that you will find any.