Thursday, November 22, 2007

No. 248: Reasonable Doubt

Band: Jay-Z
Album: Reasonable Doubt
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: And... Here we have the best MC in rap music today. Jay-Z ruled most of this decade and the latter half of the previous decade. “Reasonable Doubt” was Jay's first record, the album that laid the foundation for his street rhymes rivaled only by Notorious B.I.G. in terms of East Coast rap. Commercially, it's not where his other records are, but it's artistically amazing.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is the type of record that should be higher, obviously, if only to reflect the modern record-buyer.
Best song: “Brooklyn's Finest” combines B.I.G. and Jay-Z and is a monstrously great song.”Ain't No Nigga” and “Dead Presidents II” are also fantastic.
Worst song: “Cashmere Thoughts” isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

In his primer on the AV Club, Nathan Rabin writes that Jay-Z is, first and foremost, a businessman. His records are the wonderful intersection of art and entertainment, but entertainment rules over the art most of the time.

Jay-Z learned from his debut. The stuff that sold wasn't necessarily the stuff on the album; But, his ability to ear our the best producers and write the best hooks were what mattered. “Reasonable Doubt” retells his ability to come out of the ghetto by hustling and working the streets.

Here's where the record is different from his subsequent records and different from the so-called gangster rap that has ruled the airwaves: “Reasonable Doubt” casts no shining light on this lifestyle. Like B.I.G. Before him, Jay-Z doesn't promote the drug-dealing and hustling lifestyle; It's simply a survival method for him.

“Ain't No Nigga” is the closest, but it's clearly a simple hook (and, not surprisingly, one of the more popular songs on the record). “Dead Presidents II,” of course, is a survival song; A record that gives the street life its due without glorifying it. It is, of course, also the source of the Nas/Jay-Z feud, as Jay-Z sampled Nas' voice on the record.

Again, that we're at the midway point of the list and we only have a handful of rap records is a shame. The list woefully underestimates rap music largely – I imagine – because the RS editors think rap is scary, profane or both. That's too bad. In the same way that blues and folk music told the plight of the working person, rap has done the same.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The sampling of Nas' voice on the song wasn't the source of the beef. Actually it was Nas digging at Jay's boy Memphis Bleek - and the feud escalated from there. However, this song was a point of contention after the beef had already blown up.