On June 25th 1996, Jay-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt.
It was a time way, way before he was the only rapper that yer nan’s heard of and yet Jay-Zed sounded like the finished product right from the jump. As far as regal drug-dealer rap goes, Reasonable Doubt is still sat on a throne of cash, ashing a cigar onto a promo version Nas’ It Was Written that dropped just a couple of weeks after it.
It’s been said that every feature on the album was paid for with bags of cash – and not the Monopoly money he was playing with in the Dead Presidents II video – just in case the legitimacy of Shawn Carter’s storytelling rhymes were in doubt, themselves. Apparently, it was supposed to be his only album, too, penning it and recording it just to prove a point, perhaps.
But it became the earliest, most public propaganda for the cult of personality that the ‘businessman / business, man’ was to build. Going bar for bar with Biggie Smalls, Brooklyn’s Finest should have been a taste of what was to come but became something of a ceremonial handing over of the keys to New York hip-hop.
In comparison to his Notorious contemporary, Jay’s debut got nowhere the critical acclaim from non-hip-hop mags at the time and your unlikely to hear the record played out on Friday nights in bars of random British towns like you are with Biggie’s Juicy. And yet, it’s just as important to the history of the genre.
The Scarface-like skits can divide opinion and where some rappers ‘never waste a lyric,’ maybe Jaz-Z does tend to fluff out the occasional line. But that sense of humour, unwavering confidence and, for the lack of a better word, SWAG, does indeed come out in every vibration on this, the latest masterpiece to enter our Something That is Old Thursdays museum. You quite literally can’t knock the hustle, and that’s the thing.