“Basically we named the album Reasonable Doubt because with anything you do in life, people are going to judge you,” Jay Z shared in 1997. “Whether it be through interviews or radio. So the album is basically on trial, this being my first album.”
Trial is something we have experienced with Shawn “Jay Z” Carter. The trial of the accent markets that punctuated his name back in ’96, trial from a run in at a New York City night club in ’99, the trial by “Ether,” the trial of making a retirement comeback and even the trial of Lemonade. But if Reasonable Doubt was the first one, Jigga was never going to fail.
20 years ago we were introduced to the hustler who would transcend the hip-hop game, be the measuring stick for success and a complete cultural icon. That “Hello my name is…” was executed over surgically placed bars depicting Mafioso type encounters, a soon to be trademark bravado and carefully depicted persona anecdotes. The efforts are systematically laid. From the album opening bar of “I’m making short term goals when the weather folds,” displaying his constant change of focus for self-sustainability to the display of cohesion and comradery like the joust of arguably the two greatest to do it within “Brooklyn’s Finest.” Getting more personal in “Feelin’ It” and “Regrets” and bringing you to the street recruitment, which turned into the same on wax, process in “Coming of Age.” If you want it, Doubt has it, which is why it’s heralded as one of hip-hop’s true classics.
Jigga was ready for whatever. He wasn’t supposed to win so what did he really have to lose? It’s best said by Jay as he floats through “Politics As Usual”: “You feel my triumph never – feel my pain, I’m lying low in the leathers, I am the best that’s ever came.”
Even thought Reasonable Doubt screamed the ambition of the hustler, the music and content hit home for many who never touched the block. We connected with a few industry contributors to share what impact came from their encounters with Jay Z’s masterpiece.