The Birth of an Icon: 20 Year Anniversary of Reasonable Doubt
I never write about music because it’s too personal for me and I‘m not objective about it at all. I don’t have to know someone (the way I prefer it) to relate to what they’re saying and appreciate them speaking to/for me. I treat all music as a conversation; the first sign of nonsense in a conversation, you can get out my face and with music, you can get out my ears. Make no mistake about it, Jay-Z is my favorite artist, musician or otherwise but here’s the thing; Jay-Z isn’t only my favorite, he’s the undisputed best rapper and most important person to ever exist within our culture.
As the culture has shifted and become a genre of instant gratification, where the latest is deemed the greatest and instant classic; Reasonable Doubt, the debut album of Jay-Z is the definition of classic. Understanding that this is hip-hop and we control the narrative/definitions of words because we shape this entire fucking planet, however to me (the only person that matters since I’m writing this fucking thing) is when you can look back at something and say, “Holy shit, this was ahead of its time” or “God damn, everything on this album actually happened”. Of course the music not only has to be relative, futuristic and full of foresight, it needs to actually be good; Reasonable Doubt wasn’t good, it was great from the 1st time I listened to it. I was 12 when Reasonable Doubt came out; TWELVE! I had no business listening to this album but I made it my business because it was about and for me. Did I fully understand this album at 12? Fuck no but I understood this was the only language I loved learning.
I don’t know and don’t really care to know the person that made this album because he’s a symbol of hope to me. What I do know is the music of this album and others by this rapper know me very well and I love that. Reasonable Doubt is the freshman coming into school to play ball with all the hype in the world and you want every reason to hate but as you get to know him; he’s even better than advertised and you end up wanting to be their friend. By the time it was Reasonable Doubts turn to become a senior, he amassed all the school records, dated every cheerleader and was voted class president. That wasn’t enough for Reasonable Doubt because when he became a senior he felt he had to double back and make us appreciate who he was as a freshman by giving us American Gangster.
Therein lies the genius of Reasonable Doubt, it was prophetic because the first song out the gate told us we can’t knock the hustle. He told us exactly who he planned to become and became it; in a world filled with empty promises and a myriad of rap lies, how satisfying is it for someone to fulfill their destiny and not bullshit us? I have a strained relationship with my father and even at 12, I knew that he tried to get a nut and he got a “nut”; and what? Maybe I was fucking crazy or just ahead of my time for understanding that line. When you hear about Jay-Z (I will hyphenate his name until I die) what do you hear? “The rapper/mogul…” because he stated until “we” even, he’s thieving as long as he’s breathing. Which is a prophecy right out the gate as freshman and while we can’t knock the hustle, he’s been vying with his everlasting breath to make “us” even by American Dreamin’ as the senior, in which he told us, “You can redefine, the game as we know it, 1 dream at a time…” In a social media era in which any and everyone with Wi-Fi is a “brand”, how do you knock that blueprint?
Imagine being a drug-dealer from the projects who turns each of the immeasurable odds you faced around, from where niggas politic themselves to hosting fundraisers for the president of the United States? Jay-Z would tell you that’s politics as usual. Consider this, you’re one of Brooklyn’s finest and inheriting the crown of not only your borough but the entire rap game, to the point where you help bring an NBA franchise and a popular concert arena to the borough. Jay-Z brought us to the ghetto without riding around. How crazy is it that when we think about certain rappers, we relate them to multi-millionaires and Forbes lists, where dead presidents represent them? I know you feeling it but as an entrepreneur myself, I recognize the devils that come with having to separate yourself from your old life, your lack of sleep and how people look at you crazy because the return isn’t paid in an instant gratification but 9 to 5 is how you survive, I ain’t trying to survive, I’m trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot.
There’s a catch 22 here because as much as you may have to separate yourself from your old life/people you fucked with, I feel like it’s not too late to come together cuz too much black and too much love equal forever. However, the people who don’t have the drive, patience or foresight Jay-Z has to be an actual boss, keep a petty mind and will stay forever petty, while I can relate cuz I’m thinking about longevity. Then frustration kicks in and I start wondering, can I live? Now everyone who didn’t have the traits to become, are watching me closely, while I sit back and watch them do it. Again, it goes back to wanting to never live dormant, so I rather die enormous because nothing great ever happens if I don’t step it up another level, regardless of how hard it is for me to go through this in my mind.
See how I can relate to Jay-Z while understanding how prophetic he is? Think about the last song we heard from Hov in 2016, Drug Dealers Anonymous, in which he told us he always knew he was a prophet but couldn’t find a decent job; motherfucker, I can relate (I don’t want a job anymore, fuck all of you) because now I’m beautiful with the multi-tasking aka being ambidextrous. Reasonable Doubt wasn’t and isn’t a rap album, it’s a fucking bible for all people who were ever told/felt like nothing or never seen anything, that they can become whatever the fuck they say they will; just like Jay-Z has. Here’s to 20 years of a classic, we thank you, appreciate you and you give us (me) every reason to believe the world, whether friend or foe, can bring it on because we’re living with our cashmere thoughts and regrets as we come of age.