Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt: #880 of best 1,000 albums ever!

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt

Why is Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt on my best 1,000 albums ever list?

Jay-Z’s debut album has a great blend of rawness and tremendous vitality and energy.

What does Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?

Recently, I explored my complicated relationship with Kanye West, both in terms of the artist himself and his musical output.

With Jay-Z – another massively popular hip hop figure – my feelings are not so much complex, but more along the lines of I like a portion of his output a great deal, but in terms of the individual songs I dig most, they tend to be spread out among the many albums he’s produced.

A perfect example is “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” off 2000’s The Dynasty album. It’s far and away my favorite Jay-Z song, an incredible party track that’s bombastic and funny and has a fantastic hook and beat. The “problem,” from an album perspective, is that while “Change the Game” is decent, I’m just not that interested in the rest of the album. And then some of Jay-Z’s most popular songs – and especially “Empire State of Mind” – I find a bit interminable, frankly.

Which is all to say that Reasonable Doubt is an album for me where things come together as a whole. It’s an early Jay-Z album, his debut album in fact, and I like the relative rawness and edge throughout that becomes more polished as his style evolved, even if his often over-the-top MC-as-hustler lyrics are not.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” begins with a pretty awful Carlito’s Way homage (a movie I deeply love), but quickly segues into a fantastic collab between Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. himself. Like most of Reasonable Doubt, “Brooklyn’s Finest” has great energy and vitality that I often find lacking on later Jay-Z efforts.

“Dead Presidents II” has a gorgeous piano melody, and Jay-Z is at his best rapping over an underground-feeling beat and production. I suppose I should add here – tacking onto my comments above – that my bias leans much more toward underground hip hop versus polished mainstream or Top 40-leaning production style.

I have very similar feelings about “D’evils,” though I’d add that Jay-Z shows off real versatility here, with more of a sing song-y rap style that works really well with the swinging beat.

Pop Culture stuff that has something to do with Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt

The Carlito’s Way homage on “Brooklyn’s Finest” is pulled from the iconic “You think you big time?” scene.

By the way: many things are super easy to find on YouTube. This clip was not one of them. But it’s worth it, right?

It really is a tremendous movie from back in 1993. The packed cast includes Al Pacino, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, a young Viggo Mortensen(!), and John “Benny Blanco from The Bronx” Leguizamo. But on top of all of that, this might be my most favorite Sean Penn performance of all time. His Dave Kleinfeld is deliriously, frighteningly, frantically off kilter and coked out of his gourd with all the neuroses and egomania that comes with it.

How great are Pacino and Penn together!

Some stats & info about Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt  

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Hip Hop, Rap, East Coast Rap, Hardcore Rap
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #67
  • All Music’s rating5 out of 5 stars
  • When was Reasonable Doubt released? 1996
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #880 out of 1,000

Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt on Spotify

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective take on what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.