Review Summary: Rap perfection.
For every piece of artwork, a certain reasonable doubt about its quality resonates, and sometimes this doubt takes over our belief that is placed in it. Imperfections in a formula or execution run rampart and manage to bring minor or major ruin to these certain pieces. Smooth coherency is a nigh impossible. Or is it?
For an extremely rare exception, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt
is one of the most smoothly coherent and easy listens. What actual is laid down on the table may not be downright amazing or perfection at first sight, but how it is done, executed, and delivered is oddly coherent and cool, and though there are many solid rap albums hidden and lost, a fairly few amount of them contain such mastery of craft as Reasonable Doubt
For comparison, Jay-Z possesses the cockiness of B.I.G. and takes it to the very next level, but on a lyrical level Jay-Z possess a prowess for crime tale-ology that occasionally approaches Raekwon, humor punch lines like that of, again, B.I.G., and a soulful demeanor that is like the equivalent Tupac, just for basic rap relate-ablity. Jay’s flow and delivery is all his own, and his hard to compare to any other MC other than that of his own peer that is almost of his level Sauce Money, and his former mentor Big Jaz. Particular lyrics rarely impress (“comes to this cheese y'all like Three Blind Mice” is a fairly average metaphor when it comes to 90s rap), but rather each line fits together perfectly into ace verses and, much more often on Reasonable Doubt
, great songs that manage to tell stories of the Mafioso life.
However, what separates Jay-Z from the rest of the pack is his ability to pick collaborations and his fine tuned ear for hooks and lyrics that manages to fit his song’s production backing and his own ego and mold. Unlike what some underground rappers would try, the majestic “Politics As Usual” doesn’t try to place lyrics about actual politics, nor does a track with such a funky backdrop as “Cashmere Thoughts” try to bang with a estranged concept or weird flow. Each track and it’s individual pieces is completely fitting and necessary. “Brooklyn’s Finest” sees B.I.G.’s arrival to bless the track with his presence as welcome, and yet, Jay and him rap to each other as equals. It also possesses a certain necessary competitiveness between the two, with both of them competing for the song title. For another example of Jay-Z perfect choice in guests, Mecca’s chorus on “Feelin It” would be incredibly eccentric and out-of-place anywhere else, but amongst Jay-Z stop-and-go flow and the song’s smooth yet chilling piano line, her flat-out weird voice manages to just blend with the rest of the track and doesn’t take the spotlight away from Jay. Lastly, the collaboration between the only MC’s that sound anything like Jay-Z, Sauce Money and Big Jaz, both appear on “Bring It On”, a posse cut that can only be described as what Beans and Memphis Bleek wishes they could make with Jay-Z. With such a minimalistic, almost DJ Mugg-esqe approach to the sound board, Sauce, Jay, and Jaz simply rip “Bring It On” to shreds with the first to come of the ritualistic salutes to Roc-A-Fella records. Even Foxy Brown manages to sound not completely out of place on the bouncy groove of “Ain’t No Nigga”, although her verse is as mediocre as anything else she has written, her speedy, monotone flow manages to fit in well enough with the beat that it doesn’t take away any of the songs shine at all. Besides, there is a lot of truth in the statment “you can't change a player’s game in the 9th inning”, and that statement remains true on “Ain’t No Nigga”.
To pick out individual songs that strike the bane of perfection in every way, DJ Premier’s cinematic production “Friend or Foe” manages to bring out the rare occasion where Jay-Z switches up his spacey and cocky flow into something that would usually sound awkward anywhere else, but instead, his conversational flow manages to fit perfectly here. “Friend or Foe” tells the hilarious tale of taking over an area trying to be taken over by a little pushover, and with Jay-Z’s flow portraying the perfect mixture of pity, nervousness, and joking-ness in his attempt to move this guy out, it might convince the listener to move out of THEIR area. Another track that particularly stands out is “Regrets”. “Regrets” is the start of ending tracks for Jay-Z albums being solemn looks into his life, with this one being more focused on the negative side of hustling, and while hypocrisy rides even this album, Jay-Z’s point is certainly relatable and appreciated, and although takes a look at the negativity, contains a certain optimistic attitude certainly not found on many rap albums, stating “In order to survive, gotta learn to live with regrets”.
There is nothing really more to say about Reasonable Doubt
other than the fact that it’s certainly one of the best rap albums ever released. It’s more than solid in quality, it’s smooth going down, unusually perfectionistic, and although Jay-Z isn’t the perfect rapper, he certainly puts more effort in here than he ever would anywhere else. Reasonable Doubt
is a purely Mafioso and hood experience, but the truth of the matter is, there are points of relate-ability where everybody can enjoy, not to mention it contains some of Jay-Z’s bounciest and grooviest songs of his entire career.
I mean, Come on…