A Retrospective: Reasonable Doubt

Posted on 01 May 2016

A Retrospective: Reasonable Doubt

At Unfaded Era we’re all about paying homage to 80s and 90s culture through fashion. But the 80s and 90s were more than just about fashion. It was a time when music was becoming redefined.  A new genre of music was emerging that spoke to a new generation. That genre of music was rap.


For many rap fans, the 90s are considered the golden age of rap music. One of the most iconic albums to come out of that time was Reasonable Doubt in 1996.

At its core, Reasonable doubt is an album about a 26 year old man’s ambition. Through sophisticated and raw wordplay, Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, gives us the back story to his former life and lays the foundation for the life he wants to carve out for himself. The title of the album, Reasonable Doubt is interesting given Jay’s time as a drug dealer before he took rap seriously. He talks about the streets and the experiences that comes along with it with such adroitness you almost wonder if he’s still in the game. In the court of law, the fact that “Jay-Z” even exists gives Shawn Carter Reasonable Doubt.


The first track sets the back drop perfectly for this album, and to a larger extent, Jay’s career in rap. “Pain in the Ass” kicks things off with an homage to Scarface. Like Tony Montana, Jay was making his way into a new hustle.  Unlike most rappers Jay came into the game paid, as he brags in this line - “My cup runneth/ over with hundreds/I'm one of the best niggas that done it/Six digits and running.” On “Dead Presidents” Jay raps “I dabbled in crazy weight/Without rap, I was crazy straight/Partner, I'm still spending money from '88.” The money, the women, and the lifestyle were nothing new to Jay. And that’s what made Reasonable Doubt so great. Jay had a lifetime of experiences to dwell on heading into this debut album. With his lyrical dexterity, Jay is able to paint a vivid picture of a young man living the life.


In some ways Reasonable Doubt is a very mature album. Maybe it’s Jay schooling an upcoming hustler from his neighborhood on Coming of Age. Or Jay telling Foxy Brown he’s been “sinnin’ since you been playing with Barbie and Ken” on Ain’t No Nigga. But what really gives you the sense of how mature and experienced Jay-Z was, is the level of detail he penned into his rhymes. On Regrets we hear the paranoia in his voice as he discusses his possible downfall. His lyrics read like a novel as he describes the tension in the air “Awaiting a call, from his kin not the coroner/Phone in my hand, nervous confined to a corner/Beads of sweat, second thoughts on my mind/How can I ease the stress and learn to live with these regrets?” Over the course of his career we would get a deeper look into the introspective mind of Jay-Z but it was on this track where we first got a peak into it.


One of the stand out tracks from Reasonable Doubt is Brooklyn’s Finest featuring The Notorious B.I.G. Biggie was on top of the world coming off the success of his debut album. Jay, a relative newcomer was able to hold his own bar for bar against Biggie and arguably had the better verse. Another collaboration that still stands the test of time was Ain’t No Nigga. Surprisingly enough it wasn’t just Jay who caught everyone’s attention on this track, it was the young MC out of Brooklyn – Foxy Brown. Friend or Foe continues the conversational tone found throughout the album as Jay punks another drug dealer into getting off his territory. The track sounds like Don Corleone making an offer you can’t refuse.


Reasonable Doubt stands the test of time due to its inspiration. We as human beings connect to what’s real. Jay-Z painted a picture so vivid on this album that we could believe he was the guy who he said he was. As we mature and gain experiences through life our perspective changes and our appreciation for things changes too. Reasonable Doubt is void of any sing-songy melodies and pop hooks that’ll make its way to Top 40 radio. What it does have is a witty and braggadocios narrative of a kid who made his way out the ‘hood. The narrative is told in a way that it can be debated in a barbershop in the Bronx or dissected in the lecture halls of Harvard. In its own way it is a tale of the American Dream as seen by the disenfranchised. It was our first look into the genius of Jay-Z. It was a narrative of the life of a hustler. It was 15 tracks of dope wordplay and double meaning. It was the story of one man’s take on the American Dream. It is Unfaded.

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