Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt
Label: Rugged/Eagle Vision
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
There's very little doubt "Reasonable Doubt" being a classic
album at this point. Not just a classic hip-hop album - a classic album PERIOD. Look
around for any list of the 100 most important records of the 20th century and you're sure to find
this record among them. There are only so many things you can do when an album reaches such iconic
status to continue to profit from it beyond just restocking store shelves. Remastering is often an
option, but given this album was released on CD in the 1990's and beloved in that format it's probably
safe to say audio quality is not a problem. Re-releasing the album with bonus tracks and remixes is
often an effective approach. Here's a radical new concept though - why not MAKE A DVD ABOUT IT?
Not just a music video DVD, but a DVD about the making and recording of the album. Give us the behind
the scenes footage and let us see just what went into making it such a classic.
After the usual FBI copyright warning and a logo for Eagle Vision
the "Reasonable Doubt" DVD opens directly to the main menu, with video footage and the music for Jay-Z's
"Can't Knock the Hustle" playing in the background. This in itself is refreshing - we're not forced
to endure ten unskippable commercials for other EV projects before getting right to the good stuff.
Upon pressing play we get a "Classic Albums" montage, which seems to be a series of in-depth DVD
documentaries which Jigga is taking his spot in. Pain In Da Ass opens the presentation with his
signature Scarface accent, a trademark of Jay-Z albums all the way through Volume 3 and entirely appropriate here. The only thing missing is him screaming "OKAY, I'M RELOADED!!"
Jigga comes on to explain how "Reasonable Doubt" was his transition from being out in the streets to being
a musician and how it laid the foundation for everything else to come. Irv Gotti notes that sometimes
you make your best album on your first album, while Mary J. Blige notes that she related so much to
Jay-Z's vibe so much that she had to find just the right hook for "Can't Knock the Hustle." As it
turns out Meli'sa Morgan's "Fool's Paradise" had just what she was looking for. "Who do you think
you are? Maybe one day you'll be a star." We see footage of her singing it live in
concert with Hova while the fans in the audience sing along with her, while the interviewees
note it was the perfect blend of Jay being hard while Mary J. brought in the smooth.
Jigga notes they had a hard time getting a record deal because nobody could understand the slang
and metaphor that he was using, or got the emotions he was trying to convey. 1995 interview footage
explains perfectly. "I'm not really with that mainstream thing. Y'know as you see we went and we
made our own company, Roc-A-Fella Records y'know. We stepped away from the industry. Y'know we don't
depend on the industry for nothin'. If you don't play my stuff on the radio it's gon' be heard."
Little did he know then just how many people would hear it. Kevin Liles tells a story about how
at their first meeting Mr. Carter brought him a "big bag of money" to get their record on the radio.
"I'm gonna pay you to do what I need you to do." Stories like these tend to take on a larger than
life mythical quality, to the point it can be hard to ascertain whether the person saying them is
on the level or just BELIEVES he's on the level because he's convinced himself
that's the way it happened. Nevertheless you can't blame Jay-Z or Kevin Liles for perpetuating the
idea that this former street hustler took his ill-gotten gains and laundered it into to make a
multi-million dollar recording empire. No matter how exaggerated such tales are, you can't fault
him for creating the aura of going from dirty rags to filthy riches, because it's that larger
than life persona which made him stand out amongst dozens of similar braggadocious MC's, after
which point the quality of the beats and rhymes kept us all hooked.
Barry Michael Cooper notes that the airy, jazzy, ethereal beats painted the background for
an "intelligent, precise voice" to narrate what life was like in the crack generation, comparing
Jigga's album to what Scorcese did with "Mean Streets" and what he did with "New Jack City."
Cooper: "He became the articulate voice of this guy that we looked at as quote unquote the bad
guy and it became very cinematic." Well said Mr. Cooper. Ski describes how other people followed
trends while Jigga would create them. Irv Gotti breaks down exactly how he came up with the
beat for "Can I Live" and notes that when they would do live shows he wasn't looking at all the
chicks crushed up front to see Jay - he was watching for the dudes with their arms folded in
the back and noted they were rapping along to every last word. Jigga notes he didn't even have
the idea for the song until he heard the horns and the strings. Jay: "It was mind-blowing.
It just wasn't done!" He even breaks down how the song is the story of how a hustler lives life
but suddenly at the 8th bar the hustler becomes reflective and looks at how he's affecting
the community with his own behavior. "Like my body can't trap my mind, easily explain why we
adapt to crime. I'd rather die enormous than live dormant, that's how we on it." Jay notes
you have to really look at the environment and the places that someone would come from to
understand how they'd come to that nihilstic mindstate - perhaps how one could have "Reasonable
Doubt" about any sort of morality at all living in a situation of filthy and poverty.
The DVD continues on in this fashion with each of the ten chapters of the presentation breaking
down a specific song on the album, with Jay-Z and his friends telling us what inspired the
song and what went into making it a hip-hop classic. Unlike so many hip-hop DVD's these days
this is not other people speaking on behalf of the artist who is the star of the documentary
while that star is little seen if at all. Shawn Carter was as intimately involved with the
production of this DVD as he was with the "Reasonable Doubt" album itself and it shows.
Now there are some who would argue that explaining all of these details borders on being anal;
perhaps others would even go so far as to say it's egotistical of him to think people care
about the thought processes that went into an album that's now over ten years old. To those
naysayers I would note that NOW is the time to record those thoughts, before
he gets too far removed in his career from the creation of "Reasonable Doubt" and the memories
start to fade. Preserving the historical record of what went into such an important hip-hop
album will be vital to future generations. Beyond that even if you find it a little egotistical
for him to do an entire DVD where he and luminaries from hip-hop, film and culture discuss
his album I'll grant that it's self-serving but that he's not coming across as disingenious
in the presentation. He's entitled to feel this album is that important when we've all spent
the last ten years telling everyone that it is, and it's fascinating or dare I say RIVETING
to listen to him explain how they came up with the songs that we all know and love so much.
If he wasn't that cocky, he wouldn't be Jigga Jay-Z, and he just wouldn't be the same MC.
He's incredibly down-to-earth and gracious towards the people who helped him put together
"Reasonable Doubt" DESPITE how big of a head he could have at this point.
Ultimately like the man said himself so many years ago, you just can't knock the hustle.
Bonus features include promo videos for "Ain't No Nigga" and "Can't Knock the Hustle,"
some extra unused footage of interviews with Lyor Cohen and Kanye West, and even photorapher
Jonathan Mannion talking about the album's cover - and that's just the FIRST PAGE
of bonus material out of three. No question this DVD is loaded. If you wanted more Jay-Z
music videos you can pick them up from any number of sources, but if you want the straight
uncut dope on "Reasonable Doubt" then this DVD is perfect. I'd go so far as to recommend it
as a stocking stuffer for the Shawn Carter fan on your Christmas list - it's that good.
Content: 9 of 10
Layout: 9 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: November 27, 2007