I may have already admitted my lukewarm relationship with Hov’s catalog, but I always thought I was in the minority whenever I felt bored by music that others vehemently argued to be a "classic."
The way most people feel about JAY-Z—especially his debut album Reasonable Doubt—is how I always felt about The Beatles: if you don’t like it, on some level, I don’t trust you. But there was always that contrarian—in this case, my friend Jeff—that touted The Rolling Stones as the true voice of its generation, belittling arguably the greatest band of all time as “boring” and “safe.”
I've always attributed those same descriptions to Reasonable Doubt. It's an opinion I’ve always held but had never been exceedingly vocal about; not for fear of reprehension, but for the sake of the unhindered enjoyment of what always seemed to be 99.9% of hip-hop fans. There was clearly something I just wasn’t hearing in Reasonable Doubt, and that unseen allure happened to account for damn near the entirety of the culture’s opinion of the album, and I wasn't about to ruin it for anybody.
To be clear, I’m not saying I dislike Reasonable Doubt or JAY-Z in general, but sometimes “meh” is worse than a clear distaste. I can hate-watch culture vulture videos and spend hours listening to some of the new artists coming out to try and catch a glimmer of their appeal, but anything I feel “meh” about is usually relegated to the same part of my brain that houses how to multiply fractions and the finer points of cursive.
With Hov recently being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and preparing for the release of his next full-length, however, it seems like the perfect time to subject JAY-Z’s universally praised debut to the searing scorn of the most relentless critic of all time: the internet.
Reasonable Doubt, meet Classic Hate, our beloved series where we find haters hating on classic albums around the internet and hate on them.
To be fair, it wasn’t as easy to find hatred for Reasonable Doubt as I thought it was going to be. I was hoping for a simple click on Amazon’s “1 Star” reviews to do most of the work for me, but Jay’s debut is so fondly remembered that the most seething review I could find was this:
Bought the cd for one song....I was hoping there would be others I would recognize....but nope....and the CD fell apart and was broken when I took it out of the package it was shipped in.
Obviously, Amazon user BooBooKitty was far more concerned with the condition her CD arrived in than with the actual content of the album. I’m hoping he or she meant the CD's CASE fell apart and was broken, otherwise I’m not at all surprised that he or she wasn’t able to recognize another song on the CD unless they are a master glue-smith.
I may have struck out on Amazon, but I knew there was SOME hate for Reasonable Doubt out there. As former DJBooth scribe Nathan pointed out last year,The Source’s initial review of RD was none too glowing, going so far as to say that:
Titles such as "Friend or Foe," "Politics As Usual" and "Can't Knock the Hustle," featuring Mary J. Blige on vocals, could have been on any number of hip-hop wannabes' LPs…
It wasn’t until I stumbled across RateYourMusic.com that I hit a treasure trove of criticism from anyone patient enough to create an account on their site, and user SellMeAGod had the harshest review of them all:
These lyrics have been plaguing hip hop for years, it's not as if Jay-Z was thee origin of all I hate in hip hop idiocy. But he did somehow manage to couple horrendous lyrics with even worse production 'n' give birth to a mainstream crossover hit. Hip hop 'n' pop fans alike dug this 'n' it seems that thee only difference between this 'n' an early 90's gangsta rap album is that it's not just thee lyrics that make no statement on Reasonable Doubt. Musically it is not-complex 'n' overdone, really awkward 'n' quite poor. Not surprisingly, thee most tolerable beat is a DJ Premiere joint, "Bring it On". Gangsta rappers can be tolerated over a dope break 'n' fascinating samples (see Compton's Most Wanted), but all told, Reasonable Doubt simply has nothing but sub-standards.
First off, this person has clearly never heard of an ampersand (&), which would have saved a whole lot of ‘n’ typing, but back to this relentless review. It takes a special kind of hip-hop purist to think that JAY-Z’s lyrics were sub-par, and in many ways, this review reminds me of how the majority of listeners over 30 would review Teenage Emotions or Culture. Also, what’s up with the “thee” usage?
The one descriptor that really stuck out to me was “awkward,” which was hurled at Hov multiple times throughout my research. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Jay sound “awkward,” in fact, his lyrical finesse is one of his most frequently given praises. I also don’t know how much I trust a review from someone who describes anything as “not-complex ‘n’ overdone.” Are you saying it’s not complex, but somehow also overdone? Is it not complex and also not overdone? Might just be the ‘n’ throwing me off, but you’ve lost me.
As far as smooth bullshit Rap goes, this is actually pretty good. Don't compare it to Notorious B.I.G. though. That guy presented a complex picture of life and couldn't give a fuck about impressing the listener but engaging them.
This person, who goes by the username Sheogorath, just won backhanded compliment of the century with that opening line. This review is a lot like enjoying a delicious Jimmy John’s sandwich, walking back up to the counter and saying, “Hey, as far as way too much shredded lettuce and a thin bed of meat on French bread goes, this is pretty good.” You clearly were never a fan of, nor understood, Jimmy’s greatness, and you need to get the hell out (alright, GIVE ME MY COIN, JJ’s).
The number of times Jay references celebrities is only topped by the number of times Jay name-drops brands, from BMW to Rolex. He mentions Lexus six times just on this album, and Cristal and Mercedes aren't far behind. It's undeniable that Jay-Z is an incredibly influential MC, but considering the state of rap music today, that is in no way a good thing. Jay-Z's braggadocios style, unoriginality, and complete rejection of his own roots are representative of all that is wrong with much of the modern hip-hop scene.
I sure hope this person hasn’t listened to any popular hip-hop over the last, I don’t know, thirty years. I would love to sit whoever wrote this down and play “Versace” for them and just watch their eyelids begin to twitch as they clung tighter to their copy of Midnight Marauders. Apropos of nothing, this was written by a user with the name Flamboyant4life96, so you think they’d be a little more understanding of the flossery Hov exhibited on Reasonable Doubt.
Jay-Z either sounds boring, awkward, or the beats manage to put me to sleep.
See what I mean about the awkward thing? Considering this review was only a sentence long, I’m starting to get the feeling that blackholegrip is just sleepy. Take a nap, maybe?
You know how in "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'", when Raekwon rips on "commercial-ass niggas with gold teef, lampin' in a Lexus eatin' beef"?Jay-Z is exactly who Rae's got beef with. This guy, without a doubt in my mind, opened the door for all of the bullshit rappers of today that turn so many people away from hip hop, and he's still standing there, holding the door open and collecting tips.
Yo, this is brutal! In what reads like the written form of Meth & Red’s “get ‘emmm” shtick from How High, username qitozex both creates beef between Raekwon and Jay out of thin air AND blames Hov for the downfall of hip-hop in one fell swoop. While it’s certainly possible a misrepresentation of Jay’s “freestyle” method of writing has contributed to some severely half-assed bars over the past couple decades, c'mon now.
I was looking for unabashed internet hatred, and I found it. While I was hoping to feel a little more validated in my “meh” opinion of JAY-Z’s classic debut, I ultimately ended up comparing myself to internet users with names like BooBooKitty and Flamboyant4life96, and have emerged less confident than ever in my assessment of Hov’s entrance to the game.
Once again, the internet has done the thing it’s best at—hate without sound reason—and I’m once again left to wonder if I’ve been wrong about Reasonable Doubt all this time.