Wale, Vic Mensa & More Share Their Memories of Jay Z's 1996 Debut 'Reasonable Doubt'

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Jay Z photographed in New York City.

Jay Z's seminal debut Reasonable Doubt turns 20 years old on Saturday (June 25). Home to the Mary J. Blige-assisted "Can't Knock The Hustle" and "Dead Presidents II," the 1996 offering follows the Marcy Projects MC-born Shawn Carter toasting to a lavish lifestyle that would soon become a monumental opus in hip-hop culture.

Billboard tapped several present-day rappers to recall their earliest memories of the classic album below. 


“It’s crazy to say Jay was at his best on his first album, but its kind of hard to think otherwise with how crazy his wordplay and delivery is on that album. If I had to choose one song it would definitely have to be 'Friend or Foe’. The metaphors are next level on lines like, ‘If you draw better be Picasso, you know the best / Cause if this is not so, ah, God bless.’ “


"My favorite joint off the album "Can't Knock The Hustle." The Jay Z album -- I got up on all that shit when I was 19, 20, 21 'cause I was always on my West Coast and Lil Wayne shit. Jay Z was always talking about big money shit, big business shit his whole career so really as a young dude who ain't own none of that, got none of that going on, you only going to listen to Hov for the singles but when real life kick in and you really on some money shit and hustling, that Jay Z shit is gonna make you like, 'Oh shit! He talk about all this shit? This n---a hard!' That's how that shit hit me. My boy, Brandon Moore, he always a big Jay Z fan. Hov represented the older business, money, life -- what we should want real life to be like. I got every Hov album on my phone and I really be listening to that shit." 

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"It’s classic. That’s all you can say. That’s the derivative of so many things. I wouldn’t have 'Money Ain’t a Thing' without that album."


"Reasonable Doubt. Whew! I grew up on that album. I bought it from this record store called Coop's on the Southside of Chicago. At that time, I was just soaking up rap music and just studying shit and when I came upon Reasonable Doubt, I was just like, 'This is a different f--king level.' Just being introduced to Jay's music in general kind of like shattered shit for me like boundaries because the way he was able to use his words to tell these stories and paint pictures. I think I was really listening to The Blueprint first and I think I had the clean version of the CD so I'm just in my Walkman, listening to it. So when I went back to Reasonable Doubt, my whole brain was exploding 'cause I was like, 'Yo this n---a can't be rapping like this.' My first impression of that album was just like this is someone of virtuoistic talent. I was just inspired."

"You draw better be Picasso, you know the best / Cause if this is not so, ah, God bless.’ from 'Friend or Foe.' I know most of the lines on that album but I just thought that Hov was so f--king clever, his wording was very effortless and also extremely smart. Education takes a lot of different forms, but I come from an educated family so when I heard people like Jay and Nas, their style of writing sounded like poet laureates. I was like these are some smart motherf--kers."

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"Reasonable Doubt was so important to me because at the time, the more of that [hip-hop] we could get, the better. In the '90s, I was the biggest Biggie fan ever, which allowed me to listen to Jay Z and understand more as a kid, who maybe didn’t know the difference between a 4.0 and a 4.6. A lot of stuff Jay talked about, I didn’t get it until later; not just Reasonable Doubt, but period, because of the age difference. He’s one of the greatest to ever do it, period. There’s nothing more to be said. There’s nothing negative that I could even say about him or anything he’s done. I haven’t earned that right. He’s amazing, and I thank him for his contributions, Reasonable Doubt included."