Top 5 Songs on Jay Z's 'Reasonable Doubt'

Fourth of November Presents 20th Anniversary of Reasonable Doubt
WireImage / Getty Images

"Reasonable Doubt" is undoubtedly Jay Z's crowning moment. Jay often says that his first album is his favorite because it took a lifetime to make. Although "The Blueprint" is a certified masterpiece and "The Black Album" ranks high among his best albums, Jay Z's first remains his best.

"I'd rather die enormous than live dormant, that's how we on it" - Jay Z ("Can I Live")

Here are the best performances on an album full of many.

of 05

"Brooklyn's Finest" (ft. The Notorious B.I.G.)

Redferns / Getty Images

Producer: Clark Kent

In a passing-of-the-torch moment, The Notorious B.I.G. endorsed Brooklyn’s crown prince on the aptly titled “Brooklyn’s Finest.” It’s a testament to Jay’s durability that he’s been around long enough to have received Biggie’s blessing in the flesh.

What makes “Brooklyn’s Finest” special is that it sounds like two great friends trading bars at a bar. Like a great mentor, B.I.G. kept Jay on his toes. He basically gave Hov a taste of the level of competition the greats have to endure. And when you thought Jay was about to take out the don of BK, Biggie dropped this unforgettable jab: “If Fay had twins, she’d probably have Tupac’s. Get it? Tu-pac’s.” A memorable showcase of Brooklyn's finest MCs. 

of 05


Jay Z - Reasonable Doubt
© Roc-a-fella

Producer: DJ Premier

"D'evils" is a harrowing tale of tragic ambition. Before he became a self-made millionaire and an alleged grand wizard of the Illuminati, Jay Z laid the foundation for his success on "D'evils." You hear his hunger for wealth, his desire to attain riches by any means necessary. He spells it out in plain English and with deep intellect.

Nothing gets in the way of an ambitious man: not friends, not family, not religious beliefs. Hov doesn't pray to God; he prays to Gotti. Backed by a smorgasbord of samples, Jay vows to do whatever it takes to reach the Promised Land. Hell, he'll even hand over his soul to *gasp* his inner demons. You can't help but feel the depth of his desires.

of 05

"Can't Knock the Hustle" (ft. Mary J Blige)

Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige - 'The Heart of the City' Tour Opener - Miami
WireImage / Getty Images

Producer: Knobody, The Hitmen

In his early days, Jay Z rapped fast. Really fast. So fast, in fact, that his words sounded more like études than actual words. By the time he went in to record his debut album, he had slowed down. He enunciated his words with clarity. And nuance. This made it easier for listeners to connect with his ideas. You could either connect with the aspirational aspect of his flashy lifestyle or connect with the resilience of the hustler, but you connected with something.

You hear it right here on the first song on his first album. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, nay, the rest of his career. It also broadened his appeal to the point that he's now sitting on millions. And we're sitting here discussing the best songs on his best album.

But you can't knock the hustle.

of 05

"Can I Live"

Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of 'Reasonable Doubt' - Inside
WireImage / Getty Images

Producer: Irv Gotti

"Can I Live" marked the last time Jay Z put pen to pad. It shows. The song is meticulously crafted with layers of internal rhymes and ruminative thoughts. Jay imagines himself as a sage, recounting the rollercoaster ride of the hustler life. Despite the ups and downs, he’s committed to the sacrifice it takes to acquire his desired lifestyle.

Over Gotti’s melancholic beat, Jay pleads with those who desire his demise to let him live a little. Seventeen years later, Beyoncé asked her critics the same thing her man asked haters in '96: "Can I live?"

of 05

"Dead Presidents II"

Photo of Jay Z
Al Pereira / Getty Images

Producer: Ski

The road to "Dead Presidents II" was paved with trial and error; hopes and disappointment. The first version of the song didn't make the final cut for "Reasonable Doubt." So Jay went back to the lab. To fuel the uncertainty, Nas was supposedly invited to re-record the hook but failed to show up for the recording session.

In the end, Jay Z only needed a sample and a Ski beat to make his greatest song ever. Throughout the classic track, he elucidates what some might call lofty goals—goals that now seem mundane in retrospect—while raining metaphors like confetti. Jay may someday write a song better than "Dead Presidents II," but this is the best thing he’s rapped to date.