This is in response to Complex’ “Why Jay-Z’s Blueprint is better than Reasonable Doubt” article: http://www.complex.com/music/2011/09/jay-zs-the-blueprint-is-better-than-reasonable-doubt
Reasonable Doubt vs. Blueprint. Word?
First off, from reading the article, I can’t possibly imagine that the author was alive or at least coherent when Reasonable Doubt was released. It’s obvious from his writing that he has no idea of the social impact that album had.
You can say that any number of an artist’s newer album were technically better, due to increased budgets, experience and advancement of technology. Was It Was Written not technically better than illmatic? Was Life After Death not technically better than Ready to Die? Forever better than 36 Chambers? But I think that out of every 100 hip-hop fans you ask, 95 of them would say they consider those debuts as better, more important albums than the sophomore efforts.
That’s because music can’t just be judged in segments. Social impact is a huge factor.
Let me start with this. Judging the album based on “categories” was among the most ignorant attempts at proving a point that I’ve ever read. It’s obvious from the beginning that the author was writing from a strong point of bias. There was no suspense on which album would finish on top. He sought to point out any negative about Reasonable Doubt that he could find, while propelling any positive from the Blueprint. He sounded like a Republican trying to write an article comparing Obama and a GOP candidate.
Twelve categories? Really? So, according to the author, the album cover is just as important as the lyrics? The album cover counts as one “point”, just like the production does. Okay. Find me a single person who thinks an album cover is just as important as the production and I’ll wash the author’s twelve speed.
This one left me wanting to punch myself repeatedly in the face. Let me make sure I got this right. You create a section for “guests” and then say that BP was better because it didn’t have many? Oh ok. In RD’s 15 years of existence, I have never once heard anyone ever say that Mary J Blige and Biggie’s features felt like “crutches”. That was the epitome of the author making something up and trying to use it to prove his point. Mary J’s feature worked flawlessly with the song. And Brooklyn’s Finest was exactly what a collaboration should be. Two tremendous artists going back and forth, bar for bar. It accomplished what Renegade couldn’t. I also noticed he didn’t mention that Renegade was an old Eminem and Royce the 5’9” collaboration that Jay-Z resurrected. But right, why point that out? And are we ignoring the amazing Coming of Age collaboration, the song in which Bleek didn’t suck (probably because Jay wrote the entire thing)?
FOXY SAVED HIS CAREER??? First, you refer to Foxy as a “hot up and comer”. I’m guessing you didn’t realize that she wasn’t even a rapper at the time. She was someone that Jay-Z pulled out of his neighborhood because he needed a girl for a song he wrote. But yea, you’re right, the hot up-and-comer who had never rapped before saved Jay’s career. Brilliant point.
And the reason he had Sauce Money and his other “friends” on the album is because Reasonable Doubt was supposed to be the jumpstart for their Roc-A-Fella Records label, not for Jay’s solo career. This was supposed to be his only album. Only the album ended up becoming an instant classic, pretty much forcing Jay to record another album. Think about that. He dropped an album that was SO good and had such an impact on the genre that he had to create more albums. This one piece of work catapulted him to the top of hip-hop’s most respected artists.
Are you seriously comparing album sales from an artist at the height of his popularity in an era where 50 Cent’s debut sold 10 million albums to an unknown artist’s debut in an era where hip-hop was still struggling to be accepted as a popular art form? Sure, the top two or three albums in the mid-90s sold well, but most albums – especially ones that weren’t geared toward the pop world – struggled to sell. illmatic didn’t sell either. Since when do we judge the greatness of an album based on it’s sales? Should I bring up all the Gucci’s throughout history who have sold well and compare their albums to RD as well? Using your logic, Nastradamus was better than illmatic because it sold more and had more top 50 songs. Reasonable Doubt single-handedly set Jay-Z up as the heir to Biggie’s throne once he passed away.
You can’t take twelve categories and give them equal weight. That just isn’t factual. A hip-hop album is comprised of three main facets: lyrics, beats, flow. Then you can start looking at concepts, features, hooks, etc. The lyrics on Reasonable Doubt were so far beyond not just Blueprint, but damn near every album that had come out during that era, that it’s importance can’t be quantified by a 1/12th scale. Jay has said himself that he was disappointed in the lyrical content of Blueprint. The album was done so quickly that he didn’t put much thought into the words. That’s why you see a renewed effort on BP2 to step his lyrical content up. BP2 is miles ahead of BP in terms of lyrics, which makes RD light years ahead. But according to your basis, that only accounts for 1/12th of the album’s grade.
How can you say “except for 22 two’s”, the whole album was about hustling? Then you follow that up by explaining that Never Change had some amazingly different concept than the rest of the album? That’s just complete bias.
Was Friend or Foe not on your copy of Reasonable Doubt? Coming of Age – the mentoring of a young hustler? Or Regrets? The first time you’ve ever really heard a rapper open his soul and expose the drawbacks of hustling? And the “street hustler” topic that you’re so tired of? Have you ever LISTENED to this album? He was describing hustling in a way that had never been done before. Explaining the pitfalls, not just the glory.
Kudos for Jay for “taking a chance” on the up-and-comer Just Blaze. So I guess we’re just pretending “The Dynasty” never happened? Because, I’m sure you realize that Just produced nearly twice as many records on Dynasty than he did on Blueprint. So it wasn’t really taking a chance since he had just produced the majority of his last album. Sure, it was the album that exposed Kanye West to the world and helped make Just a staple. I’m not saying that isn’t true. I’ve always given Jay-Z credit for giving some lesser known producers a shot. But he didn’t set out to do that. He happened to get a CD of beats and created masterpieces to them. It was a no-brainer. It created a great sound. But the collection of producers on RD were classic. It helped define that eras sound.
The bottom line is, both albums were great. I’ll never knock Blueprint because it’s probably a top 30 album in hip-hop. But Reasonable Doubt is among the greatest albums of all time. It’s in the same conversation as illmatic, Ready to Die, Paid in Full. These albums defined hip-hop. Without Reasonable Doubt, there is no Blueprint. When you talk about The Chronic, you don’t put Blueprint in that same category. Maybe the author wasn’t alive during the era and couldn’t witness it first hand. Time often has a way of diluting greatness. There are people who argue Babe Ruth wasn’t the greatest baseball player of all-time. As long as people have free will, debates like this will always rage on.
But just like saying Barry Bonds isn’t better than Babe Ruth, Blueprint isn’t better than Reasonable Doubt.