Lessons from Reasonable Doubt

June 25 is a special day for a number of reasons in the Black community. June 25, 2009 was the day I sat in traffic in New York City when it was revealed over the radio that the King of Pop died. I don’t recall another time in my life where I heard so many different Michael Jackson songs blaring from car stereos. Honestly, this was a sad day across the world and I even played some MJ that day.

June 25, 1996 holds a special place in my heart as well. It was on this day that the world was formally introduced to a young, 26-year-old, hustler named Jay Z through his now classic album, Reasonable Doubt. To truly appreciate the album’s significance, you have to understand the story behind the album. Jay was already selling drugs for about 10 years, had a deal before the album that didn’t necessarily work out, and was selling tapes out the back of a car with Damon Dash. Nobody was truly checking for the guy that was fast rapping on Jaz-O’s Hawaiian Sophie or free styling at Big Daddy Kane concerts. Hell, it didn’t even do that well on the charts as it only peaked at 23 on Billboard 200 and didn’t ‘eem go platinum until 2002.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and the album is heralded as a “classic”. When people talk about Jay Z’s best albums, real fans know that Reasonable Doubt is always battling for the #1 spot with The Blueprint. Granted, I was too young to fully appreciate the album when it came out, however, I studied the album like a text-book when I got older. I learned so much from this piece of art and was given so much game as I navigated life as a Black man. No, I never sold drugs, but I related so much to this album. To this day, I utilize these four lessons that he dropped in 55 minutes:

“I’m making short-term goals when the weather folds/ just put away the leathers and put ice on the gold.”  The opening verse to Can’t Knock the Hustle and its an excellent look at the importance of goal setting as the seasons change. In the long-term, accomplishing these short-term goals will improve your situation when completed. I haven’t forgotten this lesson at all.

“9 to 5 is how you survive, I ain’t trying to survive, I’m tryna to live it to the limit and love it a lot.” Personally, I believe that nobody on earth is supposed to work 9 to 5 for their entire life and be regular. There’s too much life out here to live and I want to live. Do you live to work or work to live? There’s a difference and Jay lets it be known what he’s trying to do in his life and I agree.

“Lock 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.” This line here! Sheesh! I know it’s simple, but man it touched my spirit when I first listened to it. As a Black man in America, jail usually isn’t too far away from me. One wrong look, move, or word can have me locked away. Hell, prison isn’t always the literal prison with the four walls and detestable food. Prison can be your job, your relationship, your life, however, none of these can trap your mind. The mind is so powerful that we don’t give it the credit that it deserves. Life is bigger than what we let on and similar to the previous verse, it’s too short to live dormant.

“If every nigga in your clique is rich, your clique is rugged, Nobody will fall cause everyone will be each others crutches.” Friendship at its finest. If everybody in your circle is eating, everyone will be able to help each other out when the food isn’t coming in as swiftly. I really believe in this theory of being your brother/sister’s keeper. Loyalty is real.

These are just a few lessons I learned from Jay-Z’s classic work of mafioso art. At the time, it was ahead of the curve and prompted a change in the game from the shiny suit era of hip-hop. The album is still revered as a seminal album in so many lives. Check out this article on Vice where convicts talk about the impact the album had in their own lives. Jay-Z wasn’t supposed to make another album after Reasonable Doubt, however, I’m happy he decided against it. 20+ years later, he’s still making an impact in my life. What are some lessons that you’ve learned from Reasonable Doubt after all these years?

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