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Jay-Z once named his best album

Over the last 25 years, since making his mark with his debut album, Jay-Z has proved himself to be one of the most electrifying rappers ever to step foot behind a microphone. Hip-hop heads could argue all day about his best record, but for Jay, there’s only one answer.

From the start, it was clear that Jay-Z wasn’t like any other rapper, thanks to his business mind that made him stand out. After signing to Payday Records, Hov got tired of waiting for things to happen and first demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit. Even back then, he was a perfectionist and didn’t want to compromise his creative vision, so he bravely requested his release from the label.

While Roc-A-Fella is now a global institution, in 1995, when Jay-Z formed the label, it was simply an independent vehicle for him to release his music without losing artistic integrity. This gamble turned out to be a masterstroke, and the following year he’d introduce himself with his impeccable debut, Reasonable Doubt.

Explaining his decision, Jay said, “[Payday] eventually signed me to a deal, but were acting shady the whole time, like they didn’t know how to work a record or something. The things that they were setting up for me I could have done myself. They had me travelling places to do in stores, and my product wasn’t even available in the store.

“We shot one video, but when the time came for me to do the video for the second single, I had to be cut out. They gave me the money, and I started my own company. There was a little arguing back and forth, but our conflict finally got resolved. The bottom line was they wasn’t doing their job, so I had to get out of there.”

In 2013, Jay reflectively ranked his albums from worst to best, and for him, Reasonable Doubt takes the top spot. He gave it an elementary one-word review, “Classic”, and he’s not wrong. Elsewhere, he named 2006’s Kingdom Come as the nadir, apologetically noting, “First game back, don’t shoot me.”

The record now has iconic status, but initially, it took a while for Reasonable Doubt to gain traction. After a few months, the album eventually climbed its way up to 23 in the charts, which remains the lowest charting record of his career, but it’s the one that Jay holds dearest.

While it didn’t make Hov a star overnight, everybody who did hear it became transfixed by his flow, and there was no doubting that global dominance was around the corner.