This week we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, the 1989 album that cemented Janet Jackson‘s reputation as one of the era’s premiere female artists with it’s messages of sexual empowerment and era-defining new jack swing sound. However, did you know that it was actually a concept album about social injustices and was also accompanied by a 30-minute long form music video? Read more…
Janet Jackson began her solo musical career more than 30 years ago as the fresh-faced baby sister of her famous older brothers. But starting with 1986′s Control and reaching full flight with 1989′s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, Janet matured into an artist equal to any elder Jackson and a grown women in full command of her status as a budding sex symbol. Read more…
30 years ago this week the English group Sade released their worldwide smash hit debut album Diamond Life. Coming out at the height of the slick, glitzy, video-driven R&B era – as typified by Michael Jackson and Prince – the album’s chill grooves and lush melodies seduced listeners and announced the arrival of a new, uniquely British style of soul music. Read more…
Ten years ago today Usher released Confessions, the album that took him from rising R&B star and arguably launched him into pop royalty territory. If nothing else Mr. Entertainment made history with those 17 tracks (21 songs including “My Boo” if you copped the special edition with the poster!) selling nearly 1.1 million units in its first week – the highest-ever chart debut for an R&B artist, the second-highest debut for a male artist, the biggest selling album since Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller,” and the seventh-highest debut of in SoundScans history at that time. I’m also almost certain U-S-H-E-R is responsible for any child conceived in 2004 and put a strain on every relationship in the audience at any of The Truth tour shows.
It may seem like a distant memory now, but at the time 1984 was a very foreboding year. Whether in the dystopian George Orwell novel of the same name or the punk rock exploitation thriller Class of 1984, it had ominous connotations and the reality of it wasn’t much better. The threat of nuclear war between The United State and The Soviet Union hovered in the air, especially that summer when U.S. President Ronald Reagan glibly joked “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Reagan was the perfect And the soundtrack to such a bleak year, from Zurich, Switzerland to California’s San Fernando Valley, was heavy f**king metal. Read more…
Welcome to VH1′s new monthly series, Album-Versaries, in which we share fresh stories with you about the creation and lasting impact of some of the most important and influential albums in music history on their milestone anniversaries. Our first installment will focus on Jay-Z?s 1996 LP Reasonable Doubt, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary. This is Part II of a two-part series; Part I, Damon Dash Reflects on Jay-Z?s Reasonable Doubt On Its 15 Anniversary, ran yesterday.
Fifteen years ago, Jay-Z’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt, dropped on a largely unsuspecting public. For an independently produced album, it managed to debut pretty strongly on the charts (#23 on the Billboard 200), but it would still be a few years before Jay-Z’s became the household name it is today. That said, the LP now stands amongst the most highly regarded in hip-hop history and, in the timeline of Jay’s existence as both a person and an artist, represents the point in his life where he left the hustle of the streets behind and instead chose to pursue a career in music.
So, with Reasonable Doubt celebrating such an essential milestone, VH1 exclusively spoke to producers Ski and Clark Kent, as well as the album’s co-executive producer and co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, Damon Dash, about their recollections of the recording process. In Part II of VH1 Album-Versaries: Reasonable Doubt At 15, we’ll share with you stories Dame and Clark told us about the epic recording session of Jay and Biggie’s legendary track “Brooklyn’s Finest,” how these two feel about the gritty (and possibly unethical) themes of the album now that they have fifteen years worth of hindsight, and whether or not Jay and Dame will ever be able to repair their soured friendship.
There’s no definitive way to form a consensus for the best emcee of all-time, but anytime the question comes up, Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls) are ALWAYS part of the conversation. In fact, in an MTV survey conducted back in 2006, Jay-Z and Biggie were listed as the #1 and #3 MCs of all-time, respectively. However, back when Reasonable Doubt was being recorded, Biggie was on top of the world, while no one outside of Brooklyn really knew who Jay was. Despite this, and thanks to Biggie’s DJ and Jay’s then-producer Clark Kent, the pair were introduced in a hoodwinked fashion and eventually laid down a track together, “Brooklyn’s Finest.”
?I was on tour with Big, so I was playing Jay?s sh*t for him every day on the bus,” recalls Clark. “At that point, I had made him respect Jay?s craftsmanship.” So when Clark accidentally played the “Brooklyn’s Finest” beat in front of Biggie during a Unique Studios session with Junior M.A.F.I.A., Big heard it, and said he wanted it. “I told him it was for Jay, and he was like ‘you give Jay everything!’”
Demanding that he get on the track too, Biggie accompanied Clark to D&D Studios that night, but didn’t actually come inside. Upstairs, once Jay finished his verses for the song (that was then tentatively titled either ?Once We Get Started? or ?No More Mr. Nice Guy”), Clark asked if they could put Big on the record as well. Dame didn?t want to pay “Puff” (pardon, Diddy) for the feature, and Jay was hesitant because he (1) didn?t know the already-popular rapper and (2) had just finished the song, but they both agreed that if Big would do it for free, they’d be game. ?I had Big in a car downstairs, waiting just in case,? explains Clark, who then told them he was going to the bathroom, and came back up with The Notorious himself. ?Put them in front of each other, there was no denying what could happen.? Two months later, after Big had walked away with Jay’s re-done verses on cassette, he came back to spit his own, and the song was officially born.
And as for the result? Well, in a review of Reasonable Doubt that was included as part of their 2003 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time feature, Rolling Stone described the track as featuring “two hungry talents seemingly aware that they had no one to outduel but each other.”. We also asked Dash to shed some light on this legendary collaboration and how it finally came together and, well, let’s just say that a lot of the sticky icky-icky was involved. Watch Dame tell the light-hearted story in his own words in the video we have clipped for you below.
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Welcome to VH1′s new monthly series, Album-Versaries, in which we share fresh stories with you about the creation and lasting impact of some of the most important and influential albums in music history on their milestone anniversaries. Our first installment will focus on Jay-Z’s 1996 LP Reasonable Doubt, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary. This is Part I of a two-part series; Part II can be found by clicking here.
With worldwide record sales of over 30 million units, multiple successful business ventures that have lined his pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars, a best-selling book, and a happy marriage to the “hottest chick in the game,” there are seemingly few mountains for Jay-Z left to climb. However, just like any other self-made man, Jay-Z didn’t start out at the top. It’s hard to remember a time when he wasn’t an all-American, endorsement-toting, “Run This Town” business man, but the truth of the matter is that during the early nineties, Jay was running with a wild crew and involved in more than his fair share of illegal activities. Fifteen years ago, Jay-Z the Icon, Jay-Z the Business Man, and Jay-Z the “Best Rapper Alive” didn’t exist; at that time, he was simply Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, a crack cocaine dealer turned rapper that, according to hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, “came from Damon [Dash]?s imagination.”
Then, on June 25, 1996, Reasonable Doubt dropped. Although it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves or spawn any Top 10 singles right off the bat, the LP now stands amongst the most highly regarded in hip-hop history and, in the timeline of Jay’s existence, symbolizes the pivotal point when his life could have conceivably gone in two wholly different directions. On the fifteenth anniversary of the album’s release, we exclusively spoke to producers Ski and Clark Kent, as well as the album’s co-executive producer and co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, Damon Dash, about their recollections of the recording process. Dash and Jay-Z have had a well-documented falling out in recent years, but that didn’t stop Dame from sharing some phenomenal stories with us about the brotherhood he and Hov shared during this crucial period in both of their lives, what it was like seeing Jay and the Notorious B.I.G. record their legendary track “Brooklyn’s Finest,” what he thinks of the gritty, unethical themes of Reasonable Doubt now that he’s got fifteen years worth of hindsight, and much more.
JAY-Z: THE WORST RAPPER ALIVE?
“He was one foot out the door to the street life,” recalls hip-hop producer Irv Gotti in VH1′s Classic Albums special on Jay-Z’s debut LP. Like many great artists across various mediums, Jay’s first work wasn’t initially met with universally glowing reviews out of the gate (although it would eventually earn them with the passing of time). Critical of the rapper’s flamboyant mafioso persona, a pattern of feedback emerged, praising the emcee for his articulate command of the language and conversational lyrical ability, but totally dismissing the album for its crime-ridden stories as having a “we’ve seen this before” quality to them: “Jay-Z’s street-savvy raps may seem like nothing new, but there’s a reason the Brooklyn native is topping the charts,” wrote Entertainment Weekly’s Dimitri Ehrlich in August of 1996, and the Los Angeles Daily News was cited as saying that his ?sassy way with a lyric transcends the material.? Even The Source magazine’s hip-hop braintrust gave the album only four mics in their review (later changed to a “classic” rating of five mics).
To hear Damon Dash tell it, Jay-Z’s record industry prospects prior to the album’s release were going even worse for him than the media’s reception to his work. “I said he will be the greatest rapper of all-time at a time when everyone told me he was the worst rapper,” he explained to us about his conversations with the suits who run the record labels. “You understand? I had been shopping him, and everyone told me ‘He raps too fast.’” Feedback like this wasn’t about to dissuade the pair (alongside silent partner Kareem “Biggs” Burke), though, and they headed into studio feeling confident that they could birth the kind of record that would make their hustle’s potential turn to alchemical reality.
“Because we believed in it so much, you couldn’t even tell me that it wasn’t going to be the best album that was ever made,” Dash gushed. “And it’s funny because it became that.”