? 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’sDimitri 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.”
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July 4 did turn out to be a benchmark for the album, despite it not actually being released: shortly after midnight, the album became available for pre-order (CD and digital, deluxe and standard), with an announced “ship date” of Tuesday, August 2, 2011, apparently confirming weekend rumors, attributed to Ryan Seacrest, that the album would be coming in August. The album art, also revealed on July 4, can be seen below:
Contrary to reports earlier today that speculated that Watch The Throne, Kanye West and Jay-Z‘s highly anticipated new collaborative album, would be released on July 4, VH1 can exclusively confirm that the record will NOT be dropping on our nation’s birthday. We spoke to sources close to Jay-Z‘s management team earlier today who have direct knowledge of the album’s release plans, and they confirmed that the rumored July 4th release date is “not happening.” Sorry to ruin your holiday, folks!
Speculation about Watch the Throne, the hotly anticipated full-length collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West, has reached a fever pitch as the holiday weekend approaching, with a combination of non-denials and excitement adding fuel to the rumor that the album will be released on Monday, July 4.
When The Source first reported on June 9 that the album was due out on Independence Day, the announcement seemed no more official than the March 1 date that was allegedly announced by Def Jam after Kanye misspoke on New Year’s Eve and said the album would be out in January (he meant Lex Luger-produced lead single “H.A.M.”). Sure, a purported tracklist had surfaced two days earlier, but there wasn’t anything even supporting the claim until Tuesday, when AllHipHop claimed that a different source had also confirmed the date, adding that the initial release will likely be digital-only, to prevent leaks.
Yesterday, when CyHi Da Prynce appeared on MTV’s RapFix Live, Sway pressed him to speak on the July 4 release date, and while CyHi claimed not to know, his “I can’t say” grin/grimace was confirmation enough for some:
International superstardom is exhausting, especially if you’re Beyonc?! After a fierce Sunday set at Glastonbury, Beyonc?’s4 finally hits shelves this week, and yes, we’re absolutely ready for this album’s off-the-charts intimacy levels to stupefy our senses. As a hard-working entertainer dedicated to her craft, it’s no surprise that the talented renaissance woman needed and deserved a break from years of relentless recording, promoting and touring prior to releasing this record. But what, exactly, did Queen B do during her year away from the music business?
Premiering tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. on VH1 and Palladia (7 p.m. ET/PT on MTV and BET), VH1 special Beyonc?: Year of 4 arrives just in time to bring the icon’s year-long adventure to light. (If you miss it, we’ll have it streaming on VH1.com for 24 hours, too). Capturing her many experiences while traveling the world and re-examining her career, the film is equipped with footage taken with Bey’s camera and her own very-personal narration. Truly bringing us into her often-private world, Beyonc? ruminates on her life thus far, her marriage to rapper Jay-Z, her company and brand (after parting ways with father and former manager, Matthew Knowles), and the future she intends on building as a role-model for women around the world. In the sneak above, we follow Bey as she toboggans down the Great Wall of China, hangs with friends and family, and recognizes how taking time off never even occurred to her.
Before officially catching the wild wave of success that he continues to ride to this day, Kanye West was on a mission to prove his own talent and worth to the world. During that time, hip hop vet Jay-Z was the big brother, the mentor, and the boss man, letting Kanye audition tracks for placement on Roc-A-Fella Records artists’ albums. Fast-forward twelve years, and it’s Kanye who is now on the verge of building an empire, and his one-stop-shopping label, management, and production hybrid G.O.O.D Music could be his ticket out from under the giant-sized shadow of Jigga Man. Things move pretty fast in hip hop, but whether you know it or not, you may already be familiar with some artists Kanye’s signed to his squad, including Common, John Legend, “Day N Night” breakout artist Kid Cudi, and Pusha T: one half of brotherly rap duo Clipse, and the artist who performed with ‘Ye on last year’s VMAs. Other members of the G.O.O.D Music team (acronym for Getting Out Our Dreams), however, are either newer to the music world, or still taking time to build a tangible buzz. Either way,?they might be worth getting familiar with before it’s too late!
Last Thursday night, in front of a ravenous Brooklyn crowd and with the help of Heineken’s summer concert series Red Star Access, Kanye unleashed a G.O.O.D Music showcase on the masses. Performing solo hits and giving his crop of artists their own short sets to shine, Yeezy would go back and forth appearing on stage, and at times, joined his proteges for songs they’ve collaborated on together. A good example and important collabo to note, freshly leaked “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay” is a song that will be included on G.O.O.D/Def Jam rapper Big Sean’s debut album Finally Famous, out June 28th. At the album’s exclusive listening party held (also in NYC) on Tuesday of last week, Kanye compared the young, up-and-coming rapper to Beyonce, saying he had the potential to be what she is to R&B, but in hip hop. Hell of an introduction, wouldn’t you say? Certainly no pressure to Sean, who luckily? already has a? healthy following off of mixtapes released over the past four years. And speaking of Beyonce, there’s a rumor brewing? that Kanye and his team of G.O.O.D. Music hooligans (including Pusha, CyHi Da Prynce, Kid Cudi and Big Sean) will guest-star on a yet-to-be-released remix for “Party,” the song that we’re keeping on eye on for Song of the Summer.?
Moby‘s comments last week about what types of pop are and aren’t music isn’t the first time he’s taken shots at other artists. At the 2001 Grammy Awards he calledEminem ”a racist, a homophobe, and a misogynist.” But he’s not the only artist who’s feuded over art (and, implicitly, integrity). Here are the five most notable feuds of the last 20 years.
FEUD:Nirvana vs. Guns N’ Roses HOW IT STARTED: Nirvana never liked the lyrical misogyny and homophobia of Guns N’ Roses, but the feud officially got underway when Nirvana turned down an offer to open for the band on tour. KEY NIRVANA PULLQUOTE:Kurt Cobain, interviewed by Kevin Allman in the February 1992 issue of The Advocate:
I can’t even waste my time on that band, because they’re so obviously pathetic and untalented. I used to think that everything in the mainstream pop world was crap, but now that some underground bands have been signed with majors, I take Guns N’ Roses as more of an offense. I have to look into it more: They’re really talentless people, and they write crap music, and they’re the most popular rock band on the earth right now. I can’t believe it.
KEY GUNS ‘N’ ROSES PULLQUOTE:Axl Rose, on stage in Seattle: “Nirvana would rather stay home and shoot drugs with their bitch wives than tour with us.” WINNER: At the time, Nirvana by a mile, but as time has gone on and Cobain-as-icon has lost some of its political edge, it’s now closer to a draw. Read more…
After a miserable NYC winter, the weather is again warm, and we’re all about hitting these streets! But what will our summer-lovin’ soundtrack include? Since the pop music monster is one that defies taming, most of us can already venture to guess what we’ll likely hear blasting out of car windows while dining al fresco and laying poolside, but for me, it’s all about the songs that may or may not hit the mainstream radar. Specifically, songs that light your summer on fire and arouse flashbulb memory nostalgia for years thereafter. As a music head, I can’t wait to find out what will be this year’s perfect audio accompaniment during glorious, sweaty cocktail-glass pre-game rituals, or what I’ll have on repeat in my headphones as I dodge European tourists in Times Square. Until then, here’s hoping that the radio gods are listening, and (fingers crossed!) that they have good taste.
NOMINATION: Friendly Fires, “Live Those Days Tonight” EXPLANATION: If mainstream radio could just bend some rules and make room for an indie-pop dance record, this next few months would certainly be a bit lovelier. Summoning nostalgia for the (allegedly) more-fun 80s past that he never had the chance to experience, Friendly Fires’ frontman Ed Macfarlane vows to one-up his predecessors on this uptempo, synth-happy slice of audio heaven. Heavy with drums and feel-good vibes, “Live Those Days Tonight” is the first single off of the band’s critically acclaimed sophomore release, Pala, and is also the perfect summer party accessory!
Death Cab For Cutie?s VH1 Storytellers is airing at 11 p.m. tonight on VH1, and since lead singer Ben Gibbard is now married to his indie beloved Zooey Deschanel, we got to thinking about music?s most powerful couples of the moment. Because these lists are often tricky to compile and put into an order that everyone can agree on, we took to the streets and polled over 5,000 people. JK! We actually did something smarter and more efficient, combining stats from Billboard charts, YouTube clicks, and social media followings, and mixed it with our interpretation of je ne sais quoi cool-factor buzz. Confident in our rankings, we hereby give you VH1?s list of the most powerful couples in music today.
Who did we miss? Care to offer up any suggestions of your own? Hit us up in the comments section below!
At left: Jay-Z attends the "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" Costume Institute Gala on May 2. At right: Jay-Z performing at the Adult Swim upfronts on May 18.
Just because they’re married doesn’t mean that Jay-Z and Beyonc? use the same methods of promoting their music!
As a guest mentor on last night’s American Idol, Beyonc? debuted her new video for “Run The World (Girls)” live from Los Angeles (more on that to follow).?Shortly after the show, her album cover conveniently leaked via New York’s Hot 97 News correspondent and blogger extraordinaire, Miss Info. But on the other side of the country, hubby Jay-Z discretely revealed some album information of his own…