No Doubt:20 Years Later Reasonable Doubt Lives

“I’m making short term goals” – Jay Z; 1996

Jay Z lied to us. Literally. The first words on his first album were a complete lie. I’m not here to debate 92 bricks. I mean, I’ve met Emory Jones, his eyes alone spoke truth to me. But Jay Z definitely lied to us on Reasonable Doubt (The best rap album of all time in my personal opinion). His first words were “I’m making short term goals”. I’m not saying he wasn’t making short term goals but that line, if taken literally, is misleading. I think Jay Z always planned to be the greatest rapper of all time, he was always thinking long term. But this was really Shawn Carter the hustler talking to us. Anyone who has done their due diligence on Hov knows the story that his plan was ultimately to do one album then… Fade to Black. He saw rap as the next product to sling for a flip. But love is like a good stock option, it works even when you’re sleeping. Shawn Carter the hustler probably never believed that his dream of being the best rapper ever would hold him so tightly and fight every urge to skip to the next hustle. But here we are 20 years later, and new Jay Z verse (I got the keys- Dj Khaled feat Jay Z and Future) will be released tomorrow. How potent is a package that has been wrapped/rapped for 20 years and still is the most sought after on the block?

 

“Niggas can’t fade me” Do you think he ever thought he wasn’t the best? {Reasonable} Doubt to me is about a man that knows he’s the best, and I’m going to prove it. Beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t want it handed to me. I don’t want anything handed to me. But what’s mine is mine and I’ll take it. King of the double entendre, Jay Z has taught me, maybe too much, to treat every phrase like a coin. Double sided. Everything can mean more than one thing. “Niggas can’t fade me”; depending on the listener, you’re probably inclined to believe this is just typical braggadocio rap. Possibly. But look deeper. Here’s a man who made it on the train that Carlito didn’t. So not only can rappers not outrap him, the streets also didn’t kill him. He made it out.

 

“Jay Z got too many answers”; this is a movie. From scene to scene he’s doing what he set out to do, remove the Reasonable Doubt. By the time you get to “D’Evils” he’s turning the corner. The first half of the album is slick talk. Big Willie shit. Here’s my wordplay. Here’s my vision. Here’s the politics. Here’s my pedigree. Here’s my success already. Here’s the goal. Dead Presidents. “D’Evils” gives you the first scenes of his paranoia. But this is 1996. This is alpha male Black America at its peak. Pre social media and social acceptance of mass male vulnerability “D’Evils” is a man telling you, I know what I’ve done, to survive, but in surviving I know I’ve crossed lines of no turning back. Ironically, he’s also telling you that he has to constantly look over his shoulder. But will God save him? Will confessing his sins and asking for forgiveness be enough? You’re witnessing him reflecting on some of his most wicked decisions, and knowing the motivation behind those decisions, he knows other people have similar motivations. If he was willing to kidnap his friend’s baby mother he’s known since he was a kid playing with building blocks, in the name of profit, which friend is willing to betray him in the same way? “None of my friends speak, we all trying to win”. Then he quickly gets angry. “I ain’t asking for forgiveness of my sins”. His defiance grows with every recollection. As the liquor invades his kidneys and the OGs in the game brief him on all the tactics his rivals could use to take his place he begins to feel invincible. “I Can’t Die”

 

“My pain, wish it was quick to see” the middle of this album is the silent cries in the dark that no one ever hears. That inner conflict of man vs self when he questions was it all worth it. And if it is, why doesn’t anyone see how much his pain caused him to take the direction he took? “From selling ‘caine ’til brains was fried to a fricassee” this is the result. He’s telling you he exhausted all other options and he’s seen so much that he lacks remorse. He knows that he had no choice. “Can I Live” was a beautiful depiction of what a man building muscle looks like. To anyone who’s ever lifted weights, you know to build up muscle your muscles must first be broken down. The sequence of these songs are perfect because he’s given you the breakdown more and more, despite him keeping the poker face on because he can’t show too much weakness. As we get to the end of Can I Live he’s transformed from showing you what he survived to why he’ll continue to survive. So many raw emotions in these records but triumph is the backdrop for this transition. You have to look deeper than the Mafioso theme to see what’s being said here but it’s beautiful. “Confidentially speaking in code since I sense you peeking”

 

Shawn Carter the hustler makes a return when he hops back into slick talk about the spoils of the game on “Ain’t no nigga” to “Friend or Foe”. We don’t see Shawn Carter the man again in all his splendor until we weave thru a couple more immaculate scenes and make it to “Regrets”. Which was the perfect close out. From my perspective, it’s the last look back at the 26 years prior to this album being released because he knows, after this, his life will change. The lessons and the hardships, the friendships and the relationships, the highs and the lows will become very much different after this album. This is Carlito walking on the train because Benny Blanco from the Bronx was too late. And it’s bittersweet. Everyone, I assume, would love to make it out of the drug game on two feet instead of being carried by twelve other feet, but it’s not really expected. Death or jail, that’s typically how this movie ends. So as he reflects on “Regrets” on the drugs he sold, and how more and more his heart tugged on him (and his money and profile grew) where he couldn’t even serve the fiends the same way he used to. He wanted out. He knew he wanted out. So he’s flashing back on moments where he first started to realize it. The heartache he caused his mom and knowing that he almost pulled a trigger that would’ve confirmed one of her biggest fears of him being outside. “About to hot him, and hit rock bottom”. For the final verse he reminisces about a friend who didn’t make it out. How that friend perhaps was his guardian angel that helped him actually make it but the guilt that still comes with that.

 

All in all, Reasonable Doubt is 20 years old today, and in a catalog full of immaculate work, it’s still Jay’s magnum opus. Which, if you ask me, isn’t a knock to his discography because it’s the only one it took 26 years to make. It’s carefully crafted from the rhyme patterns, to the coded intricacies, to the AMAZING production. It wasn’t my first introduction to Jay Z. My first full length Hov album was Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life. But the older I got the more things became clearer to me which simultaneously revealed a missing piece, the beginning. I went back while I was in 9th grade and was amazed. Nearly two decades later I’m still decoding certain lines. I’m still attaching to different emotions from different points and further appreciating that something I’ve heard thousands of times is still teaching me. It’s so much medicine in the candy and I know he planned it to be that way. Jay Z is my favorite rapper of all time for that very reason. There’s not an album I don’t have or many officially released songs I haven’t heard but Reasonable Doubt still does it for me. I’m honored to have been born in the era that held standards that he epitomized on this album. It’ll never get old, even as it gets older! What a grand opening, word to Ty Ty.

Travis Cochran

{Don’t} Let Ali Down: A Battle Cry to Jay Electronica

 


 

 “Nil by mouth, my appeal down south, is like the Nation of Islam when Ali knocked Liston out! Universal change from what appears as just a bout” – Jay Electronica

I may be the only one still waiting. I refuse to believe that though. There’s hopeless romantics in life that will never give up hope in finding their soulmates and living “happily ever after”, I’m the same way. Just with hip-hop. She’s my soulmate. The day I decide to get married, my wife would have proven to be a woman like no other I’ve met to have accepted being 3rd in my life behind my son and hip-hop. But speaking of unicorns, Hip-Hop’s unicorn is unquestionably Jay Electronica.

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar, let me introduce you to 39-year-old, soon to be 40,  Elpadaro F. Electronica Allah Grossly b.k.a Jay Electronica, unknown to most of the general public, commonly known by some as Erykah Badu’s ex {or forever according to the Queen} boyfriend and father to her youngest child, and minimally known by everyone like me. Everyone that loves rap enough to spend hours on blog and web sites alike devoted to hip-hop over the years. Everyone who cares more about elite lyrics than record sales. Everyone who heard “Exhibit C” and HAD to hear more. I’m a 28-year-old in human years, but I’m at least 40 in rap years. You can regularly hear “My Melody” by Rakim and “Rock The Bells” by LL Cool J (records released before I was born) blasting in my speakers. I know my history. Still, I will proclaim in front of everybody from KRS One to Kendrick Lamar that Jay Electronica is one of the best MCs to ever touch a microphone. Some may ask, “How’s he so great if nobody knows him?”, “Does he even have an album?”, or simply just dismiss me as being off my rocker. To that I reply with an ode to Jay Z, as Jay Elect routinely does, “If skills sold truth be told, I’d probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli”. I say that to say, Jay Elect isn’t an unknown by product of being devoid of elite talent. Jay Elect more than any of the rapper outside of Andre 3000, in my opinion, is absolutely disgusted with the thought of being famous. He’s rap’s uniform to his core by being the greatest thing we may never see. When I say we, I mean mainstream America.

 

Which is most unfortunate because now, more than ever, mainstream needs to see the grandson of Ms. Dorothy Flowers. By now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that last week we lost the most powerful voice we’ve ever seen from an entertainer, the great Muhammad Ali. A man of such skill and dominance in the boxing ring, but his greatest power still was in his mind, in his pride and in his discipline. In his ability to touch the people so articulately that everyone was forced to listen. Like Ali, Jay Elect is a brother of the Nation of Islam, who studied the teachings of the honorable Elijah Muhammad which plays a very pivotal role in the make-up of the man. This isn’t about religion; this is about wisdom. This is about knowledge, albeit no coincidence in my opinion, but their religious faith isn’t what makes them great per say. It’s the knowledge acquired and the God given ability of wordplay they both possess(ed) that allows them to speak to the hearts and minds of a nation, and more importantly a community of black people who are in desperate need of leadership now. I referenced my Hip-hop age earlier, so it would probably be no surprise that I’m not the biggest fan of the current wave of rap. It’s not lyric driven. It’s not message driven. It’s more melody driven, but I’m more of the old guard. I care about lyrical ability and substance. I love 808’s too, don’t get me wrong, but I need to feel some conviction in MC’s. Which is why I feel like Jay Elect, the time is now. This is about more than rap. This is about consciousness. This is about a generation of young black kids that are being programmed by reality TV and social media. This is about a generation of black people that have lost pride in themselves. This is about a generation of black people that are being miseducated for the prosperity of the very country that enslaved them for hundreds of years. Now the slavery is systematic. The poison is in the candy. We need someone fearless, profound, and undeniably dope to shake up the world. Ali would want that. “I’m like Cassius when I blast molasses out the asses of the masses” I believe this line to be prophetic. But the thing with prophecy is that it’s just talk until it comes to fruition. In honor of the legend, Jay, the time is now! Who else can speak such unapologetic truth to power into a generation lacking the guidance? Who else can speak such unfiltered and uncompromised wisdom from a new perspective than you? A breath of fresh air would be the understatement of the year. Not saying none of the greats can shed light, but we know this to be a time of what’s new; and your light is brilliant! Although you’ve been on the scene for 6 years or so now, without mass appeal to this point, you’re still a new voice. Jay, the time is now! I know I’m just another avi in your mentions or writer with a link saying the same thing, I know Ms. Badu has said we need her blessing, and I also understand not wanting to be a part of this flash in the pan fickle era but Jay, the time is now! I see this as your Vietnam moment. They’re labeling you a draft dodger, but today is your day at the podium to tell the world who’s your opposer. The time is now! With all due respect, I clearly never had the pleasure to meet your grandmother, but more people need to know of the man she raised! The time is now! Someone has to pick up the torch that Ali left burning, the now is now! You have a date with destiny and you promised not to cancel it!

 

“A thousand wishes from a million slaves can raise a savior”- The Rap Unicorn

 

Sincerely,

Travis Cochran

Twitter: @ImMrCochran

Drug Dealer Rap is Still Alive!

 

 

I hate to sound like the grumpy old man, but more and more everyday I’m becoming the grumpy old man. Entertainment is subjective, so please understand this is just my personal opinion… I’ll take drug dealer rap over drug user rap any day! I’ve never sold drugs or been a drug user, and while not condoning the former, I admire the discipline and integrity it typically took for drug dealers to rise in the ranks and in wealth more so than the constant carelessness drug user rap displays. I can relate to the emotion of paranoia that came with not wanting to be a failure financially. Not to mention, when done exceptionally, most drug dealer rap gives you both sides, not just parties, girls and material gain it also gives you the heartache. Drug user rap mostly, from my perspective, gives you a false sense of reality like the very drugs being used. So imagine my delight a few nights ago when two of the most cerebral architects of drug dealer rap, Jay Z and Pusha T, took a walk thru their memory and crafted such drug dealer motion pictures that they would rival Scorsese. Or for that matter, Federico Fellini. I was like a kid on Christmas. Let’s dissect it.

 

Pusha T, native of Virginia, has become one of my top 5 favorite rappers of all time over the years which also thrusts him into my top rappers from the south. Just from a southern aspect, I put him in the realm of Scarface, Both Outkast members Big Boi and Andre 3000, Cee Lo Green, and Trick Daddy. I put him number 2 amongst them, behind only Mr. Brad Jordan. What he brings to rap is a gift for articulation and vocabulary that has often been the metaphorical Achilles’ heel of southern rap while also having the edginess, style and trendsetting ability that’s always been a staple of southern hip-hop. He has the total package for an MC. The voice, star power, lyrical ability, flow, beat selection, originality and most important to most… authenticity. “I can’t even mention what I sent or what I spent because my name in 18 wheelers is evidence” is a clear example of this. Such linear bars depict real life without coming off as folklore. It’s not flamboyant and extravagant. It reeks of quiet paranoia and caution. It lets you know he’s still cognizant of what could still be taken to trial. What could be tied to him or possibly incriminate others. The carefulness is admirable. In a time where rappers and members of their entourage have been indicted based off of rap lyrics, Pusha lets us know that while he’s sharing his story, his story is real and can still be used against him. Which is more important than a few more street cred points by him being too boisterous.

 

Now what can I say about Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay Z that hasn’t been said already? Not much. For 20 years he’s been recalling the life he had prior in such a manner he’s widely considered the Greatest of All Time. But in an era with the attention span of a toddler, it is often lost on popular opinion how good Jay Z is. Hip- Hop has always been a young man’s game, until Jay Z got older. This verse is a master’s class on rhyme writing as he reminds everybody quite frankly… who’s the master. “Federico Fellini in the Flesh” is such a brilliant metaphor perfectly timed. I admit, I didn’t know of Mr. Fellini prior to this verse, which is also a part of Jay Z’s genius. He’s always introduced legends from outside of our culture in a sense to our culture. So after hearing it and researching him I learned that Federico Fellini is only regarded as one of the most influential film makers and screenwriters of all time. So the comparison is perfect. Take into account how I opened this paragraph and you can clearly see why this metaphor is so effective. Hov goes on to weave in and out of the dark multi-layered beat’s crevices to tell you about his history. From hopping from the underworld of the drug game to being in London at 19 in a Benz (with Big Daddy Kane). Even tells you that the proof is online if you need it “Google’s your friend bruh”. The 14 year drug dealer, as chronicled by Tomi Lahren the online news anchor, almost drives you out of the 80’s and thru the 90’s until president day when he tells you his biggest struggle possibly has been skillfully becoming successful “on the books” and credits the wizardry of his accountant with being the best asset of all. “He Been Hoola-hooping thru loopholes, working ‘round shit”. As the movie starts coming to an end you can find Hov telling you how he’s excelled so much that he’s passed the pack as it’s summarized by businessman Hov giving you stock tips “Yall think Uber’s the future, our cars been autonomous”.

 

Filled with double entendres and intricate rhyme patterns that after 20+ listens I’m still figuring it out, Drug Dealers Anonymous gives me everything I desire from rap. It was beautifully executed and long overdue. Now we just need King Push and whatever Hov’s next album will be called to complete the puzzle. I’m the grumpy old man, but I know there’s a host of other people with similar lineage in this thing of ours called Hip-Hop that felt just as refreshed as I did hearing this. We just like what we like! Drug Dealers Anonymous.

TRAVIS COCHRAN

TWITTER@iammrcochran

DJ Khaled Brings Southern Hip Hop to the Formation Tour 


On the opening night of Beyonce’s Formation Tour,DJ Khaled made sure to make an impression on the beehive 🐝. During his set Future,Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Yo Gotti, and Trick Daddy blessed the stage with performances. Michelle Williams was in attendance,but did not perform.