This week saw the 20th anniversary of Jay Z‘s groundbreaking debut album Reasonable Doubt. The start of everything for young Hov, it was the foundation for what eventually became one of the most important artists in hip-hop history, and subsequently the music industry as a whole.
Jay Z’s history as a street dealer has been well documented in his own stories, and now comes a tale proving that the hustle may not have been entirely left behind when he first entered the music industry. In an interview with Complex, an engineer named Dexter Thibou who was assisting at D&D Studios while Jay’s iconic Reasonable Doubt was being recorded has spilled some interesting details about the sessions. It’s quite bizarre to have this kind of insight into what Jay Z’s life was like at that point in history, but it sure is fascinating – especially considering the pop up Reasonable Doubt store/exhibition thingy happening in NYC right now, involving a to-scale recreation of the apartment he lived in throughout the 1990s.
One of the biggest reveals of the interview came by way of a reminder that he hadn’t quite left the streets behind when he first walked into the studio. For instance, he and Dame Dash never gave Thibou a cheque, favouring dodgy brown paper bags of small bills instead:
“…I didn’t get a paper check from Roc-A-Fella until the second album; they always paid in cash. Always. Dame would piss me off because he’d always pay me in fives and tens. They’d let the bill run up and it’d be like, “OK, Dex, you gotta collect $3,500 from Dame tonight.” Dame be like, “I got you,” and then he’d come back with fives and tens and ones—maybe a twenty. Then I gotta count all this money. Sometimes he’d give it to me in an envelope or a brown bag, but I remember one time he had on these cargo pants and he was pulling money outta the fucking pockets in his cargo pants, and I’m like, “What the fuck is all this?” And he’s like, “Yo, it’s all there.” I’m like, “Nah, you gotta stay here and watch me count this.” But he was never short. I’ve been shorted on a lot of bills, but never from Roc-A-Fella, never from Dame.”
So he might have, uh, his own way of getting things done, but apparently Jay Z was exceedingly patient and “mellow”, and very much a perfectionist.
“I never saw Jay get frustrated. Mary J. Blige showed up late one night and didn’t want to lay down her vocals [for Can’t Knock the Hustle]—I think she was nervous because there were so many people there—and Jay didn’t get frustrated. He was more disappointed. Jay doesn’t show frustration. He’s so cool and mellow with his shit, it’s kinda unreal. I’ve never seen him get mad or yell at nobody…
Jay was just pristine with his shit. There’s just no other way to say it. He couldn’t afford not to—it was coming out of his pocket. This was his last straw. He’d been turned down by everybody, and back then, nobody was really loving Jay. You know? They was making fun of him, calling him ugly and all this other shit. And he was doing it by himself. Odds are stacked against him and this is the last one.”
Oh, and apparently he is very, very good at dice:
“Jay is a wizard with them dice, yo. I’ve seen him send people to the ATM three times in a night. He’s hot hands with that shit. I would not roll dice with Jay Z ever. He gonna take everything from you.”
Duly noted: do not play dice with Jay Z.
Well. Twenty years on from the release of Reasonable Doubt and Jay Z is still on top of the game, so we all know how that turned out. Read our Flashback Friday feature on the game-changing album.