JAY-Z Reasonable Doubt (Music On Vinyl) 

Jay-Z’s 1996 debut skilfully weaves a fine line between pop nous and gangsta cred, the artist a ruthless operator rolling sheets of syllables over choice soul, funk and jazz samples. It’s all spiced with the kind of indomitable self-belief that finds him dismissing copyists already, on his first album. In fact, when he appropriates Nas’ “The World Is Yours” during “Dead Presidents II” it sounds like hip-hop history eating itself. Despite the hooky immediacy of “Can’t Knock The Hustle” the album’s pinnacle might be “Ain’t No Nigga”, making loose-limbed work of a sample from The Whole Darn Family’s appropriately titled “Seven Minutes Of Funk”. Despite all that, though, and the mountains of acclaim that posit “Reasonable Doubt” as Jay-Z’s finest work, to me it’s more efficient than memorable; it might be perfectly constructed, but it’s too smooth to really grip.

Long unavailable on vinyl, with original copies appearing on Amazon Marketplace attached, perhaps somewhat optimistically, to three figure price tags, Music On Vinyl have ostensibly done a good thing in bringing “Reasonable Doubt” back to the black stuff. Their reissue actually sounds impressive in places, but overall it’s a bit bright, robotic and cold – there’s not a centigrade of analogue warmth here – and rather more distorted towards the end of sides than the usual battle against the laws of physics. Even less impressively, a sudden hike in volume for final track “Can I Live II” sends the stylus of my gramophone repeatedly skipping out of the groove, and I’m certainly not playing it on the kind of old tin cans once despised by Mike Oldfield. My copy arrived with what it describes as a “limited bonus 10”” containing two additional versions of “Can’t Knock The Hustle”, certainly a bonus for any listener who feels the album to be insufficiently long or repetitive in standard form.