While Reasonable Doubt was far from a big seller when it first came out – the album sold 43,000 in it’s first week and was certified platinum six years later – it played an important role in securing Roc-A-Fella’s partnership deal with Def Jam.
Leading up to the album’s release in June ’96, Jay-Z dropped “Dead Presidents” as the first single, and while the song is now revered as one of his best songs ever, it didn’t make much of an important. It was the b-side featuring “Ain’t No Ni**a” that got all of the attention. So much so that they decided to re-release it as its own single.
Produced by Jaz-O, and featuring a young Foxy Brown who was one of the hottest up-and-coming rappers at the time, “Ain’t No” was a super funky cut that sampled “Seven Minutes of Funk” (the same sample used on EPMD’s “It’s My Thing”) and was the most successful single off the album, peaking at number 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales.
With the buzz from the single, Roc-A-Fella attracted Def Jam’s attention, who offered the independent label a 50/50 partnership and distribution deal. The first Jay-Z to come under the Def Jam-Roc-A-Fella banner was his ’97 sophomore album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, which fared much better commercially; it sold 138,000 copies in the first week and was certified platinum in a little over a year.
The late Reggie Ossé aka Combat Jack, who represented Roc-A-Fella Records, recalled in an interview with Complex that “Ain’t No” was Jay-Z’s last shot at starting his recording career.
Combat Jack: Reasonable Doubt was kind of Jay’s last shot at jump starting his new profession. The world at large might have never heard of Shawn Carter. People don’t really put two and two together, realizing that Jay had been trying to get on since like 1987, ’88, damn near close to ten years before Reasonable Doubt! ‘Aint No Ni**a’ was also that record that finally got Def Jam to take interest in Jay, Dame, and the Roc.Combat Jack Presents: True Stories Behind 25 Rap Classics | Complex