While Reasonable Doubt was slept-on in ’96 when it was first released (the album only sold 43,000 in its first week), it has grown to become one of the most acclaimed rap records of the ’90s, and certainly one of Jay-Z’s best albums.
From “Can’t Knock the Hustle”, which set the tone of the whole album, to the high level sparring between Hov and Big on “Brooklyn’s Finest” to the album’s magnum opus, “Dead Presidents II”, to the melancholic closer, “Regrets”, Reasonable Doubt holds a special place in Jay-Z’s catalogue for the same reason all debuts do – the artist spent their whole life making it.
Jay-Z knew exactly what he wanted to say on the album, and how he wanted to say it. In an interview with Complex, DJ Premier, who produced three of the album’s 14 cuts, revealed that it was Hov who picked the vocal samples for him to scratch on “D’Evils.”
Built around a sample of “Go Back Home” by Allen Toussaint, “D’Evils” also features samples from Prodigy off “I Shot Ya (Remix)” and Snoop Dogg off “Murder Was the Case”.
DJ Premier: That’s totally personal and dear to him. He called me and told me how important this record was and he did the rhyme over the phone. He always rhymes to me over the phone. He’ll be like, ‘Yo, I got this record. Let me do the rhyme for you.’ He’ll just do it over the phone, acapella. And you just sit there and listen. I’ll say, ‘Okay, I got it, I got it.’ He just gives me the idea so I can know what it’s about. I come in here, blank canvas. And he told me all the scratches he wanted me to cut. I don’t think he spins, but just the fact that he was able to come up with that hook, I guess Jay-Z has a little bit of DJ in him too. I just had to convert it to the Premier style. He said, ‘I want minor keys, almost sad.’ He just came here, laid it out, and never wrote it down.DJ Premier Tells All: The Stories Behind His Classic Records | Complex