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Best album of 1996 | The rest of the Best of 1996
JAY-Z, Reasonable Doubt, Roc-A-Fella
While both sides of Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents / Ain't No N----" single have received plenty of airplay on The 411's radio show, the album almost got slept on. Reasonable Doubt sat on the shelf while lesser fare stayed in rotation. But once it finally made it to the deck, it hardly ever came out. And not because of one or two hot tracks -- it's the whole disc. Starting with the Mary J. Blige-blessed "Can't Knock the Hustle," Reasonable Doubt flows from cut to cut effortlessly thanks to consistently smooth beats, catchy-but-hardcore hooks and alarmingly honest lyrics. The bulk of the production for the album's 14 tracks is done by Ski (4), Clark Kent (3) and DJ Premier (3), and they employ a mix of lyrical samples by the likes of Nas, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Mobb Deep and musical snippets that include Ohio Players, the Stylistics and Isaac Hayes. But it's the wordplay by Jay-Z between and over the top of these beats that sets the album apart. Never is this more evident than when Jay-Z lets his emotions show on the album's finale, "Regrets." It seems Jay-Z might be the best thing to come out of New York since Notorious B.I.G., who makes an all-star appearance on "Brooklyn's Finest." But Jay trumps Biggie in one regard -- there's no Puffy to distract us from this $50 classic.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

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