Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt vs. Compton’s Most Wanted’s Music To Driveby. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
The next two competing albums are straight from the streets—2,800 miles apart. Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt presented life as a successful hustler, with money stashed, fly cars, and a constant guard up. Looking over the shoulder is a key theme of Compton’s Most Wanted’s Music To Driveby. MC Eiht and his team were rollin’ through Compton with a kill-or-be-killed mentality, in pre-riots, post-Colors L.A. The G-code is big on both albums, and so are conversational flows, Isaac Hayes samples, and uncontested authenticity. One album is a platinum indie hallmark, the deliverance of Rap’s would-be reigning star. The other album is an underground gem, albeit on a major label—undoubtedly influencing its competition. Which one is better? (Click on one then click “vote”).
Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z
The Jay Z heard in the features by Jaz-O, Original Flavor, and Big Daddy Kane was not the Shawn Carter that listeners received on Reasonable Doubt. Deferred in his late ’80s, early ’90s Rap ambitions, the Marcy Projects smooth-talker went to work—hustling in East Trenton, New Jersey. Based there, he traveled Interstate 95, trafficking drugs, risking his life, and learning an industry vastly different than the one of his passion. However, in the days of “baggin’ up at the Ramada,” or “takin’ it to Baltimore in a Ford Explorer,” Jay refined his craft, and grew into the MC that would become his Rap contribution. 1996’s Reasonable Doubt examined the life of a hustler with a Martin Scorsese tracking shot. Shawn Carter slowed down his flow, most of the time, to capture the minute details in plain English to make his experiences as a B-Boy-turned-D-Boy palpable, electrifying, and incredibly dramatic. Although Jay would shift his delivery to first gear on songs like “Feelin’ It,” “Can I Live,” and “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” he applied his rack-and-pinion lyricism to a conversational approach in other places. “Friend Or Foe” in particular, was able to capture dialogue, action, and dialect brilliantly as a one-man-show, in ways other MCs weren’t able to copy. Jay’s flow joined his vantage point as his tremendous selling features. Tunnel-banger “Ain’t No Nigga” showed how Jay did not need to rap fast as much as he excelled in rapid clarity. With Jaz’s classic break-beat arrangement, Jay made a slow sample play fast, as he and Fox’ Brown volleyed a his-and-hers duet, their own upcoming example of The Notorious B.I.G. and Lil’ Kim. With that, the Jigga flow became an instrument—a precise katana more than a reckless machine gun.
Reasonable Doubt advanced the ball for what was going on in New York—especially Brooklyn. Whereas Biggie’s narrative captured a corner-boy dynamic, Jay’s aesthetic was the watchful eye from the nearby Lexus. He was the guy watching the police, watching the young boys—that used to be him. Jiggaman didn’t raise his voice, he didn’t lose his cool, and he rarely cracked his own titanium exterior. This is what made album closer “Regrets” such a gripping display into the guarded soul of S. Carter. An arsenal of producers helped Jay found a sound all of his own. This included the man who helped launch the voices of Nas, Mobb Deep, Jeru The Damaja and Biggie—DJ Premier. 1980s Rap alum Clark Kent was on board, as was veteran Ski Beatz. Samples were instrumental to Jay-Z’s lone independent album’s success. However, that round-table of sound creators gave the clean-cut MC who had risen in a gritty world a crisp sound based around dirty Funk and Soul. In many ways, Jay’s debut was the tipping point that made 1996 a breakaway year for Rap’s sound and style. Reasonable Doubt became a source of inspiration to hungry fish in big ponds, and a soundtrack to a New York City existence outside the lines of the law.
Album Number: 1
Released: June 25, 1996
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #23 (certified gold, September 1996; certified platinum, February 2002)
Song Guests: The Notorious B.I.G., Memphis Bleek, Jaz-O, Foxy Brown, Sauce Money, Mary J. Blige, Pain In Da Ass, Mecca
Song Producers: DJ Premier, Ski Beatz, DJ Clark Kent, Jaz-O, Irv Gotti, Sean C., Dahoud, Knobody, Dahoud, Peter Panic
Music To Driveby by Compton’s Most Wanted
Less than two months before Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, another album released that captured the zeitgeist of South Central—especially in the city of Compton, and put it to music. C.M.W., also known as Compton’s Most Wanted, released their third album. Front man MC Eiht and his team of musical street toughs delivered a pinnacle for a California group that has maintained activity throughout more than 25 years. “Hood Took Me Under” was getting jumped-in set to music, with Eiht’s keen perspective justifying the gang-bang mentality for outsiders. “Dead Men Tell No Lies” provided insights from somebody coming up in the ranks of street life, and earning fear and credibility the Darwinist way. Throughout Music To Driveby, Aaron Tyler’s rhymes were straightforward, and often monosyllabic, but his all-access authenticity, imagery, and unflinching deliveries compensated nicely. Before the Epic Records flagship pivoted to a solo career, and starred in Menace II Society, Music To Driveby was the album that brought his O.G. character to life.
Few groups in Hip-Hop history have been attached to a single artist as much as Compton’s Most Wanted. On Music To Driveby, DJ Slip and DJ Mike T were invaluable. Joined by 10-year West Coast Hip-Hop vet, The Unknown DJ, the collective broke down loops and samples like they were bagging up Funk. Loops from Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Quincy Jones, and Lyn Collins made this album a window into Gangsta Rap for listeners who accessed Hip-Hop through Funk and Soul. Different than N.W.A.’s boisterous arrangements, C.M.W. let the music play, without ever smiling or playing to raunch or special effects. This was uncut street Rap, and songs like “I Gots Ta Get Over” and “Hit The Floor” were arranged in ways that were accessible to East Coast-driven playlists. Musically, Eiht and co. were more peers of Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, and Gang Starr than that of Above The Law, M.C. Hammer, or DJ Quik. A driving force of Music To Driveby, DJ Quik was a target, who as Eiht saw it, was out for another “Def Wish.” These violent barbs would prompt the extremely abrasive responses on Safe + Sound in their own right, before both men squashed tensions. Whether hoo-riding for a rival’s status, or simply offering a true ride-along to life in the gang-invested world that was making its way to Hollywood, Compton’s Most Wanted’s Music To Driveby was raw Gangsta Rap, done exceptionally well, by purist’s standards. And for an ephemeral time in the American consciousness, the major label effort has aged brilliantly, like the cars, fashions, and circumstances of its birthplace.
Album Number: 3 (group)
Released: September 29, 1992
Label: Orpheus/Epic Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #66
Song Guests: Scarface
Song Producers: (self), The Unknown DJ, Master Ric Roc
So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.