This 1997 Interview Shows A Reasonable Doubt Era Jay-Z Raw & Unguarded (Video)

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Today (June 25), marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Jay Z’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Featuring tracks produced by DJ Premier, Ski Beatz and Clark Kent, as well as guest appearances from The Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige, the album is widely-considered a classic and, Jay, himself, believes it to be his finest release.

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There have been a number of retrospectives and articles about the album in the last few weeks and today, Jay released a documentary about the LP on his TIDAL streaming service, but a rare interview from 1997 gives an unvarnished look at Jay and his thoughts about his work, at the time. Set in Germany, the video is striking in the contrast of the man being interviewed on his tour bus, laid-back, in a doo rag versus the bigger than life mega millionaire mogul that he is today.

For the vast majority of the interview, which commences around the one minute mark, Jay is shown reclining, in full chill mode. He answers basic questions like “where are you from?” without a hint of impatience, and is fully obliging when told, not asked, to hold the microphone while he is speaking. As the interview progresses, he begins to drop some gems about the meaning of the title Reasonable Doubt, the significance of the album’s artwork, and more. He also gamely waits as the bilingual host pauses periodically to translate Jay’s responses in German. Later in the interview, Jay casually gets his grub on.

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The interview is not solely about Jay, either. Some of the most poignant moments come when he begins to discuss his peers of the era. When asked about Biggie, who had died prior to the interview, he says “it’s very rare in Hip-Hop you make a close friend ’cause y’all meet at such a late age. Y’all ain’t grow up together. Y’all ain’t play kick the can or play skully together. You just meet on the road and y’all rarely see each other ’cause everyone’s traveling. It was just very rare that me and him clicked like that.” On his thoughts about Bad Boy, Jay said “Bad Boy was one of the first labels to have a young Black CEO, and the way he was doing it was so fresh and so new. Puffy, we got a lot of respect for him. We like everything they got coming out of there.” Already savvy, he also avoids the bait to throw shade at Bad Boy doing “Pop” music. Jay also shares his thoughts about Wu-Tang Clan at the end of the clip.

In between the discussion, the video also captures footage of a spirited performance of “Can I Live” (9:54) and “22 Two’s” (12:54), where Jay goes a capella. It’s an unfiltered look at a man who has become nearly impenetrable in the two decades since.