18 years ago, the world had no idea who Jay Z was. There was no Jigga, Hova or S-Dot.
There was however, a talented 26-year old hustler traversing the eastern corridor between New York, New Jersey and Virginia by the name of Shawn Carter. February 20th, 1996, marked the day that Carter decided to leave that life behind him and fully transition to life as an aspiring rapper. Armed with drug profits to use as capital and a savvy team of advisors, he began what would become one of the most celebrated careers ever.
It was on this day that Jay and his then-upstart Rocafella Records dropped their first promotional single, titled “Dead Presidents” for his upcoming debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Despite dropping a single, “In My Lifetime“, a year earlier, “Dead Presidents” was the song that really caught the attention of the rap world. Produced by Ski, it set the landscape for Jay to paint the picture of his current lifestyle, trading safety and comfort for hustling and the promise of a pay out.
Though largely heralded as a classic album nowadays, Reasonable Doubt was largely slept on during the time of it’s release. So much so, that it didn’t go platinum until 2002, years after Jay had established his career as an artist. This could be attributed to his next level rhyme schemes, encoded slang terms and clandestine street references which made up the album. It wasn’t for everybody and he didn’t care.
If there is ever a testament to the American Dream, it is embodied in Jay Z. His story reminds us all that limitations only hold us back as long as we let them. To quote the man himself, “Don’t be good my n*gga, be great.”
Are you out for presidents to represent you?