Jay Z's Best Songs Before "Reasonable Doubt" Photo courtesy of Abdul Malik Abbott

Jay-Z "Understand Me"

Circa: 1994
Producer: Peter Panic for Supermen Productions

Produced by Peter Panic for Clark Kent's Supermen Productions, "Understand Me" is one of the more illuminating pre-Reasonable Doubt tracks to come to light via mixtapes. The Tupac-inspired track borrows its sample and theme from 'Pac's "Pain" ("Maybe if they tried to understand me, what should I do?/I had to feed my fuckin' family, what else could I do?"), with Jay breaking down the existential complexities of hustling in the easily relatable fashion that would become a trademark: "I'm from the projects, wasn't for me/By nineteen, I'd be in jail, smoking or buying the key/Which one would you choose out of the three?/Yeah I know, go for the 40 G's/It's no longer for the family, they no longer need/But for the greed, getting props, and being top seed."

The tone of this one is dark and haunting, a pitch-perfect prequel to Reasonable Doubt's tracks like "D'Evils" and "Dead Presidents" marred only by the rough audio—like many of the Jay demos that have turned up, it's made it to the Internet and CD mixtapes only after multiple dubs on cassette tape.

Tags: jay-z
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