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A month after Jay Z released Reasonable Doubt, Port Arthur Texas duo UGK released a classic LP of their own—Ridin’ Dirty. Back then, regional hip-hop was truly regional, with little intermingling between the scenes. But Bun B and Pimp C were paying attention to what rappers in other areas were doing. Here, Bun reminisces on his first impressions of Jay Z and his 1996 debut.
I remember hearing it that summer. I was interested in hearing Reasonable Doubt because you kinda knew who Jay Z was—after he popped up on the Original Flavor record, it was like OK, this is the dude who used to be with Jaz-O, I didn’t know this dude spit. And then he got this little double-time flow, which was more of a Midwest type of a flow, down South type of a flow. And then once you start seeing the [“In My Lifetime”] video, seeing the skinny little nigga on the boat and all that shit, these dudes gettin’ money. These dudes in the street, gettin’ money. This ain’t fittin’ to be like Original Flavor, this is some other street shit.
Then the lyrical side impressed everybody. Like, OK, this dude actually got real lyrics. So when they came with Reasonable Doubt, it was a very, very clearly defined character and individual, and circumstances. This dude knows what he’s talking about. This doesn’t sound like hearsay. This dude was in the room for some of this shit.
It was about the authenticity, the honesty within the records. For me, honesty comes from when you talk about the pitfalls; anybody can make up the good times and throw random numbers and shit around. But when you start talking about the hazards inherent to the hustle and the pitfalls inside of the game, that’s when you really know that somebody knows what they’re talking about. Not when the dude’s talking about he’s making all the money all the time, when the dude has to explain how to handle taking a loss. That’s when you start to get the authenticity.
“Coming of Age” was interesting because we knew dudes like that and that dynamic was starting to happen. Like for us, we were at the point where we weren’t necessarily from that, but we knew what that was and how those dudes start so you couldn’t just really write ‘em off. You just gotta show ‘em a better way to hustle. We were getting to that level. And it was interesting to see that in a lyrical form. I always talk about songs like that, that are very real moments in hip-hop because most songs talk about the same things. That’s a song has a different look and a different perspective.
Vulnerability is rare in hip-hop, and admitting to it is even rarer, and I think that’s what “Coming of Age” is: It’s like, "It ain’t bad to be an old head," "Nah, it ain’t bad to be a youngster either." "Yeah I know, I was a youngster, but if you wanna be an old head then you gotta peep a little game." "Yeah, that’s cool, but then the game is changing too."
And if you really think about it, that’s one of the last times where the younger generation still had the big brothers or dudes in the hood that actually tried to deter you from the streets, you know what I’m saying? I think “Coming of Age,” concept-wise, really speaks to time and a theme that resonates today—it’s just the dynamic is different. Twenty years ago, you could still pull most young cats' coattails and give them a little game and they'd be receptive.
A lot of albums from ‘96, I think, thematically tied in to where people were respectively in those areas. It wasn’t the excessive name-dropping that we’re used to in hip-hop now. Back then, it wasn’t about 18 different kinds of liquors, and maybe if I shout this liquor out enough I might get that check. When we used to go out to clubs in the ‘90s, if you bought a bottle of Champagne, that was a special occasion. We never bought bottles of liquor, we’d just go to the bar and order like eight Long Island iced teas or five Blue Hawaiians or some shit like that. Up until Snoop Dogg, I didn’t care about what flavor of gin was in the drink, you feel me? Up until Tupac and Hennessy, I didn’t care what the brown liquor was—I couldn’t tell you the difference between a cognac, a whiskey, a bourbon, none of that shit. But then all of a sudden, so-and-so was drinking this. It wasn’t really about achieving symbols that represented status, but actually achieving status. Because, nowadays, people say they want the money, but they really just want the money to buy the things. Back then, we wanted the money, you know what I’m sayin’? And then we’ll figure out if we want the things or not.
Why does Reasonable Doubt sound timeless? For example, we would try and avoid being too specific about things. Like whenever Pimp would talk about a Benz, it would be a certain class of Benz that had been in the company for years and wasn’t gonna go anywhere. But you start talking about Maybachs and then all of a sudden they discontinue the line and then it could potentially be a problem. Because then everything gets locked into that specific time period. By giving it a date, you give it an expiration. So as long as you’re not too specific too often, and what you’re talking about is general life themes—relationships, family, money, haters, children, lovers, all of that type of shit, real friends vs. fake friends, all that stuff is universal to the human experience and will exist pretty much as long as humans exist. So you can talk about that kind of stuff—that’s why don’t push me, 'cause I’m close to the edge still makes sense. Maybe not the whole song, but those bars still resonate.