Upon release, Jay-Z's debut was considered solid if not revelatory. Raekwon had (re)invented gangsta rap, while Nas had redrawn the parameters of hip-hop lyricism. Jigga split the difference and threw in a something for the ladies. Scarface fantasies ("Brooklyn's Finest") are tempered by booty calls ("Ain't No N*gg*"), while coffee shop displays of technical acumen ("22 Twos") and drug land morality tales ("Can I Live") are cut with paeans to materialism ("Cashmere Dreams"). This is a well-balanced and consistent album, and though it didn't reinvent the wheel, it made it a lot smoother.
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