100 Best Debut Albums of All Time

From the Beatles to Nas and beyond

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'Reasonable Doubt'
Courtesy Roc-A-Fella Records14/100

14. 'Reasonable Doubt'

Roc-A-Fella 1996

"The studio was like a psychiatrist's couch for me," Jay-Z told Rolling Stone, and his debut is full of a hustler's dreams and laments. It established Jay as one of his generation's premier rappers and includes the lyrically brilliant "22 Twos" and a filthy guest appearance from a sixteen-year-old Foxy Brown on "Ain't No Nigga." But the centerpiece might be the still-amazing "Brooklyn's Finest," a duet between Jay and the Notorious B.I.G., two titans on their way to redefining their artform. Not yet the bubbly-poppin' party man, the Jay-Z of Reasonable Doubt is a corner-boy inventing new levels of lyrical dexterity. Once it dropped, hip-hop's center of gravity had fully shifted from the West Coast back to the East.

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