Video Vault: 5 Pre-Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z Videos

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

This Monday, Jay-Z will officially give the world his latest LP, Magna Carta Holy Grail. We’ve already seen a rollout unlike any other hip-hop album release in history, complete with a surprise NBA Finals commercial drop announcement, an exclusive Samsung deal and app that under Jay’s #newrules put MCHG at platinum status before one CD hit stores, and a two-week trolling period filled with lyric sheets, video clips, and no actual music that raised the album’s anticipation to an all-time high.

At midnight on July 4th, when the album was first made exclusively available to Samsung phone holders, we all sat and listened, praising it and picking it apart, comparing it to his past efforts. Even the least crafty iPhone owners were able to get their hands on a leak, and if not, they tuned in to Funkmaster Flex, who played MCHG in its entirety on Hot 97 for all to enjoy. It was an epic night for hip-hop, and another notch on the belt of the most accomplished rapper ever.

While examining Jay’s evolving greatness, and discussing where his new LP ranks amongst the rest of his discography, it’s important that we also take a sec to think back to his humble beginnings, before he ever even had an album out. Hov’s come along way since he was making guest appearances alongside Brooklyn greats Big Daddy Kane and Jaz-O in the early ‘90s, and putting out his own on-location Caribbean music videos without a record deal. So as we toast to another Jay-Z win, let’s revisit 5 Pre-Reasonable Doubt music videos that introduced us to his phenomenal MC talents, and hinted at how successful he would one day become. Respect this here.

1. The Jaz ft. Jay-Z “The Originators”

Well before Jay-Z and Jaz-O flexed their fast-spitting styles on Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life’s “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99),” an extremely young Hov made an early (and uncredited) guest appearance in 1990 with Jaz on the original “The Originators.” It’s crazy to look back on this video and think that Jay was once considered a weed carrier in the game, but this verse was a flash of solo stardom potential, and a sign that there were many more memorable rhymes to follow from Jaz’s baby-faced, Marcy Projects prodigy.

2. Original Flavor ft. Jay-Z “Can I Get Open”

Ski’s rap group Original Flavor gave Jay-Z a nice look on their 1993 single, which would end up on their second and final album, Beyond Flavor, a year later. This is Hov during the prime of his tongue twister shit. You want a fly style? Well, Jay gave you one right here. He styled on us with the gear, too. Straight early ‘90s hip-hop shit, from the Karl Kani to the bandannas. And this wasn’t the last of Ski and Hov’s collaborations. Ski would go on to produce many more joints for Jay, including the next song on this list, and four tracks on Reasonable Doubt.

3a. Jay-Z “In My Lifetime”

Released by Payday Records, “In My Lifetime” was Jay-Z’s debut single, and first solo music video. Following its release, Jay and his partner Dame Dash decided to start up Roc-A-Fella Records to avoid any future royalty conflicts like the ones they were having after the single dropped. As the story goes, when their new partner Biggs was brought into the fold, they used his $16,000 investment in Roc-A-Fella to fund the island-style video for “In My Lifetime,” filmed on-location in St. Thomas. Biggs also blessed them with connects to the mansion and speedboat for the shoot, too. Now that’s some trill indie shit.

3b. Jay-Z “In My Lifetime (Remix)”

Hov remixed his first single with not only a new Jaz-produced beat, but also with entirely new verses, and a fresh hook. He even remixed the video shoot, stunting on more boats, partying poolside, and exploring the meaning of life over bottles of champagne with his crew. This man hadn’t even dropped an album yet, and he was already living large. Too bad he gets knocked at the end of the clip.

4. Big Daddy Kane ft. Scoob, Sauce Money, Shyheim, Jay-Z, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard “Show & Prove”

Back in the day, rap legend Big Daddy Kane used to bring Jay-Z on stage as a special guest during his live set to let Jay flex his skills for the crowd. So it was only right that Kane eventually invited Jay to hop on a record with him to make the cosign permanent. In block party fashion, Kane, Jay, Sauce Money, Big Scoob, and teenage Wu-Tang affiliate Shyheim pass the mic to show and prove, with a grand finale by none other than ODB. This is as classic as a ‘90s posse cut video can get.

5. Jay-Z “I Can’t Get Wit That”

This slept-on “In My Lifetime” B-Side was an incredible showcase of Jay-Z’s rhyme skills. He flows his ass off on this track, straight up. But at the time, the mass public wasn’t checking for Jay like they should’ve been, partly because this video was never officially released. As for him wearing a Reggie Miller jersey in the clip, well, the song’s producer Clark Kent once told me at Complex that Jay was simply a fan of Reggie’s. But Hov told Juan Epstein that it was just because the jersey matched the colors in his sneakers. Still, Jay. How you gonna rock a Reggie Miller Pacers jersey during the ‘90s in New York? He was the enemy! That’s that Brooklyn bullshit haha.

Previously: Video Vault: 7 Classic SMACK DVD Clips