Not too often do I watch documentaries about artists that don't feature the artist to tell their own story, when they are still alive. So, before I start talking about this movie, let me say that the movie is definitely one sided at times. The filmmaker makes Jay Z look ruthless, cold and opportunistic at times. They follow this up by doing a decent job balancing negative perceptions of Jay Z with supportive ones. Some argue that he's brilliant, smart, a genius and amazing businessman; others say he's an opportunist, has no loyalty and is only out for himself.
Its probably better to get my opinion out there and out of the way. I liked Reasonable Doubt when it came out, but you could easily put it on a similar level as Liquid Swords for one particular reason. They both were good albums when they dropped, but while they had very different styles, Reasonable Doubt and Jay Z focused on materialistic pursuits of wealth, power and everything associated with it. Shallow representations of money, women, power, drugs, etc glorified by Jay Z usually make an artist blow up, but Reasonable Doubt didn't blow up in 1995. It was only considered a classic when Jay Z blew up years later. The fact that both projects didn't blow up is the only thing that I think makes them similar. In fact, Jay Z didn't blow up until later, after the Notorious B.I.G. was killed. Liquid Swords was a dark, lyrical assortment of amazing flows, ability, creativity, production and achieved much more than Reasonable Doubt creatively. The GZA never will receive the type of money Jay Z makes, but the one thing Liquid Swords achieves that Reasonable Doubt didn't is pushing the genre and culture further. Liquid Swords was ground breaking and Reasonable Doubt was a "safe" conceptual album made for people looking for materialistic, watered down subculture music (aka hip hop).
Believe it or not, some black people still polarize themselves to field and house "niggas". A house "nigga' is someone who is supposedly "true" to who they are by accepting their past as a slave and turns that representation on it's head by wearing it as a badge. This attitude also considers house "niggas" are black people that sell out, don't buy into the narrow perception of how black people have to behave and it's also way that black people are racist against themselves based on how dark they are. I don't use that word in my vocabulary, but using it metaphorically, Reasonable Doubt and the albums like it tell stories that field "niggas" want to hear by limiting the artist to see themselves as a slave and brag about who has the most expensive chains. I would never limit myself to this slave mentality. The one thing that the films does is make you see that Jay Z considered himself a businessman. A Genius Leaves the Hood hints toward Jay Z selling out for a more corporate direction at times. The main problem with that is that it is a double standard that is contradictory. First, for a person to go a corporate direction doesn't automatically make him a sell out. Also, moving beyond the people from your old neighborhood doesn't make you a sell out either. What would make Jay Z a sellout is if he preached something and then completely went against everything he said he stood for. In the end of the movie, one of the people interviewed mentioned that they think Jay Z is going to make his opinions known and try to do some things for the greater good and for his community. If he does that, he would be a sellout because he's always professed self preservation through dealing drugs and maximizing the money he makes by comparing music to crack and how he's basically playing the same game as he always has. For him to start talking about what is wrong with the industry, confronting controversy and addressing political issues would be to completely change the logic of his lyrics and career moves. Actually, the respect that I have for Jay Z would be lost if he did that because it shows a lack of conviction and it sends the message that you only help other people after you get your own.