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#ThrowbackThursday: “Can’t Knock The Hustle” by Jay Z

By Sean Smith

World renown Brooklyn MC Jay Z is in the midst of quite the eventful month.

Last week he and his wife Beyonce’ welcomed the newest additions to their growing family. While details are understandably scant, given the privacy they like to keep surrounding their children, we know that Beyonce’ gave birth to twins. Several entertainment outlets are reporting that the newborns have now been brought home from the hospital, and the Carter’s are staying in the Los Angeles area.

As if that were not enough excitement this month for “Brooklyn’s finest,” Jay Z is set to release his fourteenth studio album on Friday. The new album is entitled 4:44, and will be exclusively available on June 30th on the streaming service he owns, Tidal. The album is also said to have a companion film to go along with it. Reminiscent of his wife Beyonce’s last two album’s which also had film companions.

Not much is known in regards to what to expect from Jay Z’s new album musically. Rumors have it that famed Chicago producer No I.D. was tapped to produce the entire album. This comes as reassuring news to many fans of Jay Z’s earlier work who have been concerned that he may try and take his original style and conform it to fit into the popular sound of today’s rap sound. The reassurance is due to No I.D.’s production credits on Jay Z’s 2009 album The Blueprint 3, on tracks like “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” and “Run This Town.” The only sample of actual music we have heard from 4:44 came to us in a thirty second video put out on Father’s Day which includes a few lines from a song called “Adnis.” Adnis being the name of Jay Z’s father, Adnis Reeves, who abandoned him at the age of 12. Jay Z and his father would later reconcile their differences before Adnis Reeves passed away in 2003.

Along with Jay Z welcoming into this world his new children, as well as preparing to release his newest album this Friday, Jay Z should also be celebrating an important anniversary this month. It was 21 years ago this week, on June 25, 1996, that he released his debut album Reasonable Doubt. With that in mind, this week’s edition of #tbt here on Clizbeats takes a moment to remember the debut single from that debut offering, “Can’t Knock the Hustle.”

Looking back on Jay Z’s debut album today, we primarily think most positively about the album cuts from the record. Classic tracks like “Politics as Usual,” “Dead Presidents II,” Coming of Age” (featuring Memphis Bleek), or “Can I Live.” However, there were two standout singles from the album as well. There was of course “Ain’t No N****” featuring Foxy Brown, and the album’s opening track “Can’t Knock the Hustle” featuring Mary J. Blige.

The song starts with customized lines from the film Scarface, which leads the listener to believe that the song’s message is that you can’t knock the drug hustle. However, in an interview with NPR, Jay Z stated that the track’s message was actually aimed at drug dealers in the street, who shouldn’t knock his hustle of rapping.
The song features Mary J. Blige on the hook. Although that was almost not the case. At the time that Jay Z was recording Reasonable Doubt he was a relatively little known underground artist. In contrast, Mary J. Blige was already being dubbed the “Queen of hip hop and R&B.” The story of how she got put on the song is that she was dating Jay Z’s Rocafella partner Damon Dash at the time, and Dame asked her to be on the track. Mary J. Blige recorded her vocals, however her label MCA/Universal did not want her to be a part of any kind of promotion for a little known rapper, thinking that may hurt her “Queen” status. Ultimately a deal was struck between the two sides that allowed the Mary J. Blige vocals to be included on the album version of the song, but not on the single. The single’s version of the hook instead featured the vocals of Meli’sa Morgan, whose 1986 song “Fool’s Paradise” was the inspiration behind track’s hook.

So with this month marking a number a milestones in Jay Z’s life and career, be it the birth of his twins, his new album and the 21st anniversary of his debut album release; this week we take a moment to remember a single from his classic album Reasonable Doubt with “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” Enjoy.

Jay-Z Featuring Mary J. Blige 

“Can’t Knock The Hustle” (Explicit)

From: Reasonable Doubt

Roc-A-Fella/Priority Records