Breaking Down Every Contributor For JAY-Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’

Get familiar with all 46 people who contributed to the making of JAY-Z’s debut album.


By Dylan Green and Brian Zisook / DJBooth

In June, 1996, JAY-Z released Reasonable Doubt, a project that was supposed to be his first and last album; a tell-all that would lift the weight off his shoulders from years spent in the drug game and maybe impress a still-growing number of rap fans in the process. Just over 20 years later, Hov has recorded 12 more solo albums, a handful of collaborative projects with artists like Linkin Park, R. Kelly and Kanye West, toured the world countless times over, and planted his flag as an enormously successful businessman. Regrets and missteps are the subtle thoughts clouding the diamonds that are his legacy, dancing like a joy-filled Blue Ivy.

It may not be his most successful album, but Reasonable Doubt is considered a classic and the one that started it all, the cornerstone of the Roc-A-Fella pyramid. A lot of hands went into crafting the smoky, R&B-laced soundscapes that make up RD’s atmosphere, and to celebrate its lasting impact on the rap game and JAY-Z’s heralded career, DJBooth went through the liner notes to highlight them all.

Here are all 46 people who contributed to the making of Reasonable Doubt.

Ahmad Jamal

Composer: “Feelin’ It”

A jazz pianist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose sultry 1974 track “Pastures” is the bed of keys that Hov’s “Feelin’ It” lyrics lays on top of.

Allen Toussaint

Composer: “D’Evils”

A New Orleans-born R&B artist and producer with a slew of hits under his belt, including Patti LaBelle’s chart-topping “Lady Marmalade” in 1974 (later covered by Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink and Lil’ Kim for another Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit in 2001). The piano chords from his song “Go Back Home” turn ominous when they’re sampled for the beat of “D’Evils.” Toussaint, whose original works have been sampled by Gorillaz, French Montana and OutKast among others, died in November 2015 at age 77.

Andrew Noland

Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

Saxophonist, flutist, and vocalist for the Ohio Players, also known as Clarence “Satch” Satchell. The group’s 1973 song “Ecstacy” was sampled on the Clark Kent and Dame Dash co-produced “Brooklyn’s Finest,” which also features the late Notorious B.I.G.

Angela Scott (Mecca)

Featured Artist: “Feelin’ It”

Scott, known to Reasonable Doubt fans as Mecca, is a rapper and singer who’s worked with JAY-Z, AZ and Camp Lo. During the making of the album, producer Ski Beatz flew her from Virginia to New York to sing the gossamer hook for “Feelin’ It.” 15 years later in 2011, after some early career setbacks, Scott finally released her debut album, Angela Scott vs. Mecca.

August Moon

Composer: “Ain’t No Nigga”

A baritone saxophone player for the funk band The Whole Darn Family. Their song “Seven Minutes of Funk” was sampled on the Big Jaz-produced “Ain’t No Nigga.” More recently, the song was sampled on YG’s 2016 single “Why You Always Hatin?” featuring Drake and Kamaiyah.

Brian Potter

Composer: “Ain’t No Nigga”

Brian Potter is a British-born singer/songwriter extraordinaire, who, along with partner Dennis Lambert, wrote the song “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)” by The Four Tops, which was interpolated within “Ain’t No Nigga.”

Burt Bacharach

Composer: “Can I Live”

A legendary songwriter and composer to the stars. Bacharach wrote the song “The Look Of Love” in 1967 alongside Hal David, a cover of which was sung by Isaac Hayes and sampled on “Can I Live.” To date, Bacharach’s work has been sampled nearly 90 times.

Christopher Edward Martin (DJ Premier)

Producer, Composer: “D’Evils,” “Friend Or Foe,” “Bring It On”

Born Christopher Edward Martin, the New York-by-way-of-Texas DJ/producer and one-half of the group Gang Starr is a legendary figure in hip-hop. Premier turned the wheels of steel into grimy gold three separate times on Reasonable Doubt and made hustlers shed tears the world over with “D’Evils.” There’s a good reason why Hov initially wanted Premier to produce the entirety of The Black Album. Now 29 years into his esteemed career, Preemo continues to produce new material, is one-half of the duo PRhyme alongside Royce da 5’9”, and is using his veteran status to prop up newer artists (Torii Wolf).

Christopher Wallace (The Notorious B.I.G.)

Featured Artist, Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

The Notorious B.I.G., one of the greatest MCs of all-time. You might have heard of him? There’s no more apt title for a track featuring two of the borough’s best tag-teaming a song of this stature.

Cynthia Biggs

Composer: “Politics As Usual”

Biggs, widely known as Cynthia Biggs El, was a songwriter, producer and vocalist for Philadelphia International Records. She wrote The Stylistics’ 1980 song “Hurry Up This Way Again,” which was sampled throughout “Politics As Usual.” Her songwriting work on “When I’m Gone,” a 1979 single by The Jones Girls, has been sampled on 17 rap records, including songs from Pete Rock (“Standard”), LL Cool J (“Take It”) and T.I. (“Prayin For Help”).

Dahoud Darien

Co-Producer: “Can’t Knock The Hustle”

Dahoud Darien’s first major credit was as a co-producer alongside Knobody and Sean Cane on the glitzy “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” the third single released on Reasonable Doubt. Dahoud has spent the last 20 years creating bops and knockers for the likes of Big Pun, The Game, Talib Kweli and Mya, among others.

Damon “Dame” Dash

Co-Producer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

Alongside Kareem “Biggs” Burke, the man who helped Hov throw the Roc-A-Fella diamond in the sky like the bat signal in Gotham, served as executive producer on Reasonable Doubt. In addition, Dash also had a hand in crafting the beat for “Brooklyn’s Finest.” Together, Dash and JAY-Z created the powerhouse label when Def Jam bought Roc-A-Fella in 2004, after which Dash spread his post-Rocawear wealth to businesses both large and small.

David Willis (Ski Beatz)

Producer, Composer: “Politics As Usual,” “Dead Presidents II,” “Feelin’ It,” “22 Two’s”

The beat master himself, Ski Beatz, who at the time was simply known as Ski, is a record producer and the mastermind behind roughly one-fourth of JAY-Z’s maiden musical voyage. He was discovered by DJ Clark Kent and worked with Camp Lo on their debut Uptown Saturday Night before working with Hov on Reasonable Doubt. On top of providing the gritty backing for four of the album’s tracks, Ski also helped record and mix much of project, serving as a pseudo A&R.

Deleno Matthews (Sean Cane/Sean C)

Co-Producer: “Can’t Knock The Hustle”

Matthews is a producer and one-third of the production group behind the shimmering beat for “Can’t Knock The Hustle.” Sean, who eventually dropped Cane in favor of the letter C, is one-half of Sean C & LV (Grind Music), the production duo responsible for six records on JAY-Z’s American Gangster album, including the lead single “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)…,” as well as hit records for Clipse, Fat Joe, Ghostface Killah and more.

Dennis Lambert

Composer: “Ain’t No Nigga”

Like Brian Potter, Lambert was a singer-songwriter extraordinaire, who co-wrote the song “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)” by The Four Tops, which was interpolated within “Ain’t No Nigga.”

Gary Webster

Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

The piano player for renowned funk group, the Ohio Players. A twinkling of keys from their groove “Ecstacy” is sampled throughout the “Brooklyn’s Finest” beat.

Hal David

Composer: “Can I Live”

David, who passed away in 2012 at age 91, was a Brooklyn-born songwriter who often worked with composer Burt Bacharach and the legendary Dionne Warwick. David wrote the song “The Look Of Love,” a cover of which was sung by Isaac Hayes and sampled on “Can I Live.” David’s work has been sampled more than 50 times, most recently by former Def Jam MC Cyhi The Prynce, who, in 2014, used Warwick’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart” on “Napoleon.”

Hamilton Bohannon

Composer: “Cashmere Thoughts”

A percussionist, known by many as simply Bohannon, who was also one of the leading voices of disco in the ‘70s. Various Bohannon drum hits were sampled throughout the thumping and slapping beat on the Clark Kent-produced “Cashmere Thoughts.” Beyond JAY-Z, the Newnan, Georgia native’s drum hits have been sampled by the likes of Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, and Digable Planets.

Inga DeCarlo Fung Marchand (Foxy Brown)

Featured Artist, Composer: “Ain’t No Nigga”

Hov floated over Jaz-O’s sputtering funk on “Ain’t No Nigga,” but it’s Foxy Brown who delivered the show-stopping verse on the song’s back end. Labelmates on Def Jam, Brown and Hov have several collaborations under their belt, including “I’ll Be” (Ill Na Na), “Bonnie & Clyde Part II” (Chyna Doll), and “(Always Be My) Sunshine” (In My Lifetime, Vol. 1). It has been 17 years since Brown’s last studio album, 2001’s Broken Silence, but later this year, the New York native hopes to release her long-delayed fourth LP, King Soon Come.

Irving Domingo Lorenzo, Jr. (Irv Gotti/DJ Irv)

Producer, Composer: “Can I Live”

Gotti is a record producer and the founder of Murder Inc. Records, the label responsible for the hit-making careers of Ja Rule and Ashanti. Producing the maudlin “Can I Live” for Hov eventually led to the now 47-year-old introducing JAY to both Ja Rule and DMX. While Irv would work with Hov only one more time (“Can I Get A…”), he would go on to help both Rule and DMX reach superstar status.

Isaac Hayes

Composer: “Can I Live”

The smooth-voiced American soul singer supreme passed away in 2008 at age 65, but his work needs little introduction. Hayes, who released 20 solo albums over a 30-year period, inspired a generation of crate-digging producers to chop his voice and his instrumentals to the tune of 1,170 times. The intro to his cover of “The Look Of Love” provided the sample bed that Hov’s “Can I Live” lies on.

James Forman (James Mtume)

Composer: “Coming Of Age”

Mtume is a GRAMMY®-winning pianist and percussionist, whose star was elevated in the early ‘70s by working side-by-side with jazz trumpeter and fellow composer Miles Davis. His piano stabs on Eddie Henderson’s “Inside You” helped give Hov’s “Coming Of Age” its bounce. In total, Mtume’s work has been sampled 228 times on songs from acts like D’Angelo (“Girl You Need a Change of Mind”) and Mary J. Blige (“Our Love”).

Jerome Foster (Knobody)

Composer, Producer: “Can’t Knock The Hustle”

A record producer and the mastermind behind the shimmering beat for “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” Knobody’s magic touch impacted JAY-Z’s debut offering but luckily wasn’t relegated to Reasonable Doubt. As both a producer and later an A&R, Foster helped to launch the careers of both Big Pun and Akon. Nearly 25 years after his career began, the New York native continues to produce for artists like Ne-Yo, Mya, and The Game.

Jonathan Burks (Jaz-O/Big Jaz)

Producer, Composer: “Ain’t No Nigga” / Featured Artist, Composer: “Bring It On”

In addition to being JAY-Z’s mentor, Jonathan “Jaz-O” Burks was a rapper and producer in his own right. Jaz-O put together the sputtering breakbeat for “Ain’t No Nigga” and served up a guest verse next to Sauce Money (under his rap name Big Jaz) on “Bring It On.” The founding of Roc-A-Fella Records drove a wedge between the two, which only got thicker when Hov’s beef with Nas escalated in 2001. The two reconciled in 2017 during the 4:44 Tour.

Leroy Bonner

Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

A guitarist and vocalist for the Ohio Players, also known as “Sugarfoot.” His vocals can be heard on top of the piano keys in “Ecstacy,” which is sampled on “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Leroy Emmanuel

Composer: “Cashmere Thoughts”

A guitarist for the band LMT Connection. His slick guitar licks can be heard on Hamilton Bohannon’s “Save Their Souls,” which was sampled by Clark Kent on “Cashmere Thoughts.” In 2013, The Game sampled his work on “Just You, Just Me,” a 1973 single from The Counts.

Lonnie Liston Smith

Composer: “Dead Presidents II”

An American funk/soul artist who worked with Miles Davis and band The Cosmic Echos. The suave coolness that permeates “Dead Presidents II” is thanks, in part, to the piano skills of Liston Smith, whose “A Garden of Peace” was sampled by producer Ski. Of note, “Dead Presidents” is one of 59 records to feature a sample from “A Garden of Peace,” a list that also includes Rick Ross (“Usual Suspects”), Jeezy (“Leave You Alone”) and Mary J. Blige (“Take Me As I Am”).

Marcus Miller

Composer: “Can’t Knock The Hustle”

Miller is a Brooklyn-born jazz musician and bassist who’s worked with Miles Davis and Luther Vandross, among others. His funky bass and piano sample from “Much Too Much” is the body that the beat for “Can’t Knock The Hustle” was made of. In total, Miller’s work has been sampled 111 times over the past 34 years.

Marshall Jones

Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

Bass player for the Ohio Players, also known as “Rock.” The group’s song “Ecstacy” was sampled by Clark Kent and co-producer Dame Dash on the beat for “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Marvin Pierce

Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

Trombonist for the Ohio Players, also known as “Merv.” The group’s song “Ecstacy” was sampled on “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Mary J. Blige

Featured Artist: “Can’t Knock The Hustle”

Mary J. Blige, living legend and the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,” already released two albums by the time she was recruited to sing the hook on “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” which she did as a favor to executive producer Dame Dash. In 2008, Blige and Hov set out on the Heart of the City Tour, a two-month, 25-city North American trek that, according to, generated $34.2 million in gross revenue. Seeing how far the two artists have come over the past 21 years, it’s easy to say that you can’t knock the…well, you already know.

Melvin Ragin

Composer: “Cashmere Thoughts”

Melvin Haghin, better known as Wah Wah Watson, is a guitarist and session musician from Richmond, Virginia. He contributed guitar and wah-wah to the sample employed by Clark Kent on “Cashmere Thoughts.” Ragin’s “Goo Goo Wah Wah,” released in 1976 and co-produced by David Rubinson & Friends, Inc., is the musician’s most sampled record, as heard on Def Squad (“Say Word!”), Mad Skillz (“Staring at the Roof of the Church”) and J.U.I.C.E. (“I Like Rap”).

Malik Deshawn Cox (Memphis Bleek)

Featured Artist: “Coming Of Age”

Philadelphia rapper Memphis Bleek was JAY-Z’s earliest signee on Roc-A-Fella Records and one of his original hype men. Bleek’s verse on “Coming Of Age” was written for him but the conviction behind his hustle to “add a few dollar signs to my name” can’t be denied. His 1999 debut album, also titled Coming Of Age, was the first of four full-length releases under JAY-Z’s supervision.

Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones (Nas)

Composer: “Dead Presidents II”

God’s Son, Mr. Escobar, the baby-faced mogul. Nas called for money on the Q-Tip remix of “The World Is Yours”—“I’m out for presidents to represent me”—which was sampled by Ski Beatz on the “Dead Presidents II” hook. Hov and Nas eventually joined forces in 2005 by Nas’ guest appearance during JAY-Z’s performance at Power 105.1’s annual Powerhouse concert and subsequent signing to Def Jam, which at the time was being run by JAY-Z.

Patty F. Di Pasquale (Peter Panic)

Producer, Composer: “Regrets”

A Brooklyn producer who had worked with a rapper named Vicious before contributing to Reasonable Doubt, Panic provided the subtly groovy soundbed for “Regrets,” which allowed Hov to skate across the track with one hand on his chin. Following his work with Hov, Panic went on to produce several songs for MC Lyte.

Peter O. Philips (Pete Rock)

Composer: “Dead Presidents II”

The No. 1 Soul Brother and rap producer to the stars, Pete Rock’s moody production on Nas’ “The World Is Yours” was sampled on “Dead Presidents II.” At the time of the album’s release, Rock had already begun work with partner CL Smooth, a foundation that helped pave the way for a 30-year career in hip-hop. Over the last few years, Rock has collaborated with fellow New Yorker Smoke DZA on Don’t Smoke Rock and continues to tour the world.

Ralph Middlebrooks

Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

A trumpeter and trombonist for the Ohio Players, also known as “Pee-Wee.” The group’s song “Ecstacy” was sampled on the beat for “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Rodolfo Franklin (DJ Clark Kent)

Producer, Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”, “Coming Of Age,” “Cashmere Thoughts”

A now-legendary DJ/producer who polished his Superman skills with the group, Original Flavor. Hov’s appearance on Original Flavor single “Can I Get It Open” led to Kent garnering three groovy placements on Reasonable Doubt, including Hov’s tag-team with the late Notorious B.I.G. on “Brooklyn’s Finest.” Kent went on to produce for the likes of Mariah Carey and 50 Cent, and can still scratch four discs with a single swipe.

Shawn Corey Carter (JAY-Z)

Artist, Composer: Tracks 1-15

“I’m not a businessman / I’m a business, man.”

Todd Gaither (Sauce Money)

Featured Artist, Composer: “Bring It On”

A New York rapper who earned his big break on the Big Daddy Kane song “Show & Prove,” which also featured JAY-Z and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Money, who released his one and only solo album, Middle Finger U, in 2000, was given the very first verse on the lavish, DJ Premier-produced “Bring It On” alongside Jaz-O.

Tyrone Thomas

Composer: “Ain’t No Nigga”

A guitar player for the funk band The Whole Darn Family. Their song “Seven Minutes of Funk” was sampled by Big Jaz for the “Ain’t No Nigga” beat.

Walter Morrison

Composer: “Brooklyn’s Finest”

A singer, record producer, and keyboardist for the Ohio Players, also known as “Junie.” The group’s song “Ecstacy” was sampled on the beat for “Brooklyn’s Finest.” Morrison would eventually become the musical director for Parliament Funkadelic before he passed away in January 2017.


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