How Jay-Z Started Making His Dreams Come True With ‘In My Lifetime’
Jay-Z was rapping about a decadent life of luxury long before his “Big Pimpin’” dreams actually came true.
The Brooklyn-born rapper had a knack for visual storytelling going as far back as ’95 when his debut single, “In My Lifetime” had originally dropped. The rap icon, born Shawn Carter, was only 24 at the time. And the song itself didn’t appear on Reasonable Doubt, or In My Lifetime, Vol. 1.
Hov fans rarely mention "In My Lifetime" in the same sentence as the revered "Politics As Usual," but when it comes to storytelling, both auditory and visual, “In My Lifetime” set the stage for who Jay-Z would become. This track was the precursor for “APESHIT” from the rapper’s Everything is Love collab with Beyoncé, and "Family Feud" from 4:44.
While Jay-Z was not the first rapper to use women, bottles and picturesque backdrops to tell visual stories, but "In My Lifetime" was the blueprint for exactly what we see in hip-hop today. On the track, the rapper is introspective, and the video, directed by the Harlem-born filmmaker, Abdul Malik Abbott, was ahead of its time, as it offered a modern take on the usual tropes, but it incorporated storytelling that was street. The vibe felt authentic, compared to, say, Tupac’s “I Get Around,” which was just an endless beach party.
“It's the thought of a ride that makes my eyes wide; I'm caught up.” Jay-Z raps. “I'm tryna make all of my dreams materialize, so I sorta say my goodbyes to the straight and narrow.” These lines make the music video seem like something of a dream, which, it technically was since the rapper was still getting used to the rap game. “We put him on one of our singles, 'Can I Get Open' with the video. And that set everything up; we did a mini-tour, and once we got off tour we just started recording,” Ski Beatz told Complex. “He came to the crib, and that's when 'In My Lifetime' and Reasonable Doubt started coming out. Jay was in my crib, me just making beats. It was all dirty, dusty, crappy sounding. We just did it raw. Straight off the SP, he just came in and laid it down, went to D&D the next day, dressed it up, and shot a video. That’s not my first song with Jay, but that’s one of the first songs that actually got put out.”
The reality behind putting the song together makes the final product all the more surreal, as the process for creating this grandiose lifestyle was anything but glamorous in real life. The Big Jaz remix — which was featured on the Streets is Watching soundtrack — features a hook posing the question “What’s the meaning of life?” and a tighter storyline, with the rapper telling his audience “this life is full of shit. One life, one love.” The once wide-eyed kid with big dreams had ultimately become a "hardened criminal with game" — classic storytelling. The whole experience was a demonstration of the rapper's creative genius.
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