Something Meek Mill said in his “beef resignation letter” really stuck out for some reason. Specifically, it was when he detailed how idiotic risking his money and career over some street shit would truly be. Oddly enough, when I read the statement, the following line popped into my head: “… If I shoot you, I’m brainless; if you shoot me, you’re famous – so what’s a brother to do?”
I’m a rap nerd, so instantly Ingot nostalgic and dug out my Streets Is Watching soundtrack. While listening, I started thinking about what an amazingly hype project [referring to the movie, not the soundtrack] this was, in hindsight. I mean long before his wife dropped a mystery album with a (high quality) video for every song, Jay-Z released probably – at the time – the most ambitious project ever. Let’s hop in our time machine – beep.
The time is May 1998. Jay-Z was revelling in the mixed success of his second album, In My Lifetime Vol.1. I say mixed because even though it was extremely successful on the charts, many claimed the album was much more polished and commercial than his debut, which was considered a classic. Led by singles like Sunshine, and I Know What Girls Like, many lovingly regarded him as a “sell out.” [editors note: if you take these two songs out of the equation, this album is easily in Jay’s top 5]. In the midst of this, Jay released the Dame Dash produced film, Streets is Watching: a self-funded (300k+) film. It was a collection of unreleased videos and cinematic storylines that (roughly) told the story of how he came up and made a name for himself in the rap game.
When discussing the film, Dame describes the intense label intervention they had up to that point. They were less than excited about the single Sunshine (specifically, its video), and seemed to share some of the same sentiments the streets did. The mantra behind this project is that he wanted to give visual treatment to the b-sides, and tracks that the labels didn’t want to push. Understandably, the label didn’t want to pay for it, so they paid for it themselves – out of pocket.
The cinematography, the wide angle lenses, the dialogue; it’s an excellent blend of tail end golden-era bars and aesthetic, with pre jiggy-era opulence. If you haven’t watched it, it’s a must-see. Especially if you’re an early Jay fan. It brings many of his, arguably, best songs (up to that point) to life. It was even the first place that some of us got to his first videos, In My Lifetime and I Can’t Get With That.
This project is often left out of conversations about Jigga, but it’s worth recalling. It was incredibly ambitious, and ahead of its time. I liken it to the way that people seem never to give Naughty By Nature props for being the first rap group to drop a clothing line. Streets is Watching, and its soundtrack featured many upstarts. Even the sole soundtrack appearance of the short-lived group Murda Inc (consisting of Jigga, Ja Rule and DMX), were staples in my life back in 1998. The biggest reason it took a backseat commercially? Well, four short months later he released In My Lifetime Vol. 2, which still stands as his highest selling album, going quintuple platinum. Streets is Watching stood no chance against Hard Knock Life.
It’s never too late. Hop in the time machine, and enjoy this #TBT gem.