How Jay-Z turned to alt-rock for a seminal hit
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How Jay-Z turned to alt-rock for a seminal hit

Jay-Z is a hitmaker who has been topping the charts for over two decades, and in 2013, he released his epic twelfth studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, which boasted some classic tracks, one of them being ‘Heaven.’

The Timbaland-produced track featured Justin Timberlake and was released as the album’s second single. It quickly became a fan favourite. However, the meaning of the song was profound for Jay-Z (real name Shawn Carter) and during the rollout of the project, the Brooklyn lyricist had an in-depth conversation with superproducer Rick Rubin about the song.

Jay explained to Rubin how the song was exploring the notion of “Heaven on Earth” and divulged, “For me, my idea is heaven is in your daughter’s laughter. You know, hell could be if your child is missing for three minutes — you’re in three minutes of hell. It’s just not my belief that a just God would make you burn for eternity for free will that he gave you.”

Although many may know that Virginia icon Timbaland made the instrumental of ‘Heaven,’ few realise that the track’s lyrics are an interpolation of a 1990s alt-rock song by the popular band R.E.M.

During the pre-chorus, Carter raps, “Question religion. Question it all. Question existence. Until them questions are solved.” This sentence is pulled directly from the 1991 Grammy-award-winning REM song, ‘Losing My Religion.’ The track was released as the lead single of the band’s seventh album, Out of Time and peaked at number four on the Billboard 100.

As such it is no surprise that Jay-Z utilised the well-known line. In an interview with NME, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe was asked whether or not he approved of Jay-Z’s using his old lyrics, to which he responded, “I’ve known Jay for a long time. He’s super cool, super grounded, super smart and super talented.”

He concluded by exclaiming, “I’ve always had the deepest respect for him, and his music and choices. We’re thrilled (for our rics) to be included, it’s a really great honour.” You can listen to ‘Heaven’ in the video below.