Brooklyn rapper and billionaire mogul Jay-Z is undoubtedly a legend. However, not every song that has ended up in his lap was made with him in mind. In 2001, Jay-Z got presented with a track that he snatched up happily. However, the producer made the beat hoping Busta Rhymes would eventually grace it, but things went differently.
The two legends are both incredibly skilled lyricists and, at one point, even attended the same school in Brooklyn. However, their cadences are so different and distinct that only a fool could mistake one for the other. Hov (real name Shawn Carter) has a slow, relaxed approach concerning his delivery and (partnered with his mafioso lyrics) delivers a nonchalant type of swagger. On the other hand, Busta Rhymes has a rapid-fire, tongue-twisting approach to lyricism and can be very humorous in his ad-libs, giving listeners crazy sound effects and everchanging intonations. As a result, akin to Eminem or DMX, Busta Rhymes delivers kooky hype instead of mafioso swagger.
In 2001, both MCs released projects. Jay-Z dropped his album The Blueprint, although it had an ill-timed rollout, and Busta Rhymes released his fifth body of work, Genesis. Both heavily featured production by Just Blaze. However, one of the beatmaker’s instrumentals from The Blueprint was carefully crafted for Busta. Track six of Carter’s project is entitled ‘U Don’t Know’, but the track was not made with Jay-Z in mind at all. Speaking to journalist Noah Callahan-Bever on his IDEA GENERATION podcast, the producer (real name Justin Smith) explained how the beat moved hands.
Detailing the situation, Smith told Bever, “‘U Don’t Know’ was at one point going to be Busta and Prodigy! A lot of people don’t know, me and P[Prodigy] used to hang out a lot. I still don’t have a lot of rap friends. He was one of the few people to actually come to the house!” He continued, “It was wild because then [The Alchemist] ended up moving around the corner from me. So ‘U Don’t Know’ had been done, and then I made ‘Song Cry,’ like, the second night after Jay finished recording whatever he was recording that day.”
Having just made the beat for ‘U Don’t Know’ at the Roc-A-Fella studios, Smith recounted, “I leave to go do a session with Prodigy. He hears, ‘U Don’t Know.’ Then Busta [Rhymes] hears, ‘U Don’t Know.’ Yo, the worst thing ever was knowing that I have Jay ready for me, but Busta’s doing this Busta Rhymes [style] on the ‘U Don’t Know’ beat. I’m like, ‘Yo, this is real dope.’ I’m torn. I’m a kid at the time, and I’m torn.”
However, he proceeded to explain how he went back to Baseline Studios, where Roc-A-Fella were based and Jay was the first to lay down lyrics, as he remembered, “I go back to Soundtrack [Studios], where Mobb Deep was recording. Prodigy hears the beat; I play it off of a cassette. He starts rhyming to it. Some drama ended up happening; he had to leave. I go around the corner [to Baseline Studios], I play it for Jay. [This is] all in that same weekend. Then, all of a sudden, Jay was like, ‘Yo, lay that right now!’”
It was Jay-Z’s instant insistence that allowed him to get that beat first. You can hear more from Just Blaze about working with Roc-A-Fella in the video below.