Jay-Z is a rapper known worldwide for his lyricism, fantastic music and iconic status within hip-hop and pop culture more broadly. From the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant to the upper echelons of the recording industry, Jay-Z’s journey and outstanding ability to navigate the business world have made him a legend in the eyes of millions. To this day, the Brooklyn emcee (real name Shawn Carter) remains a mogul and has been noted for his cultural impact by old and new generations. However, behind every project and song is a story. Whether it’s his own journey or someone else’s, there’s been a profound source of inspiration that Carter has tapped into.
That said, the New York emcee’s sixth body of work, The Black Album, saw the Roc-A-Fella magnate dig deep to find stories he could draw from. During the making of the 2003 project, Carter invited a film crew to record his creative process, and inspiration was of the utmost importance to the artist. In his 2004 Fade To Black documentary, Jay-Z explained how it is the source of quality material as he professed, “The most important thing is inspiration. As an artist, if you’re not inspired to work, then you start thinking. Once you start thinking, you start forcing music, and that’s never good.”
The 2004 feature followed Carter throughout the recording process, meaning fans saw how many of the project’s songs were made. Aside from the iconic ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’, one exceptional track that viewers were privy to was ‘Allure.’ Produced by Pharrell Williams, fans got to see the Neptunes beatmaker crafting the instrumental and the moment Jay-Z first heard the beat. However, few know that there’s one movie in particular that inspired Hov’s lyrics for the track, and that film is the 1993 crime drama, Carlito’s Way. In fact, the first comparison between the instrumental’s feel and the film was expressed by Williams first.
Carlito’s Way is a legendary film about crime and life in the New York City underworld. Starring Al Pacino, the film tells the story of a man who is released from prison but can’t escape the life of crime he is trying to put behind him. The motion picture explores how shady dealings and backstabbing can lead you right back into the dark after finding the light. It explores the power structures, factions and complex hierarchies that rule the streets of New York, and according to Pharrell, the beat of ‘Allure’ epitomised the movie’s ending. Speaking to Carter on the phone, the beatmaker passionately explained, “This is the end of Carlito’s Way! You’re just tryna get one more last job in before you come out, but I’m tryna tell you that I have the song…I have the beat that describes that moment accurately!”
The Brooklyn rapper makes references to the film throughout the song and draws parallels between his life and the movie, rapping lyrics such as, “Sh*t, I know how this movie ends! Yet still I play / The starring role in Hovito’s Way” The song wasn’t released as a single, but as Pharrell suggested, got laced as the penultimate track on the project. Speaking in an interview with Carter’s self-curated cultural website Life + Times, Pharrell explained, “With ‘Allure,’ I just wanted to hear him rhyme over something emotional, because he killed ‘Dead Presidents’… one and two. He’s crazy with a crazy sick nightclub record, but when he goes emotional, it’s unbelievable. It’s like he connects with a couple past lives.”
You can see the process of the track getting made and listen to the finished album cut in the videos below.