(Credit: Mikamote)

Old School Archives

Watch Jay-Z and Rick Rubin work on '99 Problems' in rare studio footage


One of the greatest producers in hip hop history is an old white dude with an increasingly long beard. Rick Rubin has been part of some of the greatest moves in hip hop history. Starting out as co-founder of Def Jam record while still at university, Rubin has gone on to define himself as a mixing desk mogul, the kind of Oracle that people draft in when they need a hit. Although, when Rubin squared up to Jay-Z to help produce ’99 Problems’, Hov was arguably nearing his peak.

Released in 2003 as part of The Black Album, the song helped to confirm what was already becoming apparent; hip hop had transcended into popular culture. Jay’s hit was a full-force right cross to the bridge of the mainstream’s nose. Filled with all of Rubin’s rock and roll intent, the song would convert even the most hesitant appreciator of hip hop into a full-blooded fan.

On The Black Album, Jay laid down a marker that, even to this day, few have ever matched. Featuring some of the biggest names in the game, including Timbaland, the Neptunes, Eminem and Kanye there is only one fault on the entire album and the less said about ‘Justify My Thug’ the better. Billed originally as Jay’s swansong, it’s fitting that the final track on the album ‘Allure’ should see him reminisce about street living. Equally, there is ‘My 1st Song’ which is genuinely blessed with his classic double-time stutter style. It’s a peach of a record and deserves to be heard right now.

However, one of Jay’s most famous songs is one of his best on the album. ’99 Problems’ saw Jay reconnect with Rick Rubin as, he explains in Fade to Black, he attempted to “recapture that feeling I had when I was a kid.” Of course, with Rubin onboard, the song clatters with heavy rock instrumentals, but Jay’s lyrics hit hardest.

A modern-day critique of society, Jay, is on fire, blasting ahead of the 1980s riffs; he delivers the kind of scything commentary that can end campaigns and begin wars. The hook, taken from Ice-T and Brother Marquis of 2 Live Crew – “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” was offered up as bait. “[E]ven as I was recording it, I knew someone, somewhere would say ‘Aha, there he goes talking about them hoes and bitches again!’” Jay writes in Decoded.

In the footage below, we see this magic happening in real-time as Hov and Rubin share the studio and try to negotiate their way through the ballistic brilliance of the song.