Perhaps moreso than with any other producer in recent memory, Just Blaze 's track work represents the place where your stringent hip-hop classicist and less finicky listener can bond in common sonic appreciation. Having come into his own - along with fellow then-fledgling Roc-A-Fella producer Kanye West - on Jay-Z 's opus The Blueprint , Just's most beloved beats for 'Hov ("U Don't Know"; "PSA"; "Show Me What You Got" etc.) and others ( Cam'ron 's "Oh Boy"; Dipset 's "I Really Mean It"; Freeway 's "What We Do"; Joe Budden 's "Pump It Up"; Fabolous ' "Breathe") helped define the sound of an era - sample-based but brawny, reverential to rap's Big Apple history but accessible and unhemmed by geography. That he's continued to successfully hone this sensibility over the years via collaborations with T.I. , Eminem , Kendrick Lamar , Drake and Baauer is largely due to the fact that his ear has always eschewed boundaries. Young Justin Smith of Paterson, NJ came up obsessively taping Red Alert and them on the radio , and spinning house and techno, and loving 8- and 16-bit Sega Master System Japanese keyboard beats. Here, the guy who once flipped that Night At the Roxbury ish for Marshall Mathers and Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. discusses some of his favorite sample flips.
1. Jay-Z - "Kingdom Come" (Roc-A-Fella, 2006)
Producer: Just Blaze
Sample Source: Rick James - "Super Freak" (Gordy, 1981)
Just Blaze: "Kingdom Come" is one of my personal favorite sample flips that I've ever done. Part of why is the story behind it, which is that I initially did it as a joke for my old Myspace page. Just to have some kind of theme music on there, with a little bit of silly twist. Next thing you know, it kind of becomes a small Internet phenomenon, to the point where it reaches Questlove. He then starts calling Jay like, "You have to rap on this!" Jay is calling me like, "What is this Rick James beat that Ahmir is talking about?" Next thing you know, two days later we have a song. On the technical side of it, it's not the most complex chopping I've ever done. The whole thing is probably consisted of 7 or 8 single note chops, but the fact that I was able to take something that was in a completely different time signature and completely different speed and make it into something so hard and serious, to me that's what hip-hop is about.
2. Nas - "It Ain't Hard to Tell" (Columbia, 1994)
Producer: Large Professor
Sample Sources: Michael Jackson - "Human Nature" (Epic, 1982), Stanley Clarke - "Slow Dance" (Nemperor, 1978)
Just Blaze: "It Ain't Hard To Tell" is probably my favorite beat of all-time. I'm very big on contrast and weird juxtapositions that unexpectedly work. "Human Nature," for a lack of a better word, is such a pretty song - there's really no other way to describe it. When you combine that with the "Slow Dance" drums, which are so hard-hitting, you kind of really wouldn't imagine them working together. When you hear the syncopation of what the Michael Jackson bassline is doing and what the drums are doing, you realize they're a perfect match. Not just a perfect match rhythmically, but even sonically. The way Large Pro added little subtle things in there [is also great], like the [Kool & the Gang] "N.T." horns and even the Michael Jackson vocal chops. On top of that, if you listen to the evolution of that record, there's like two previous existing versions of that record, and they're all based on the MJ loop. The funny thing is the final product is probably the simplest of the three. The other ones had these hard, programmed drums and sleigh bells, and when Large stripped that all away and kept it simple that was the most effective version.
3. Main Source - "Looking At the Front Door" (Wild Pitch, 1990)
Producer: Large Professor
Sample Sources: Donald Byrd - "Think Twice" (Blue Note, 1975), The Third Guitar - "Baby Don't Cry" (Rojac, 1968)
Just Blaze: "Lookin' At the Front Door" is probably my second favorite song of all-time. It's kind of the same thing to a certain degree where you have this introspective, soulful melody on top of these hard drums, and then they brought the live bass playing and the live [Fender] Rhodes over that. You really didn't see that much live musicianship per se in that era of hip-hop. I mean, you had Stetsasonic. But that was their whole thing; they were a band. This was a producer coming in, making a beat, programming it, then bringing someone else in to play the bassline or someone to play keys over it. It was a perfect arrangement and I just loved that melody. The way they found that Third Guitar vocal sample that lines up not only in perfect time in terms of the drums, but also the vocal sample relates perfectly to the song. It's almost serendipitous. It was like the icing on the cake. Right tempo, right speed, right sound and the vocal sample on top of that drum loop sums the whole point of the song up.
4. 8Ball & MJG - "You Don't Want Drama (Remix)" (Bad Boy, 2004)
Sample Source: Daryl Hall & John Oates - "Out of Touch" (RCA, 1984)
Just Blaze: It was a dope usage of the chords from Hall & Oates' "Out of Touch." I've always wanted to find a way to flip that and "Private Eyes" but I never would have thought to have flipped it half speed and make it into a Southern record. That's also one of my personal favorite song of theirs, so it was just natural that I bugged out when I heard them flip it that way. Bangladesh did the original, he might have done this remix as well. I'm not sure.
5. Ultramagnetic MC's - "Give the Drummer Some" (Next Plateau, 1989)
Producer: Paul C.
Sample Source: Dee Felice Trio - "There Was a Time" (Bethlehem, 1969)
Just Blaze: "Give the Drummer Some" by Ultramagnetic MCs was just so raw. It's probably not technically special at all by today's standards, but "Give the Drummer Some" - and in turn the majority of that whole first Ultramagnetic album - those drums on that album hit so hard! I think this was the first usage of that loop where they only panned it to the left and got the drums. Because if you pan it to the right, you get the bassline that Chubb Rock used for "Treat 'Em Right." That was a big Paul C thing; panning and being able to isolate sounds. That's one of the earliest uses that I know of that technique. Or one of the first times I was aware of that technique. I had my mother's 45 of that record, so for me, when I found the record in the attic I was like, "Yo, somehow they just got the sounds from one side..." I was 8-years-old so I didn't understand the technical side of it. I then realized, "Oh wait, you turn the balance to the left or right, you could isolate those sounds." That was kind of my introduction to isolation through sampling. If you play that loop by itself, it is not that strong. The amount of EQing and compression and whatever other tricks they did to that loop is incredible. The way they got that pop out of that kick and that snare by just adding a little reverb and the right EQ. Genius!
6. Kanye West ft. Mos Def, Freeway & the Boys Choir of Harlem - "Two Words" (Roc-A-Fella, 2003)
Producer: Kanye West
Sample Source: Mandrill - "Peace and Love (Amani Na Mapenzi): Movement IV (Encounter)" (Polydor, 1970)
Just Blaze: "Two Words" sampled Mandrill's "Peace & Love: Movement IV." It's one of those things where all of us have that record in our collections. It's a pretty common Mandrill record. You listen to it and you're like, "Why did I not think of this?" Especially during that time because I was doing those kind of records with the big guitars and the horns and whatnot. And the big vocal wailing samples. "How did I not think of this?" I feel like [Kanye] found the perfect drums for it. It's a case of finding the perfect drums to match that loop. He killed it. [The concept] and cadence of it was genius.
[I remember Kanye making] that song when he was still trying to figure it out. There was no album yet, there was no deal, he was kind of just concentrating on becoming an artist and making beats on the side for other people. I kind of feel like his talent just caught up with his passion. The funny thing is I remember he called me one day like, "Yo, so how do you make those kind of beats? The horns, and all the loud drums. How do you make those?" And I'm like, "I don't know. I just do it." A little later it dawned on me when he came to the studio and played "Two Words" a couple of days later and I'm like, "You called me to ask me about that when you were trying to make that beat." It was just a funny recollection.
7. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth - "Escape" (Elektra, 1994)
Producer: Pete Rock
Sample Sources: Ramsey Lewis - "Sun Goddess" (Columbia, 1974), Brethren - "Outside Love" (Tiffany, 1970)
Just Blaze: I've gotten into some very heated arguments about Mecca & The Soul Brother versus The Main Ingredient . I'm Main Ingredient all day. The funny thing is whenever someone disagrees with me about it, I do the same thing. Let's go song for song, each album. And by the end of us doing this, they can't really argue with me. I understand why it sits in people's hearts for two reasons: It's the first Pete Rock & CL Smooth album, but it also has "T.R.O.Y." on it. If you take that song off of the album... I'm not gonna say it's not a good album, but how much of the rest of that album are you really going to latch on to so passionately? That being said, I feel like "Escape" represents the perfect encapsulation of Pete finally perfecting his craft from the first album to the second album.
The comparison I always make is how on [Jay-Z's] The Dynasty album we were kind of figuring it out, we were on the cusp of figuring out this sound that we would eventually introduce with The Blueprint . I feel the same with Mecca and Main Ingredient where they were figuring it out and then they nailed it the second time around. With "Escape", with the Brethren drums lining up perfectly with that bassline and then Pete Rock time-stretching the vocal from Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess," the horn hits in the right place; you take all those elements and put 'em together, that song represents Pete Rock perfecting his craft.
8. Public Enemy - "Rebel Without a Pause" (Def Jam, 1987)
Producer: The Bomb Squad
Sample Source: The JB's - "The Grunt" (King, 1970)
Just Blaze: That record could have easily gone either way in my head. Again, just to make it a comparison to one of my songs, "What We Do" by Freeway - which is just that half-bar loop - one of my concerns with that song was it was so repetitive, it almost was like gnawing at you ear that it could eventually turn people away. Thank God that didn't happen. With "Rebel Without a Pause," just taking that one wailing horn from the James Brown loop and having it playing through the entire record, that's one of those things that could easily turn people off. Nothing in rap sounded like that, at that time. So big, so noisy and so chaotic. When you add in all those other elements - the Chubb Rock "Rock 'N Roll Dude," the "Funky Drummer" loop and the Jefferson Starship drum loop - it was just so hard, so in your face, so frantic and it represented everything that Public Enemy was eventually going to be about. I think that was the first Public Enemy record that I heard. I remember running to the record store and looking for it and it wasn't out. Radio DJs had the promos. I remember being so upset that it wasn't on the first album. When "Rebel Without a Pause" came out you were like, this is what Public Enemy is all about: Loud, brash, in your face with a message and militant. That beat perfectly encompasses all of that.
9. Daft Punk - "Harder Better Faster Stronger" (Virgin, 2001)
Producer: Daft Punk
Sample Source: Edwin Birdsong - "Cola Bottle Baby" (Philadelphia International, 1979)
Just Blaze: I always like Edwin Birdsong's "Cola Bottle Baby" when I was younger, just 'cause I liked the song. I've always been a big fan of disco house, but when Daft Punk took that loop and combined all those crazy Vocoder tricks that they did with it, it made me completely forget about the original record. To me, that's a sign of a great usage of a sample, when the original record doesn't even register to you. It was very simplistic but with great songwriting on top of it. For the most part it's looped. But when they did chop it, they chopped it super effectively around their vocals, which is an art in itself. I just love that song.
10. T.I. - "What You Know" (Grand Hustle, 2006)
Producer: DJ Toomp
Sample Source: Roberta Flack (with Donny Hathaway on piano) - "Gone Away" (Atlantic, 1971)
Just Blaze: DJ Toomp killed that. It's one of those things I've always wanted to do. I've kind of done it here and there, taking really super hard samples and flipping them into a style that's more of a Southern pace. I feel like Toomp did that perfectly. That chord progression automatically lends itself to the trap style and tempo. It's not about the complexity of it, it's not about the genius idea of it. It was just perfect execution of a great idea. Sonically, it sounds great. They mixed and EQed the hell out of it. You can tell. When I play that record in clubs, I have to be very mindful of what I play after it because there are a lot of records that are actually really good records but that can come off sounding very small after you play "What You Know." It's just mixed and mastered so well. The great thing about it is it transcends so many genres and demographics. You could be at a party where it's mostly electronic music or Top 40, you can throw that record on pretty much anywhere and people are going to react. That sample screams "anthem." Toomp was able to take that and make that into an anthem for the 2000s. Everybody knows that chord progression one way or another, whether you know the Roberta Flack version or one of the other twenty-million versions of "Hey Joe," you know that chord progression automatically.