Beat Drop: Just Blaze.

[Before we get started, is it just me or does Just look a LOT like Dame Dash? With that out of the way, let's move on...]

The Dynasty: Roc La Familia is probably the least recognized of Jay-Z’s solo albums, in large part because it’s the least solo of Jay-Z’s solo albums (2 songs didn’t even feature Jay). If that album taught us anything, it was that Rick Rock production, while dope in its own right, just isn’t meant for a (at the time) potential King-of-New-York.

However, nestled within the multitude of guest verses on that album were some of Jay’s finest performances to date. On “Soon You’ll Understand”, he put forth some of his most personal rhymes ever over a beautifully-somber piano melody, introduced by sounds of rain and thunder. On “Streets Is Talking”, he spit hard toward all the haters and gossipers over an intense, rumbling beat of horns and drums. Even the album’s intro was self-proclaimed “food for thought, you do the dishes”, over one of the tightest vocal samples this side of Shaolin.

Listening to the diverse styles of these 3 tracks, you would think that they were put together by 3 different producers… or, perhaps, by 1 soon-to-be-legendary producer. The Dynasty served as the springboard for one Justin Smith, a relative-unknown at the time whose resume didn’t extend too far past a couple production credits for Beanie Sigel, Busta Rhymes, and Amil (back before she permanently became a punchline in Fade To Black).

While Kanye West’s rapping ability got him the public recognition for helping make Jay’s follow-up, The Blueprint (and the trendy soulful sound that came out of it), as classic as it was, Just was raking up the behind-the-scenes recognition. The liner-note-readers among us don’t have to be reminded of the role Just played in creating Roc-A-Fella Records’ discography, back when Dame was still there and they were signing up free agents like the Yankees. The Reason, Come Home With Me, Philadelphia Freeway, M.A.D.E. (solid album, don’t front) — Just was like a one-man, modern-day Bomb Squad. And it only gets better — Just’s magnum opus, and the first release on his Fort Knocks Entertainment imprint, Saigon’s The Greatest Story Never Told, will hit shelves on December 4th in early 2008. (If you haven’t already, peep the “Come On Baby” remix with Jay-Z here.)

If only Just chose to pick up a mic in addition to producing, maybe he could be where Kanye is now, snapping flicks with Tom Cruise and throwing tantrums after awards show… the good life, indeed. Just, if you’re reading this*, remember that it’s never too late. I mean, Swizz Beatz can’t rap, and he made an album!

[* – Hey, it’s possible. Crazier shit’s happened. What up, Alchemist!]

Hangover Monkey’s Picks

The hardest track on The Dynasty album. Those sampled horns, the high piano!!!! Genius music from one of my favorite albums from the Roc discography. [I didn’t mention this track in the introduction to the post, mainly because I figured someone would’ve picked it in their top 5. If no one else did, I would’ve done it myself. And thank goodness DJ Clue found his way off of this song so quickly. – Buhizzle]

This is a very simple sample. The drums really make this song a hip-hop thing. I love the guitar on the hook that matches up with the singing. The piano bit at the end was crazy too. This was my favorite cut on Beautiful Struggle. Video is hilarious, too.

This track is real busy, a real banger with horns and fast drums. It’s like “Stomp” off Young Buck’s 1st album, but on crack. Shit is wild. Definitely my fight song.

I know he produced the original — it’s insane. But the intro was extended on this, it was sped up a little, and he kept more screaming from the sample. Just took a great song and made it into an epic song. Classic stuff.

This is the best single ever released by Roc-A-Fella Records. Another short and simple sample, but it’s the drums that kill this. I must have played this song for 2 years straight until I got sick of it.

DJ01′s Picks

I could’ve easily picked Just’s production on Come Home With Me to cover the majority of my picks, but that would be too easy.

I’ll never forget this kid in high school that laughed at me when I told him this was my favorite song off The Black Album, because it was a “skit.” I was at a loss for words. Luckily I didn’t have my knife with me — like Chris Rock said, real men stab, anyone can shoot.

My favorite Just Blaze-produced single ever, perfect tempo and synths. In my opinion, this song single-handedly gave Peedi a chance of being a solo artist.

Another overlooked song. The way Fab’s hook and the beat match up is perfect. Yes, I’m a sucker for electronicky (New word! Holla!) sounding beats, I couldn’t stop listening to this track, even over all the other stellar tracks on Fab’s debut.

I loved this track so much, I was annoyed that it was a lesser track that made Fishscale. I wonder if clearing the Rocky sample had anything to do with it? The powerful guitar and horns manage to stay in the background while Ghost rides the crazy beat.

Probably the most underrated Just Blaze beat ever. I like this beat because of how ahead of the curve it sounds. It has some electronic parts on the hook with a guitar loops that goes on through the whole song. Sounds like something Timbaland would make right now.

DSuper’s Picks

Sounds like something out of the Baroque era, like he had a live period band in the studio. Very intricate composition and it utilizes a lot of creativity. And the back and forth verse between Pun and Prospect were just sick with quotables like “Smack the shit out the devil and tear the horns from his head”. Very underrated track. R.I.P. Pun!

This track has a very ethereal feel to it. Hypnotic and it begged for repeat listens. I like what Free did to it, and the way Faith doubled her vocals was a stroke of genius. I feel it was the hardest track on the CD.

I lost my mind when I heard this joint — it felt like watching a movie or an anime. I was so hyped up. This is the craziest intro you could ask for. Even though later on I found out where that sample came from, I still loved this track. And Jay went off — “They say a midget standing on a giant’s shoulder can see much further than a giant/ I got the WHOLE rap game on my shoulders, they trying to see further than I am”.

Laid back track with a lot of soul sprinkled throughout. Everything worked on this one — the breakdown, the bridge, the vocal samples, and the chorus being sung by 3 rap legends. What more could you ask for? Maybe a remix with Slick Rick, Q-Tip and the Biz dropping verses alongside Jay? Yeah, that would be sick.

I heard this was an old track and Just spruced it up. And damn if he didn’t spruce the hell out of it. This is superhero music. Just followed the highs and lows of Shyne’s verse perfectly. They might want to do a full length when Shyne gets out. Seriously.

Buhizzle’s Picks

Word up to the rest of my ML fam — some of y’all’s picks caught me off guard. I was hoping y’all would pick a few of the many, MANY Just Blaze beats I’ve had in my head lately, so as to make my process of narrowing my picks down to 5 a little easier. Well, so much for that. Here goes…

Just’s dramatic build-up of the beat is executed so well, with the calm melody for the first few seconds, then the quick chops of the sample — it’s like a rush of adrenaline when the beat finally kicks in. Gotta love Jim Jones’ ad-libs on the hook, proving himself to be a master in subliminal dissing. “I’m not even gonna say your last name, ’cause that’s mine…” Let’s see, that’s narrows the list down to Nas and… Quincy?

I hadn’t realized this until recently, but it’s kind of funny — on “Takeover”, before the KRS-One “Watch out! We run New York!” sample kicks in, ever rapper Jay name-drops in the hook, except Bleek, is from Philly. Eh, close enough, geographically-speaking at least. Just provided the soundtrack for much of Philly’s early 2000s reign on the charts, including this, the title track from the Gunners’ debut. I think people misjudged the duo based on “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”, because Tough Luv was a pretty hard album. Unfortunately, the type of album I expected to hear from the Young Gunz came out soon after, in the form of Brothers From Another.

A perfect balance between low-key and fast-paced — peep the way the volume seems to shift from low to high throughout. I can’t recall how often I heard this beat during battles of the shit-talk-fest that was NBA Street Vol. 2.

A Primo-esque beat from Just — hard-hitting, drum-heavy with a well-done scratched chorus. Not to revisit the whole “I found the new Primo” debate, but if anyone is the “new Primo” in this day in age, it’d be Just. And that’s not intended to slight Kanye — rather, it’s to say that Just’s production sound is more analogous to Primo’s.

When I first heard that Game and Nas were collaborating for a 9-minute track, I was, to say the least, excited. To find out that the song essentially ended after about 5 minutes and the remaining 4 were pretty much an album outro for Doctor’s Advocate was a bit disappointing. But, now, if I begin to listen to this track, I can’t not let it play the whole way through. With the choir singing and the soothing melody, it’s just so serene — makes you want to get your Stevie Wonder-head-sway on.

Bonus: Jay-Z – “Show You How”

I’ve been in the presence of people who, when a Just-produced track came on (“Oh Boy”, as a specific example), start saying shit like “I love this Kanye beat!” and so forth. There are plenty of Just beats that sound as if they could’ve been done by Kanye — DSuper’s pick “Girls, Girls, Girls” is another good example. But, Just has also has plenty of beats that you’d never imagine Kanye making, such as this bonus track on Blueprint 2. Drenched in electronicky (word to DJ01) sound effects, Just made this unique track all his own.

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There are 13 comments

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  1. Steve_Largent

    my picks:

    Jay – Dear Summer
    Fab – Breathe
    Cam – Welcome To New York City
    Beans – What Your Life Like Pt. 2
    Jada – It’s Time I See You

    BTW: Has Just ever had a real club hit? No, Pump It Up doesnt count.

  2. buhizzle

    I knew bringing up the whole “new Primo” thing would piss someone off. If it got Godfather Don’s name mentioned, then it was all worth it

    Primo’s still the “new Primo,” “old Primo,” “future Primo,” etc. I just think Just’s style of beatmaking (at least, in comparison to Kanye’s) sounds like it’s more influenced by Preem

    As for club hits… there’s also Beanie Sigel “Mack Bitch”; Young Gunz “Friday Night”; Kanye West “Touch The Sky”; Jay-Z “Show Me What You Got”; Erick Sermon “React”… that’s all I got. And whether any/all of those are “hits” is up to interpretation

    And “Dear Summer” was the one I left off my picks. I had that as #7. Good call Steve_Largent

  3. dsuper

    Oh yeah, “Roc the Mic” B. Sigel and Freeway, and Keith Murray “Yeah, Yeah, You Know It”, too.

    Surprised nobody picked The Game’s “Church for Thugs” or Fat Joe’s joint with the PE sample. JB been putting in work!!

  4. Max

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Just Blaze, but I’ve never felt that his work with Jay (save for a couple of tracks, most importantly the “You Don’t Know” remix) has ever been that great. His work with OTHER artists, though, woulr coerce me into thinking that, given a few more years, Just may actually be one of the top producers in the rap game…not necessairly at Primo’s level, but still.
    Can’t beleive I’ve never come across this blog before. Good read!

    Hip Hop Isn’t Dead

  5. Kevin

    Nice post! Just Blaze has always been one of my fav producers. His versatility is sick; the way he can do a club banger one minute and then a great soulful record the next. I respect the fact that he hasn’t gotten behind the mic like Ye or Swizz. I’ve always loved the tracks he’s done for Jay though. Public Service Announcement has got to me the illest beat for an interlude. Even on the R&B tip, that song “Throwback” he did for Usher was amazing!

  6. Gez

    Another Kanye-a-like track is “Touch The Sky”.

    My favs (not mentioned):

    Jay-Z – “Kingdom Come”…it’s unparalleled the way he flipped that Rick James sample and what came out the other end.

    Various Def Squad Members – “Yeah Yeah U Know It” / “React”

    Plus…I can’t wait to hear the Saigon album! There was a few teasers on and it’s shaping up to be straight gutter!

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