On the latest episode of the Idea Generation podcast, superproducer (and Uproxx’s friend of the site) Just Blaze delves into his impressive musical resume, from crafting the so-called Roc-A-Fella sound in the early 2000s to becoming one of the biggest hitmakers of the past 20 years. Among the stories he shares with host Noah Callahan-Bever is the explanation of just how Jay-Z ended up with one of the more recognizable songs from his game-changing 2001 album The Blueprint. It’s a story he’s told before, but it never gets old.
“‘U Don’t Know’” was at one point going to be Busta [Rhymes] and Prodigy,” Just says. “A lot of people don’t know, me and P used to hang out a lot. I still don’t have a lot of rap friends, right? He was one of the few people actually to come to the house. It was wild because then [The Alchemist] ended up moving around the corner from me.”
After that bit of scene setting, Just explained why the song ended up with the home team instead of one of the other two rappers, who were — at the time — considered bigger stars. “Prodigy hears ‘U Don’t Know,'” he recalls, “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.”
Fortunately for Justin, he didn’t have to choose. “Luckily, Busta didn’t record to it,” he exults. “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.'”
The rest is, as they say, history. “U Don’t Know,” which was never released as a single, has become one of the most enduring songs in Jay’s catalog; it’s a club staple whose lyrics fans have debated for two decades (that is, until Jay cleared it up himself last year). You can check out the full interview above.