Jay-Z and Biggie "Brooklyn's Finest" (1996)

Album: Reasonable Doubt

Label: Roc-A-Fella/Priority

DJ Clark Kent: “Basically, I was an A&R on Reasonable Doubt. We all were. That was our album. We all did it together. It wasn’t a credit or anything that I got. It was a team of people making records. You would go to every studio session.

"When Premier’s doing a record, you’re all at D&D [Studios]. I think it was more for the amazement factor than it was like, ‘Oh, we need to be here.’ It was more like, ‘Wow, he did it again. Look, I’m telling you, he’s the greatest!’ Plus, we were a crew, so we just went everywhere and did everything together.

 

B.I.G. wanted the beat, but I said it was Jay’s. He was like, ‘Nah Clark, I want that record, that beat is for me! You give everything to this nigga!’ That was his favorite words. But I’m like, ‘He’s my artist. What do you want me to do? You’re not my artist, you’re Puff’s artist.’

 

“Yeah, so B.I.G. wanted the beat, but I said it was Jay’s. He was like, ‘Nah Clark, I want that record, that beat is for me! You give everything to this nigga!’ That was his favorite words. But I’m like, ‘He’s my artist. What do you want me to do? You’re not my artist, you’re Puff’s artist.’

“So B.I.G. knew I was going to the Jay-Z session after the Mad Skillz session [which was when he first heard the ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ beat], so I’m like, ‘Just come to the studio and wait downstairs.’ He wanted to be on it, and I wanted him on it, but they’re not friends yet. They don’t know each other. But I’m going to make this work somehow.

“I go upstairs, and I record the track. And Jay goes in, and he does his verses. I remember the name of the record originally being ‘Once We Get Started.’ Jay says it was ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy,’ but he remembers the words ‘once we get started’ involved in it. I think that was what the record was supposed to be called.

“So he records it, and he comes out of the booth, and I go, ‘Yo, maybe you should put B.I.G. on it.’ And he’s looking at me like I’m dumb, like, ‘Why didn’t I say that from the beginning?’ But his reaction was also like, ‘I don’t know homie, so how am I going to put him on the record?’

 

Dame’s like, ‘Well, if you can get Biggie, and he’ll do it for free, it’s all good. But if not, we ain’t paying Puff no money, fuck Puff.’

 

“But then Dame is like, ‘We don’t know him, and I’m not paying Puff. Fuck that nigga.’ And I’m like, ‘You know I’m DJ’ing for him, you know he’s my man, you know what time it is.’ So Dame’s like, ‘Well, if you can get him, and he’ll do it for free, it’s all good. But if not, we ain’t paying Puff no money, fuck Puff.’ So I’m like, ‘Yo, I gotta go to the bathroom.’

“I go downstairs, and I bring B.I.G. up. I’m like, ‘B.I.G., Jay. Jay, B.I.G.’ And everyone in the studio is looking at me like, ‘Oh, you’s a funny nigga. How you got the dude downstairs waiting?’ But I knew Jay would be quick in the booth, so I knew he wouldn’t be waiting long.

“Understand, when we were doing ‘Brooklyn’s Finest,’ we were mid-album, so I was playing B.I.G. shit Jay had done way before so he could see how ill he was. So once he got to the point where he knew how crazy Jay was, he was like, ‘Yeah, I’d rhyme with this guy.’

 

Jay goes in the booth and does all of his verses differently. Some new, some different, but he left the spaces. Imagine him going in there going, ‘This is where I’m going to stop, and this is where I’ll pick it up.’ And B.I.G. is there while he’s doing this. And he comes out of the booth and goes to B.I.G., ‘Are you ready?’ And B.I.G.’s like, ‘What? No, I’m not ready. I need to take that home.’

 

“So Jay was like, ‘Yo, play it.’ And once we played it, Jay was like, ‘Yo, you down to get on this?’ And B.I.G. was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll get on it.’ So Jay says, ‘Yo Clark, let it play.’ Then Jay walks in the booth and changes everything. Jay goes in the booth and does all of his verses differently. Some new, some different, but he left the spaces.

"Imagine him going in there going, ‘This is where I’m going to stop, and this is where I’ll pick it up.’ And B.I.G. is there while he’s doing this. And he comes out of the booth and goes to B.I.G., ‘Are you ready?’ And B.I.G.’s like, ‘What? No, I’m not ready. I need to take that home.’

“So he took the song home with the spaces in them, and two or three months later he came back and did it the same day I was mixing it. But we’re in the studio, and no one wants to do a hook. There’s no hook.

"Jay is there too. And I’m like, ‘Jay, I need a hook.’ And he’s like, ‘Just scratch something. Either you get it done or we don’t [use it for the album].’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? This has to get done. This is phenomenal.’

“So I’m trying to scratch everything in the world that says Brooklyn. But it just didn’t sound right. The beat is five bars, and on the fifth bar of the hook, it goes, ‘Brooklyn, Brooklyn!’ So I wanted to scratch that all the way through, but it just didn’t sound good. So I just used it for that part. But I had to think of different things to go in the four bars before it.

 

I went in the booth, and said the hook, and then I tried to make the engineer change the way my voice sounded so it wouldn’t sound like me. I hate the sound of my voice on the mic, so I wanted it to not sound like me. And I didn’t want to get ridiculed by Jay.

 

“So Jay goes, ‘I’ll be back.’ An hour goes by, and he doesn’t come back. Then B.I.G. disappears. Now it’s just Dame sitting in there. And I’m like, ‘What the fuck am I going to do?’ So I just let the record play and play and play, and I start writing down lines to try to come up with a hook. And I did.

"So I went in the booth, and said the hook, and then I tried to make the engineer change the way my voice sounded as much as possible so it wouldn’t sound like me. It still sounds like me, but me personally I hate the sound of my voice on the mic, so I wanted it to not sound like me. And I didn’t want to get ridiculed by Jay, because he’s going to kill me if I’m rapping on the song.

“So we go to mastering, and it’s done, and they listen to it one time and they go, ‘Yo, this shit is crazy! Yo, who’s on the hook?!?’ And I’m like, ‘That’s me.’ They’re like, ‘That ain’t you.’ I’m like, ‘Okay.’ But I’m lucky. There was dumb pressure, and I wrote the hook, and everybody loved it.

“The sample is a song called ‘Ecstasy’ by the Ohio Players. It’s my favorite song in the universe. I flipped it once before for Dame’s group The Future Sound. It was the remix to their first single, but it was just a one bar loop. It was good, but it didn’t feel like that. Plus, The Future Sound wasn’t Jay and B.I.G.

“The song itself was a song that I made Dame and Jay and everyone in our crew like, because I played it every night. When I would DJ, I would play the whole original song. So one day Dame goes, ‘Yo, you should flip that shit again.’ So I flipped it again.

"That’s why he says he produced it and took a production credit. It was a great idea, it’s just you didn’t do shit. Get the fuck outta here. But I love Dame though. I want that to be clear. That is my ace.”