“If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” f/ Lauryn Hill
Produced by: Trackmasters & Rashad Smith
Nas: “Being a hip-hop fan and Krush Groove fan, Kurtis Blow was my favorite rapper when I was a kid. He sang ‘If I Ruled the World’ and I thought that was a huge chorus. The movie is more known for Run-D.M.C.’s part and it didn’t really mention the Kurtis Blow part too much because it sounded R&B. I didn’t necessarily love the R&B thing at the time, but when I saw Krush Groove I loved what he was singing and rapping about.
Poke: “The first track we played for Nas was ‘If I Ruled The World.’”
Tone: “We didn’t have a singer on it at first. We played it for him and I don’t think he got it at first.”
Poke: “He was definitely resistant. The thing about Nas is that he’s pure hip-hop. We were trying to cross him over, trying to give him a broader appeal in the marketplace. He got flack for that because everybody was saying that we were trying to water him down. So when we played him the record, he was like, ‘I don’t know.’
“The strategy became lets give him harder records first, so that we can ease him into the radio records. We also tried to make sure that on the harder records, the hooks were sing-along enough that they could cross over to the mainstream. That was the strategy.
“It was kind of like a spoon-fed system to get him comfortable with the strategy that we had and put him out there. After three or four records, he was like, ‘We’re in the zone, right now. Let’s get busy.’
I was supposed to be on the The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill but I never made it to the sessions. That’s one of my greatest regrets with music. I was getting the calls to come rap on the album and something was always happening when I got the call. Lisa Ellis of Sony always used to tell me, ‘Man you f**ked up, you’re supposed to be on that album. - Nas
Tone: "But we were still looking for someone to sing 'If I Ruled The World.' We had to find that person that had hip-hop credibility. Do we get a pop singer? No, that’s not going to work. We had a get a singer that was suitable on the hip-hop side of the arena.
“The only other person that could have sung that was R. Kelly, but at the time we didn’t start working with him yet. But 'Killing Me Softly' had just popped. It started catching on and Lauryn Hill was the one."
Nas: “The Fugees were labelmates, they were friends of mine who used to open up for me in the beginning. I later opened up for them once they made The Score. It was what was supposed to happen. I called Lauryn Hill up, like ‘Yo can you rap this out?’ We were friends like that.
“I was supposed to be on the The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album but I was caught up with whatever and I never made it to the sessions. That’s one of my greatest regrets with music. I was getting the calls to come rap on the album and something was always happening at the time when I got the call. Lisa Ellis of Sony always used to tell me, ‘Man you fucked up, you’re supposed to be on that album.’
“Me and Lauryn were musical peers, we were brother and sister. We looked out and did the thing. They were on tour in Europe so she took the Concorde from London and flew back. We shot the video in Times Square."
Steve Stoute: “I mixed that record 30 times, personally. I wanted to make sure all of Lauryn’s ad-libs were right. Nervousness to make sure that it was going to be right.
Poke: “Nas did a couple of those verses over because it just didn’t work in the concept of the record. Some of the lines didn’t work with some of the records that we were doing, across the board. But sometimes it was just magic and everything worked.
“As an artist, sometimes you get tunnel-vision and you don’t see every other aspect. Nas would always ask, 'What do you think about this? What do you think about that?' and we would give him our real opinion, like, 'Nah, I don’t think that verse will work' or 'I don’t think that line works.'"
I felt like B.I.G. had changed the playing field [of rap music] in a great way. You couldn’t be talking about you’re the Don of the city and your record is only resonating to a couple of street people. If we’re the Don, that means I need mayor Giuliani dancing to my songs. - Nas
Nas: “I felt like B.I.G. had changed the playing field [of rap music] in a great way. You couldn’t be talking about you’re the Don of the city and your record is only resonating to a couple of street people. If we’re the Don, that means I need mayor Giuliani dancing to my songs.
“Stevie Wonder had everybody dancing to his songs, so if I’m going to be great, I’m going to make a great record that you can’t hold back. When I’m on the radio, I’m going to have you singing along, ‘I’d open every cell in Attica, send ‘em to Africa,’ and ‘Imagine smoking weed in the streets without cops harassing.’
“That should be mainstream, that shouldn’t just be in the streets. The whole world should hear my voice, hear my point of views in my street language. We turned the lights on. I showed them I could put on a Gucci suit with Wallabees and that’s the streets but the streets to the next level.
Steve Stoute: “The song was a step away from what you heard on Illmatic. That’s why in the beginning of the ‘If I Ruled The World’ video, Nas does the rap from ‘The Message’ first, then he snaps his fingers, and the song starts.
“Even though it had Lauryn singing on it, I didn’t want people thinking the only thing the album was representing was singing and topics like ‘If I Ruled The World.’ So, at the top of that video, we ran a pre-roll of 30 seconds of him spitting some hot shit from ‘The Message.’”
Poke: “The song has a Whoudini sample and then we just took the 'If I Ruled The World' hook from Kurtis Blow. Nas came up with the 'If I Ruled The World' title, and that’s when we were like, 'Yo that should be the whole hook.'
“We were one of the pioneers of, 'Yo lets make block party records.' Like, what DJ’s used to do, back then, they used to just put on instrumentals of an R&B record and emcees used to just rap over it. So we had that whole mentality of let do that. That’s when everybody started going sample crazy because we started doing that stuff and it was working at radio.
We took the concept of block party records and tried to put it on wax, and now all of a sudden we’re sell-outs because the record sells a lot? It made no sense. I would think that you would give it up to us because we’re paving the way for rappers to sell more records than they ever sold before. - Poke
“[The whole ‘sellout’ label] made no sense to me. Like, if you sell more than the regular album, than you’re a sell-out. That’s what the mentality was.I think the stigma about selling out is how many records you sell because if you listen to all the beats that we made, they weren’t sell-out beats. They were hip-hop beats or they were R&B records that a rapper would rap on.
“I don’t think it came from what beats you made or if a person was singing because in the beginning of hip-hop, that’s what it was. It was singing with R&B records like 'Another One Bites The Dust' or 'Good Times.' All of those records are the records rappers used to rap on at block parties and DJs used to blend and mix. That’s what we used to do at block parties.
“We took the same concept and tried to put it on wax, and now all of a sudden we’re sell-outs because the record sells a lot? It made no sense. I would think that you would give it up to us because we’re paving the way for rappers to sell more records than they ever sold before. Prior to that, for rap acts, it was like, 'You’re going to sell platinum? That’s not going to happen.'”
Nas: “When we white labeled it, people didn’t get it because they didn’t know why I had someone singing. They didn’t know it was Lauryn Hill because they just white-labeled. But when the record took off, that’s when people were starting to catch it like, ‘It sounds like Lauryn.’
"When we finally released the record to the radio and let them know that it was Lauryn, it was like, ‘Oh shit! This shit is real.’ We worked on ‘If I Ruled The World for probably two months. We were able to take it to the next level. And then I fixed all those haters with the next album with ‘Hate Me Now.’”