Trackmasters Tell All: The Stories Behind Their Classic Records (Part 1)

Nas f/ Lauryn Hill "If I Ruled The World" (1996)

Album: It Was Written
Label: Columbia

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.

 

Nas was definitely resistant [to the song]. 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.’ - Poke

 

“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.’

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."

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.'"

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.'”

Tags: nas, lauryn_hill
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