Album: American Gangster
Label: Roc-A-Fella Records
DJ Toomp: “One of my goals as far as my list of artists to work with was Jay-Z. I always wanted to do a Jay record.
“The first time I ever hooked up with him was through my man Big Jon [Platt], the president of EMI Publishing. Big Jon showed me around New York once, and that’s when me and Jay met for the first time. We know a lot of the same people, mainly from the streets, people from New York to Miami. I was up in his office and we just talked and I played some music for him, and he just started freestyling right there on the spot. Then he was like, 'Yo man, I hope one day we can work together.'
“It might’ve been a year later when Jon hit me concerning working on a record with Jay-Z. This was around the time Jay was supposed to retire. It kind of messed me up for a minute when I heard that he was retiring, because I was like, 'Damn man, I thought I was going to produce a Jay-Z record.'
“But one day Big Jon hit me up and was like, 'Jay’s working on another album— kind of on some sideline shit.' I was like, 'Word?' And he said, 'Yea man, just get some stuff together. You can produce some original songs, but he want some funky samples.' I went into the lab immediately.
“When I first made 'Say Hello,' I let that track play in the studio all day. I kept playing it over and over. I’d go eat lunch, sit in the office with my assistant for a minute, kick it with her, go through some paperwork, and go back and play the track again. I just kept on listening to it until I thought, 'Yo, this the one. I got one.'
“When it was time to go to New York, me and [my business partner] Bernard went up there together. When I walked into the studio it was Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, No ID, L. Rock, Usher, some of everybody.
“Soon as I walked in, Jay looked at me and was like, 'Yo man, listen, I done had like fifteen producers come through here. My ears are worn out man. I definitely respect what you do, glad you came here, but I don’t want to hear no more than about three tracks.'
“So while everyone got back to working, I put my headphones on and started getting my playlist together. I had to go through and narrow it down. When I started playing my songs for Jay, I didn’t even make it to the third track. I played the first track and he was like, 'Yea, that’s cool, that’s cool.' It was an original record—of course I’m going to try to get an original record placed before a sample, that way I own more publishing. He liked the original one, but immediately he was like, 'Alright, what else you got?' That’s when I pulled out, 'Say Hello.'
“When I pressed the play button I turned my back and sat with Jay’s engineer Guru. As Jay listened to the track, Guru suddenly elbowed me and whispered to me, 'Oooh, that shit hard!' Then he said, 'Ay man, that’s out of here!' And I was like, 'For real?' And he was like, 'Yea, [Jay] back there rapping right now…' I turned back around and Jay-Z was back there shaking his head, had his eyes closed, and all of sudden he was like, 'Ay man, start that shit over.' By the time he said 'start it over,' Guru looked at me and was like, 'Yea B, you good…'
“So I’m sitting there happy. Jay hit the booth with 'Say Hello' in like fifteen minutes. That shit felt incredible, and I knew that it was meant to happen. 'Man, that’s that classic shit,' Jay told me. 'That fit with this Roc-a-Fella shit man. That’s that Roc-a-Fella shit.'
“Bernard and myself walked out of the studio for a minute, and Bernard grabbed me and shook my hand and was like, 'You killed it boy! You killed it!' and I was like, 'Hell yea!'
“After Jay heard the record, Bernard and I just hung around the studio a bit. [Jay] started ordering food, and there might’ve been like ten different kinds of wine and chesses and stuff— it was kind of like a party. It was a good atmosphere.
“After working on American Gangster, me and Jay have gotten a chance to really get to know each other. He’s flown me up to New York a few times just to hang out—not even to go to the studio, just hang out hitting clubs. We’d probably hit like four clubs in one night while I’m there. That’s my dude. He’s very much ahead of his time.”