Producer: DJ Clark Kent
Some of the most ingenious rap songs are based on a simple gimmick. Think of GZA spinning every record label’s name into his yarn on Liquid Swords’ “Labels,” or 50 Cent putting the whole industry on notice with his individualized threats on “How to Rob.” Jay’s "What's In A Name" might have been up there with those tracks had it seen the light of day when it was fresh, or properly mixed.
Like a lot of the demo tracks Jay recorded with Clark Kent, "What's In A Name" later turned up on a mixtape from Original Flavor DJ Chubby Chub. The audio is rough and many of the figures referenced in the song have been forgotten by time, but listen closely and you’ll hear a Jay already proficient in layered lyricism that takes more than several listens to peel away.
A lyrical exercise using other rappers’ names (“So bring a Gang Starr, I throw a bolo, and run up on a Tribe a niggaz... K-Solo”), “What’s In A Name” is full of rhymes designed to go over your head the first time—except when Jay feels generous enough to clue you in: “Cause I kill at will like solid water, dude/You niggas dont get it— kill at will, solid water... Ice Cube" (Kill at Will was the name of a 1990 Ice Cube EP). A line Jay would later reuse on the remix to Ray Cash's "Bumping My Music."