Album: The Understanding
Label: Get Low, Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam
Just Blaze: “That day I was making what ended up becoming ‘Stick 2 the Script.’ Bleek hated that beat, he said it sounded like soap opera music. So then I made the “We Get Low” beat instead. The next day, Jay heard the ‘Stick 2 the Script’ beat and he took it. Bleek was looking at me like I was crazy when I was playing it for him. I was like, ‘Yo, I’m telling you, this is hot.’ Not every beat is for every artist. What one artist hears in a beat, another might not.
“Beans would be in one room, Bleek in another, Jay in the main room. Eventually, [Cam’Ron] and the Diplomats came around and they would be fucking around. It was like a factory. It was how Berry Gordy Jr. had The Corporation or how Diddy had The Hitmen at the height of the Bad Boy era. Everybody was in Baseline [studios] grinding 24/7. I learned to go days without sleeping because everybody would be constantly working.
“For the tech heads and geeks, back in the day we used to use this signal called SMPTE. It’s been referenced in a few songs. It’s an anagram—I forget for what—but SMPTE was an audio signal that we used to use to keep drum machines and MIDI gear in time with our tape machines.
“To make it really brief, you may have a drum machine that only has eight outputs but you have twenty sounds coming out of it. So each sound has to have its own output, which means you have to record them on separate passes.
“How are you going to keep everything in sync? You’re obviously adding a few sounds, starting over, and adding more sounds to the tape machine. You had to record in passes so you had to have something to keep the big tape machine in sync with your MIDI gear whether it was your MPC, your ASR, or whatever. So, SMPTE was basically a way to keep different pieces of studio gear in time with each other.
“The beginning of ‘Mental Stamina’ on Jeru’s first album is a good example of SMPTE. Primo used to use it sometimes. That’s what SMPTE sounds like. That was the tone that used to keep all of our studio gear logged in. So I had the idea of, ‘What if I used the sound of SMPTE as an actual sound in the beat?’
“If you listen to ‘We Get Low,’ you’ll hear me play the SMPTE sound on the keyboard. I took it and made a sample of it. It was just a cool idea at the time, but Guru would always say, ‘That’s how I knew you were ill. When I saw you use SMPTE as a sound in the beat and actually play it on the keyboard. That’s when I knew that you knew what you were doing.’
“The day I met Guru was the day I made that beat. That wasn’t over at Bassline, it was at a studio called Mirror Image. At Bassline we had this engineer who was making a lot of mistakes and causing a lot of problems for us. So we knew we had to get rid of him, but we weren’t sure how we were going to go about it or who we were going to replace him with.
“I remember being like, ‘Yo, I just did a session with this dude named Guru with Bleek and he seemed to know what he was doing.’ He was a younger dude and he knew his hip-hop. Back then, there were engineers who knew hip-hop but there weren’t a lot of engineers who lived it.
“There was Duro, Bryan Stanley, and Pat Viala and that was pretty much it. They were all locked down doing different things, so when we needed a new engineer I remember saying, ‘Yo, I just met this dude Guru. We should snatch him up and make him our engineer.’
“I remember having that conversation with Hip Hop and he was like, ‘Word, word we’ll make some calls.’ We waited until the end of The Dynasty album, because he was recording The Dynasty album for us, but as soon as we were done with that we brought Guru in and he’s been here ever since.