Recently Netflix released an 8 part documentary series called Rapture that goes into the day-to-day lives and behind the scenes of a small handful of Hip-Hop personalities including Nas, T.I., Logic, Dave East and more.
One of the more impressive episodes was based around New Jersey-born producer/DJ Just Blaze born Justin Smith. Now that name is definitely not unfamiliar to anyone reading this as his resume boasts the who’s who of rap and R&B of the last decade or two including but not limited to Jay-Z, DMX, Busta Rhymes, Nelly, Snoop Dogg, Mariah Carey, Joe Budden, Janet Jackson, The Game, Eminem, Drake and you get the point, I could be here all day with this list. The episode is a real insight into Just Blaze’s evolution with music, his workflow, his genuine love for the art and how his mind works in a collaborative setting. It is a rare glimpse into the world of the producer, a world that usually kept behind the scenes and in the darkness of the early morning hours in the lab. One of the main attributes of Justin’s success is his ability to understand the artist he is producing for and thus I’ve compiled a small list of tracks that were so well tailored, that you may have not even known that he was responsible for them.
Kendrick Lamar – Compton featuring Dr. Dre
good kid, m.A.A.d city
In an age where less and less people are reading physical linear notes and combing through production credits, it would be an easy mistake to make to think that this was actually a Dr. Dre beat. Although the track begins with a signature Just Blaze build up, it quickly transitions into a hardcore west coast sounding tune. The crispy snares, the cleanliness of the instrumentation, the vocal bridges and lastly the amazing synth work in the outro have all made this a west coast anthem. It is probably the most Compton sounding beat made by anyone not from Compton.
Jay-Z – The Dynasty Intro
The Dynasty: R.O.C. La Familia
Argued as one of the greatest introduction tracks of all time it is no surprise to any listener that Just Blaze created this track, but it was a surprise to him when he first heard the final product. Producers by large, are control freaks and this occasion is a pretty good reason why. Just wasn’t present for the final mixdown and somewhere along the way, there was a mistake that saw two samples lined up on top of each other in the mix rather than alternating back and forth which created a unique atmosphere, although not intended to sound like that it is certainly an all-time classic intro.
Kanye West – Touch The Sky featuring Lupe Fiasco
The massively successful lead single from Late Registration, the second studio album from Kanye West who up until that point produced an enormous majority of his own work and had a reputation as a go-to producer himself. The soulful flip of the Marvin Gaye classic Move On Up fit West’s style to a tee and being the only song on the album not produced by Kanye it’s an easy mistake to make if you thought that he produced it himself. Another example of Just Blaze knowing exactly how to mould his work into a distinctly personal hit for someone else.
Jay-Z – Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
The Blueprint was the album that really brought sample-based production back into fashion and it was the album that threw both Just Blaze and Kanye West into the limelight as ‘go to’ men behind the boards. Breathe Easy however, was not finished in time to make the official tracklist for the album and ended up being used as a bonus track in the abyss after the final song had finished. The track was so well received however, it ended up on countless mixtapes and ‘best of’ lists. Being that it wasn’t included in the linear notes Just Blaze went without credit for the street classic. However, the skeleton of this instrumental was used as the basis for Meet The Parents on Jay-Z’s sequel to this album, The Blueprint 2.
Prodigy – Diamond featuring Bars & Hooks
Just Blaze has more than a handful of heartfelt beats in his repertoire and off the jump this instrumental is in the same league. As a stand-alone track, it would be no surprise that the wizard behind the boards was none other than Mr. Blaze. However, and here is where it gets really impressive, is that in the context of the album it doesn’t miss a beat. It matches the grime and grittiness of the soundscape that Havoc and Prodigy created being that they, along with The Alchemist were responsible for the majority of the other instrumentals on the record. This track is a case of Just Blaze doing Just Blaze but also making it sound perfectly Queensbridge.
+ more-than-honorable mentions to Talib Kweli’s Never Been In Love and Cam’Ron feat. Juelz Santana Oh Boy – both also produced by Just Blaze.