Rewriting History Without a Pen: The Legend of JAY Z


(AllHipHop Editorial) “Only rapper to rewrite history without a pen…” – Jay Z

It is safe to say that super producer, Rick Rubin, is not an easy person to impress. As one of the co-founders of Hip-Hop’s blueprint label, Def Jam, along with being a renown melodic “weirdo,” Rubin has more than likely experienced almost everything music has to offer. Yet in 2003, at the height of his Jordan-esque “retirement” God MC, J-Hova, left the legendary producer in a state of utter bewilderment. As documented in the film Fade to Black, Jay-Z had a studio session with Rubin where he completed close to 8 songs, one being the smash single, 99 Problems. Yet, it wasn’t the sheer volume of tracks that Jay-Z created or his lyricism and flow that amazed him. No, Rick Rubin was left in shock by the unique way Jigga composed his songs.

“Just listen to the way he writes,” Rubin marveled to Beastie Boy and fellow producer, Mike D. “I’ve never seen anything like it. He doesn’t write anything down. He just kind of sits there listens to the track, and writes a verse.”

Rubin however, isn’t the only one amazed by this “Rain Man” approach to music making. Over the course of his career, Jay-Z’s style of writing has grown like an episodic myth surrounding his lengthy tenure. It became one of the catalysts to his iconic feud with Nas being as the last verse Jigga physically wrote was for “Can I Live,” after Esco passed on the feature (the first of many dubs). It has also propelled the height of his stardom. From the years 1996 to 2003, Jay-Z released an album a year in addition to numerous featured verses and singles. He attributes this high turnaround rate to his process of music memorization. This consistent pressure allowed Hov to increase his success by constantly being relevant.

The idolization of Jay-Z’s writing style in combination with his success resulted in multiple acts wanting to tap into this well of intelligence, hoping to garner the same results. At the peak of his career, Jay-Z was not only a premiere artist, he was also a highly sought after ghostwriter. He penned songs for multiple rappers such as Lil Kim and Dr. Dre. In addition to this, Jigga influenced a generation of emerging artist, leading them to attempt to mimic his craftsmanship. This, however, only solidified the anomaly that is “Jigga.” Often, when these artists tried to duplicate his process of songwriting it was not been met with positive reactions. A concept Jay-Z himself spoke on when he jokingly stated that he’s “inspired a generation of bad writers.”

The partnership between his rare talent and commercial success has been noticed on a global scale. Because of this, Jay-Z became the first rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. This was not only a feat for Jigga (who was chosen over the superstar acts like Madonna and George Michael) it was an incredible victory for Hip-Hop. With his induction, the Jay-Z solidified to the world the young art form of rapping is a credible medium of songwriting. Also, this recognition furthered the oral legend of Jay-Z’s “writing” skills, moving it from a strictly Hip-Hop tale to a folklore that expands across genres.

Nile Rodgers, a Chic guitarist and past inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, spoke to this expansion when he praised Hova, saying he “changes the way we listen to music.”

This, of all Jay-Z’s accomplishments, is one that holds an emphasized amount of importance. With no pen, S. Carter ironically wrote Rap into a space that allowed it to shifted the entire world’s musical ear.