VIBE gets the skinny on the UK producer behind Jay-Z's first No. 1 solo record
VIBE: Tell me about the making of "Empire State of Mind." How'd you get it into Jay-Z's hands?
Al Shux: I had the basic backing track that I made about a year ago. Then I worked with two writers who wrote a song over the beat. We didn't write a bridge and were thinking it would be great to get a rapper on that part. Obviously, Jay-Z seemed like the perfect guy to do something like that. After playing the track to a few people in the industry it got to a guy called Big Jon [Platt], who is head of EMI Publishing and a close friend of Jay-Z. He took it to Jay-Z and he used the hook and re-wrote his own verses.
Did you help out with the hook at all?
Not really. I think the writers Angela Hunte and J'Nay Sewell did a great job.
Did you hear the finished song before it became a single?
Piracy is a massive concern for record labels and because I was in London they were hesitant to send me the finished mix over the Internet. So I didn't hear the finished mix until the album was leaked on the internet!
Have you spoken to Jay-Z or met him since Blueprint 3 dropped?
I actually only met him after the song was recorded. He's a really nice guy.
Did you work closely with Alicia Keys or speak to her during the making of the song?
The song was recorded in a few different places-at [Jay-Z's] studio, at [Alicia's]- so I didn't get to record either of them personally. But I did recently work with Alicia on another version of the song ["Empire State of Mind II"] for her album at her studio in Long Island.
Did you see Jay-Z perform the songs at the Yankees game and the World Series parade? How did you feel about the song getting to that level?
Yeah, I saw the performances. The first couple of times I saw it performed--at the Madison Square Garden show and the VMAs--were probably the most surreal. Since then, I've been amazed at how big it's gotten. I knew it was a great record but it's continued to grow and grow into something so huge. I think it's great that so many people can relate to it. Even though it is about New York on the surface, it is really about something more universal than that.
Have you gotten many requests for tracks since?
I've been meeting with a lot of A&Rs and seeing what projects are going on. I've been working with Rox (Rough Trade) and I Blame Coco (Island) on their debut albums. And I have lots of other projects in the pipeline. -Clover Hope
A West London native, Al Shux has been producing tracks since for nearly ten years. Before lacing Jay-Z's first no. 1 single--which Al says is getting heavy spins in the UK, too--the 27-year-old beatsmith got his first major look in 2007 on Lupe Fiasco's "High Definition," featuring Snoop Dogg.