How Just Blaze flipped an aged soul sample to create Blueprint’s most timeless melody...
The sound beds on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint generally mirrored his personal quiet storm demeanor: sinewy and understated but with undeniable impact. However, for “U Don’t Know” Just Blaze turned Bobby Byrd’s suicidal lament about lost love from “I’m Not To Blame” into wailing rock opera sealed in Saran wrap. And 10 years later, the aural emotion burns brighter than any of the contorted soul on Jay’s masterpiece.
Sure, Kanye West’s Doors-lifting “Takeover” is the battle record, but Mr. Carter is truly strapped on “U Don’t Know.” The sixth song on Hov’s sixth album has appropriately demonic undertones. This isn’t just a sped sample—Byrd’s voice is put in a chokehold until it begs for mercy. The man’s pleas and moans are dismembered and stitched back into the track like a vocal version of The Human Centipede. The melancholy brass section mutates into a clarion call from the seventh circle, while drums regulate the chaos at 154 beatings per minute. If Timbaland’s “Hola Hovito” instrumental is the potatoes, this is the stake—right through the heart.
Through 13 tracks, Blaze’s violent symphony gives Blueprint its hardest knock: raucous rebel music forever fit for speeding past school-crossing zones or tallying the millions you don’t possess. And while the song’s lyrics lack the soul-bearing candor of “Renegade” or “Song Cry,” sonically “U Don’t Know” is the heart of the album, a stadium rocker that continues to pound with little regard for eardrums. Before Hov sentenced Auto-Tune to death, this was his first Public Service Announcement. And it’s one DJs can still literally count on. —Jerry Barrow
Be sure to check out VIBE's August/September 2011 Juice issue, which features the full Blueprint 10th anniversary commemorative package.