JAY-Z’s “U Don’t Know” Was Originally Offered To Busta Rhymes & Prodigy

Hip-Hop history is filled with what-ifs, especially concerning beats and production. Tupac’s diamond-certified All Eyez On Me once featured verses from Inspectah Deck and The Lady Of Rage. Moreover, Disc 2’s Dr. Dre-produced “Can’t C Me” was rumored to be created for a shelved Ice Cube collaboration before another iteration had Tha Dogg Pound rapping. Jadakiss’ “We Gonna Make It” was made for Nas, shopped to JAY-Z, and reportedly sold to Ras Kass before becoming a LOX solo anthem. D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” was a DJ Premier creation that Canibus turned down before its place as a Voodoo classic.

During a recent interview with Idea Generation, Just Blaze spoke of another staple song from a classic album. He confirmed that JAY-Z’s Blueprint staple almost had at least one other home. “‘U Don’t Know’ was at one point going to be Busta [Rhymes] and Prodigy,” Just Blaze shared to show creator/host Noah Callahan-Bever after the 21:00-mark. “A lot of people don’t know, me and P used to hang out a lot. I still don’t have a lot of Rap friends, right? He was one of the few people actually to come to the house.” Just emphasizes that much of The Blueprint took shape during recordings over a three-day weekend.

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Just’s Y2K era friendships also included production peer Alchemist, who found pivotal success working with Mobb Deep’s Prodigy. The two men would release albums together, following Al-produced hits like “Keep It Thoro.” “It was wild because then [The Alchemist] ended up moving around the corner from me. So ‘U Don’t Know’ had been done, and then I made ‘Song Cry,’ like, the second night after Jay finished recording whatever he was recording that day.” Just also explains how his “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)” became a bonus song to the Roc-A-Fella LP.

The Bobby Byrd-sampling beat was of interest to three different Rap stars simultaneously. In 2017, Its The Real’s Eric and Jeff Rosenthal hosted a live Roc-A-Fella celebration on stage for their A Waste Of Time podcastAmbrosia For Heads was in attendance and documented the conversation.

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There, Just Blaze offered additional context at that time. “Prodigy is actually the first person to rap on ‘U Don’t Know.’” Speaking directly to Hip Hop, he added, “You probably don’t remember [this]; you called me like, ‘Yo, I heard you’ve got some fly sh*t for Prodigy with some horns.’…So I get the call ‘we need something soulful,’ I go to Baseline [Studios]. This was when I had my blue G4 and it had all these beats that I was holding for Wu-Tang for years. So I end up playing ‘Girls, Girls, Girls,’ Jay’s like, ‘I’ll take that. Then he records that.” That same 2001 night Just Blaze left Roc’s studios to attend a nearby Mobb Deep session. “Prodigy hears ‘U Don’t Know. Then Busta [Rhymes] hears ‘U Don’t Know.’ Yo, the worst thing ever was knowing that I have Jay ready for me but Busta’s doing this Busta Rhymes [style] on the ‘U Don’t Know’ beat. I’m like, ‘Yo, this is real dope.’ I’m torn. I’m a kid at the time, and I’m torn.”

However, he explained how fate would ultimately intervened “Luckily, Busta didn’t record to it. I go back to Soundtrack [Studios], where Mobb Deep was recording. Prodigy hears the beat; I play it off of a cassette. He starts rhyming to it. Some drama ended up happening; he had to leave. I go around the corner [to Baseline Studios]. I play it for Jay. [This is] all in that same weekend. Then, all of a sudden, Jay was like, ‘Yo, lay that right now.’” This era coincides with Jay dissing Prodigy on “Takeover,” during the pair’s beef—which later resolved. M.O.P., then signed to Roc-A-Fella, eventually landed on the Just Blaze-produced “U Don’t Know” remix.

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During that same ’17 event, former Roc-A-Fella A&R and Kanye West manager, Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua, credited the origin of The Blueprint to a Kanye batch of beats on one tape. He also said that West’s productions were also shopped to others. “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” was reportedly made for Ghostface Killah, while also being shopped to Cam’ron’s Come Home With Me. “Heart Of The City” was made for DMX. “Takeover” was reportedly made for Beanie Sigel. In the discussion, Just Blaze noted that a lot of his beats were also set aside for Wu-Tang Clan members, especially Ghost.

These classic beats landing with the other artists are discussed on episode #103 of the What’s The Headline podcast (embedded above in video and audio) at 59:30. Further into the episode, the Ambrosia For Heads team questions whether Jay’s rift with Prodigy could have compelled the Roc-A-Fella staff to take extra interest in a beat they believed was set aside for the M-O-B-B MC. The podcast also celebrates Just Blaze’s incredible catalog, and discusses some of his best work with JAY-Z. The analysis also debates who had the better production role on The Blueprint: Just Blaze or Kanye. Lastly, there is talking surrounding another revelation that Just made to Idea Generation, that Michael Jackson’s vocals are in the remix to “Girls Girls Girls”—something he did not realize until recently.

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Beyond the discussion on Just Blaze and Blueprint production, the episode features a deep-dive into Joe Budden’s (and others) criticism of Logic as well as some talk around new music by Statik Selektah, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and Method Man as well as T-Pain, plus Curren$y and Jermaine Dupri.

AFH readers can catch regular discussions about the culture on our What’s The Headline. The podcast also features interviews with Prodigy’s Mobb Deep partner Havoc, as well as Rapper Big PoohCormegaMeyhem Lauren & DaringerDiamond DAZBlu & Mickey FactzJoell Ortiz, KuruptEvidenceSkyzooPharoahe MonchPrince Paul & Don NewkirkStatik SelektahLyric JonesThe LOXMC Eiht, Duckwrthphotographer T. Eric Monroe, and Lord Finesse.