JAY-Z made headlines over the last few days after dropping his new album 4:44. No I.D., who served as the executive producer of the new LP, recently sat down with Rolling Stone to talk about the album’s details. The producer spoke about the conception of the album, pushing JAY-Z to speak about the personal parts of his life, and about songs that did not make the final cut, including one featuring James Blake. Check out highlights from the interview below and read the full feature via Rolling Stone.
How did you first start working on 4:44?
“Maybe a year ago I saw JAY-Z at a restaurant. He goes, “You got any music for me?” And I go, “Nope.” He goes, “What are you working on?” I said, “Getting better.”
The thing that made me want to get better was I heard a quote by Quincy Jones where they asked him, “What do you think about music nowadays?” He said, “four-bar loops.” It really affected me. I said, “Wait a minute, that’s not what I want to be a part of.” So I went and did some studying with the intention of growing.”
So you gently pushed him towards the personal parts of the record?
“I knew he wanted to [say those things]. I don’t want to take credit for what he wanted to do in the first place. I helped push him by saying, “Hey, this is what you said, this is what we know. And I don’t think people need to hear it. I think people need to hear what they don’t know.” Meaning: You wanted a Picasso, but why? You’re with Beyoncé, but what is that really like? What’s the pressure? What’s the responsibility? What’s the ups and downs? I wanted him to not be over people’s heads.
I knew as a human being we all have these things and we never really want to tell the truth because we’re supermen – in our own eyes – to the people we want to love us. It was just a nudge. “Hey man, I’m going to push you to say it.”
Even the song “4:44,” Guru [longtime JAY-Z associate Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton recorded most of 4:44] had told me [JAY-Z] had the idea of writing a song like that. So I went and made a piece of music that would box him in to telling that story. I remember [JAY-Z] just looking at me, sighing. “O.K., I’m going home.” True story, at 4:44 he wakes up in the morning and writes that song. He hits me a little bit after. It’s literally the way a producer and an artist should work – nudging and pushing, creating boundaries and allowing him to be the center.”
What was it like to hear him record that song? No one’s ever heard JAY-Z in that way before.
“He recorded it at his house with nobody around – on [Beyoncé’s] mic. I’ll let him tell the rest of the story. But I remember Guru brings it back and he does this little thing, walks in the room and doesn’t say anything. He stops everything, presses play, and walks out the room. I go, let me go find my wife and give her a hug. Walk down the street and hold hands. It’s a lot.”
So the concise 10-song length was important for that purpose?
“Yes. There’s three more songs that are coming out as bonuses. James Blake came in and joined into the process. There’s more coming shortly that’s equally as revealing.”