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Video Rewind: Jay-Z and Rick Rubin record “99 Problems”

on July 05, 2013, 4:57pm

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 4.08.00 PM

Welcome to a new feature entitled Video Rewind. Every Friday, a CoS staffer shares a beloved video clip dug up from the depths of the Internet. Consider it a quick jaunt down memory lane via moving pictures. In honor of the release of Jay-Z’s 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, we look back at the first time Hov and producer/consultant Rick Rubin joined forces: “99 Problems”.

In the promotion leading up to Magna Carta Holy Grail, Samsung released a series of videos featuring Jay-Z in the studio with a bounty of big-name producers, including Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Pharrell Williams. Also heavily featured was Rick Rubin. The Buddha-looking, barefoot musical genius behind iconic LPs from just about everyone was not involved in the album’s creation. Rather, as he explained to XXL, “The point of me being in the commercials was that he was filming a documentary and he asked me—I imagine he’s just comfortable talking to me—to come listen to the songs with him and just talk about the songs. Just listen to it and talk about it, and that’s what we did. It was fun.”

Of course, this was not the first time Hov enlisted Rubin’s legendary ear. Back in 2003, the unlikely allies joined forces to create what was, at the time, Jay-Z’s swan song from the rap game, The Black Album. And thankfully for us, they made sure to bring a video camera along.

Though the video portrays their partnership as mismatched (Jay’s a street-hardened rapper-mogul, Rubin collects stuffed bison), their mutually-beneficial arrangement becomes clear quickly. Following the smash success of the first two Blueprint LPs, Jay-Z wanted to find a way to tell his own life story, weaving threads back from his birth and life in the Marcy projects up through his entrance into rap’s elite. Rubin’s presence was as a guide, helping inform the production and overall sensibility of the album as he’d done with the likes of Run-DMC and LL Cool J, iconic MCs who inspired Jay to stop slinging drugs and pick up a mic. It wasn’t about aping styles, but of working with the man who perfected the formula in the first place, to distill every boast and banging beat into the kind of lasting effort that the whole hip-hop ecosystem was founded on.

But telling his story, the very mythos of Jay-Z, was just phase one. Rubin’s definitive agenda involved helping usher Jay into the hip-hop pantheon. There’s a moment when Beastie Boys Mike D drops by, and in the presence of both legends, Jay remarked, “These guys are the creators of it, the architects of what we do right now. I’m just fortunate, man.” By placing himself amid a legend like Rubin, Jay-Z was trying to go out on top, to leave the rap world feeling the sting of his absence as means of recognizing what he had truly gifted on to them. Through a song like “99 Problems”, equally vengeful and boisterous, he hoped to forever sear his most grand and definitive accomplishment, one that reads like an autobiography and manifesto, into memory banks right alongside associations with a cultural forefather like Rubin.

Oh, and the ending performance of “Crazy In Love” by Jay and future wifey Beyoncé is just a mound of icing on the already-tasty cake.

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