JAY-Z‘s 2001 song “U Don’t Know” was originally made for Busta Rhymes and Prodigy, according to Just Blaze.
During a conversation on the latest episode of IDEA GENERATION, the legendary producer revealed the Blueprint track was originally intended for Bus-a-Bus and P before Hov got his hands on it.
The song wound up as track No. 6 on Jay’s sixth studio album, and found him rapping about his elite-level hustling and monetary success in the rap and street game. A remix featuring M.O.P. appeared on his follow-up project, The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse, in 2002.
Just said he doesn’t remember how the “U Don’t Know” beat came about, but he recalled the first iteration was intended as a collaboration between Busta Rhymes and Prodigy — the latter of whom he had a close friendship with before his 2017 death.
“‘U Don’t Know’ was at one point going to be Busta and Prodigy,” Just Blaze revealed. “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 to actually come to the house.
“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 Blaze previously spoke about the origins of “U Don’t Know” during ItsTheReal’s Roc-A-Fella episode of their A Waste of Time podcast in 2017. He explained that former Roc-A-Fella A&R Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua called him to make a “soulful” record, and it was then that Prodigy became one of the first people to rap on the beat.
“I leave to go do a session with Prodigy,” he said. “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.
“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.’”
Just Blaze revealed that the whole situation led to JAY-Z taking a liking to him. The New Jersey native would become an in-house beatsmith for the label, crafting tracks for several artists such as The Diplomats, Kanye West, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Memphis Bleek and more.
“You know how some artists, if they don’t hear something great from you within five minutes, they’re done with you?” Blaze added. “Jay would sit in a room and listen with you for an hour, find those two, and then send you on your way. But after we did those first three he said, ‘Stick around. I want to make you a star.’ Three years later, I owned Baseline.”
JAY-Z also shed light on the making of “U Don’t Know” in an interview with XXL in 2009, where he revealed the song came together as a result of a beat-making battle between Just Blaze and Kanye West.
“During that time, I had two rooms in Baseline,” Hov said. “It was a big room that I was in, that I’d record in. Then it was a small room that Just would be in doing beats. What happened was, Just would peep his head in and hear what me and Kanye was doing and would just go back mad. Like, go back and just go [pounds fist on table], and just come in and be like, ‘Yo.’
“And it was like this every day. It was like a heavyweight slugfest. For three days they was just knocking each other out. And I remember him playing that joint, and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Revisit “U Don’t Know” below: