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Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Brooklyn's Finest"

Jay-Z featuring The Notorious B.I.G.  - Brooklyn's Finest (1996)

No, not the movie staring Gere, Cheadle, Hawke and Snipes.

In the mid 1990s Jay-Z had been developing a following in his native New York as well as further afield, but had not yet attained a record deal. The summer of 1995 he had a single released by a small local record label, but conflict with the owners led Jay to believe he and his friend Damon Dash could do better starting their own label. Roc-A-Fella records, now with several subsidiaries, and worth a fortune started as Jay-Z, Damon Dash and a dream. For his first album, Jay-Z worked with several producers, had several singles that are still club bangers, and worked with several big names, including Mary J. Blige and Foxy Brown. But his biggest collaborator was also his riskiest. In 1994 the Notorious B.I.G. had released Ready to Die to huge critical and commercial success, by 1997 he was even bigger, releasing Life After Death so in 1996 he was easily considered to be the biggest name in East Cost rap, and even more specifically, he was Brooklyn as far as Hip-Hop was concerned. So when Jay-Z decided he wanted to do a competitive/collaborative track with Biggie on his debut album Reasonable Doubt I need you to understand that I am not overstating the analogy when I tell you it would be like for your debut collection of critical essays you decided to co-write a piece with Christopher Hitchens. It was like trying to get into comedy and deciding to open your set with a two man sketch featuring you and John Belushi, or attempt to direct one half of a film and hire Orson Wells to direct the other. It took guts. It worked though, he gained Biggie's respect, and the respect of the Hip-Hop media and community well beyond New York City.

The track is put together by producers Damon Dash and Clark Kent. Kent also sings-speaks the chorus. The primary sample is from "Ecstasy" a song by The Ohio Players, a Soul/Funk band from the 70s. the loop runs for most of the song. The other sample is much shorter and harder to catch. Sometimes when you hear someone yelling Brooklyn in the background it's actually Ol' Dirty Bastard, another Brooklyn native who was riding high in the mid nineties; from his track "Brooklyn's Zoo". Lyrically the song is back and forth four to five lines from each MC mostly talking about their previous and current criminal enterprises. They also discuss how good they are at rapping and somewhat playfully disrespect the other performer as to their skills. The chorus makes clear that because they have teamed up, all other rappers should beware. 

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