From the artwork to the last minute addition of the now classic ‘PSA’, Jay-Z collaborators delve into the history of what was supposed to be Jay’s last album.
The stories that form the piece further cement the picture of Jay-Z has someone who clearly knew what he wanted and was far from a diva despite having reached dizzying heights of popularity by that point. He also wasn’t afraid to reach out and give chances to newcomers including then unknown producers like 3H, Aqua and Whiz Buchanan who all recount the stories of how they landed their first beats on one of the greatest rap albums of the past decade.
Jay’s already detailed habit of writing rhymes without pen or paper are further mythologised and 9th Wonder explains how he was given 25 minutes, and the sample, to make his album contribution, killing his ThinkPad laptop in the process. The two stories that certainly stand out amid it all are Jonathan Mannon’s detailing of how the classic cover came about and Just Blaze’s explanation of how ‘PSA’ was added at the last minute, forcing them to stop the presses and change the album at the proverbial 11th hour.
The album was finished, cases were already made. Then, while I was mixing something else, at the last-minute, I made the beat for “PSA.” Jay was doing press at a studio around the corner. All the different outlets were coming to listenings. In the midst of that, I ran back to the studio where Jay was and was like, Dude, listen to this. He liked it but he was like, “We’re already done.” I’m like, “We’re not done until this song is finished.” So before each press listening session, he’d run back into my room, write four bars down, go back and do another round of press, come back to me. We did that all night. There’s some records that have great stories and there’s other records that you have a two-second genius moment. I just happened to be around the corner from Jay. All those stars lined up. To get “PSA” on the album, we literally stopped the CDs and records from being manufactured, stopped all the artwork from being printed. We ended up pulling a song called “Looking at My S Dots” from the album to put “PSA” on, literally in the eleventh hour. Just two or three weeks later, we were at the Madison Square Garden show and when “PSA” came on everybody already knew every word of the song and the place exploded. It was an amazing feeling.