Justin Smith, also known as Megatron, but most commonly known as Just Blaze, came on the scene in 1999 helping the Roc-A-Fella dynasty ascend to the top of rap, while also designing the sound of hip hop in the 2000s. Since his time as an in-house producer for Jay-Z he has branched out to work with a variety of artists. From Jay Electronica to Saigon he has matured as an artist creating beats that sometime underwhelm and other times astonish. He lacks a signature sound, which works in his favor, and you usually can’t tell its a Blaze track until you hear his calling card. He works well with many artists creating classics with Jay, Kanye, Cam’ron, Fabolous and even Usher. I think its safe to place him among the greatest producers of all-time and certainly one of the best of the 2000s. Its hard to choose his best, but I’ve selected my favorites from the legendary producer.
U Don’t Know
Jay-Z – The Blueprint
The Blueprint is possibly Jay’s best album and it is as good as it is impactful. We were introduced to Kanye West and Just Blaze on this album and they took sampling to another level. “U Don’t Know” takes from “I’m Not To Blame” by Bobby Boyd and is a lovely song in its own right. You can hear the sample clearly, but Just has the ability to take the right part of the song and add the right elements to make it hip hop. He uses the vocals “You don’t know” and intertwines it perfectly with the high hats. Its amazing to hear a songs origin and how differently producers manufacture sound.
Drake (feat. Rick Ross) – Take Care
Take Care is a great album full of memorable verses and beats. “Lord Knows” is something entirely differently though. It’s magnificent craftsmanship on both a technical and artistic level. Just Blaze gets the assistance of an choir to chant the titular “Lord Knows!” And he adds enough extra to turn it into a high point on the album. Drake and Ross cruise through the beat that’s nearly impossible to ruin. The end of the song is Just showing off and I don’t mind at all.
Exhibit A & Exhibit C
I’m a huge fan of lists. When Pitchfork released its “best songs of 2009″ list I skimmed it to see if my tastes matched up with their own, and to hear any good songs I may have missed. I stumbled upon “Exhibit C” and was completely spellbound by the soulful sample and than knocked into another galaxy by the rapping. I played the song throughout my entire Christmas break that year and when I returned to campus the rotation continued. I listened to “Exhibit A” shortly after C and completely bought into the myth of Jay Electronica. Underneath the Arabic and Five Percenter references are two beats completely different from one another. One soulful and full of life, and another cold and almost mechanical. Their both amazing. These songs are the perfect example of catching lightning in a bottle twice.
I Really Mean It
Cam’ron – Diplomatic Immunity
Released on the second disc of Diplomatic Immunity “I Really Mean It” is a gem. So much so that it got its own mini video at the end of “Dipset Anthem.” Its the apex of the Dipset movement. This song is pure, unfiltered, Harlem glory. Cam’ron gives you two perfect verses full of confidence, bravado and humor… all the things that make Cam’ron special. But the horns takes center stage sounding like great political triumph with a sample that comes in perfectly. Perfect Dipset, perfect Cam’ron and perfect Just Blaze.