13 years ago, Jay Z set out to make what he thought at the time would be his final album. Of course, we know now that Jay just couldn’t stay away from the game, and although it wasn’t his last, The Black Album is one of Jay’s strongest releases, widely regarded as a classic album.
Back in 2013, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Black Album, The FADER compiled an excellent oral history of the making of the album, interviewing those instrumental in its creation to reveal some insights into the process behind the art.
In speaking with 9th Wonder about his creation of the "Threat" instrumental, one of the best Black Album stories was revealed, but three years later, on the 13th anniversary of the album, we thought we'd give it new life.
When he called, Theron was working on the 'Fade to Black' movie and sitting beside Young Guru. He put Young Guru on the phone with me, and he was like, “Could you come up here?” That was on a Wednesday, and I got to New York on Saturday. I played beats for Jay at Baseline Studios. I had like four beat CDs with me. I was playing one CD and about to switch to another another, and Jay was like “Nah, keep that CD in.” Then he was like, “Can you stay here ‘til Monday?” He’d already done “What More Can I Say,” “Encore,” “Lucifer,” “December 4th,” “Allure” and “Change Clothes.” That’s what I was coming in behind. But Jay was like, “You have to fit in this somewhere.” He said, “I got this sample, R. Kelly, ‘A Woman's Threat.’ See what you can do with that.” He did the first verse—he stands in the corner and writes his rhymes without paper, just saying it over and over and over, mumbling to himself. Then he left me with the sample and my ThinkPad and said, “I want you to produce the record while I’m gone.” I had 25 minutes to make the beat. Jay came back, put the headphones on, and that was it. That ThinkPad hasn’t worked since. It’s the only beat I ever made on it.
What?! Let’s recap that:
- 9th Wonder met music video director Theron Smith through a mutual friend in February of 2003, who later reached out to 9th for possible submissions for The Black Album.
- 9th Wonder spoke to Young Guru on the phone, who invited 9th out to NYC to play some beats for Jay Z.
- 9th had four beat CDs prepared for Jay, but after hearing just one of them, Jay asked 9th to stay in the city until the following Monday to work on beats.
- Rather than picking an instrumental off of one of 9th’s beat CD’s, Jay asked 9th to flip a sample from R. Kelly’s “A Woman’s Threat.”
- Jay left 9th in the studio and when he returned 25 minutes later, 9th already had the sample chopped up and had a basic structure to the track.
- Perhaps understanding the gravity of the situation, 9th's ThinkPad went ahead and retired itself after its MVP performance.
9th has detailed his experience working with Jay before for Jay’s Life & Times Decoded series, but in light of the album's anniversary, extra focus on the insane story of “Threat”’s creation is necessary, especially for those who might not be aware.
This story is a testament not only to the insane efficiency of 9th Wonder but how random moments of genius—rather than months of intensive work—can come together to create classic material.
So as you go back and bump The Black Album 10 years later, pay extra attention to “Threat” and experience the mind melt of knowing that 9th crafted that track in under half an hour.
Sometimes, greatness doesn’t have to be rushed, it just happens that quickly.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.