One man's trash is another man's treasure, and that's especially true of beat placements in hip-hop.
Thanks to the freelance nature of production and the collaborative spirit within hip-hop, instrumentals can change hands more than Kanye West changes his album title.
Like any label signing a new artist, picking (or indeed passing on) a beat is a game of risk versus reward that requires more skill than meets the eye ear. Sometimes the songs you pass on are just as significant as—if not more than—the beat you rap on.
From Jay Z turning down Black Rob's "Whoa" (hov-so-so.gif) to Common passing on Kanye's "Everything I Am" (which Ye made into a jam), there's been plenty of high profile cases of rappers passing on excellent beats. But here are 10 of the most regrettable.
Yung Joc, “Blue Magic”
During the height of his popularity in the mid ’00s, Yung Joc hit the studio with Pharrell in search of another hit. Rather than cater to his Southern style, however, Skateboard P attempted to turn Joc into the new Rakim over the “Blue Magic” beat, but he wasn’t convinced. “I was like, I don’t know if that’s me,’” Joc recalled. If that wasn’t surreal enough, Jay Z and Diddy walked into the studio to see what was cooking. Hov took an immediate liking to Pharrell’s beat and the rest, as Joc learned when he turned on the radio months later, was history.
You can’t blame Yung Joc for passing on a record that he wasn’t suited for (seriously, what would he even sound like over that beat?), but it’s not like Hustlenomics wasn't in desperate need of some blue magic.
Kid Ink, “Mercy”
“I think the biggest beat I ever slept on was the Kanye ‘Mercy’ beat,” Kid Ink told KMEL in 2014. His decision to pass on the song was a matter of authenticity rather than taste, though.
“I didn’t have a Murcielago, so it didn’t really make sense. I didn’t have a Lambo, so I can’t really rap about this cause the hook was on there,” he explained. “I could’ve probably forced some ideas if I thought about it a little harder. I didn’t have any Lambos, so I just felt like I was faking it, rapping about being in a Lambo.”
Wait, does that make Kid Ink realer than Rick Ross? Does that mean I kinda respect Kid Ink now? What the hell is happening to me?!
Judging by his “Mercy” freestyle that came out a few months after G.O.O.D. Music’s version, maybe Kid Ink passing on that beat was for the best.
Common, “Heard 'Em Say”
“Everything I Am” isn’t the only Kanye beat Common passed on; a few years earlier, the Chicago emcee squandered an even bigger opportunity to use the “Heard 'Em Say” beat, which Kanye also turned into a jam.
“[Another] one of the beats I passed on—that I regret—is the song he did called ‘Heard ’Em Say,’” Common revealed on the Rap Radar podcast. “He made that beat for me in the studio. He was like, ‘Rash, you want this?’ I was like, ‘Man, it’s cool…’ He was like, ‘You sure? You want this?’ He gave me about 30 seconds to think if I wanted it; usually, I can sit with ’em. I said, ‘It’s cool.’ He said, ‘Man, I’m takin’ this, I’m gonna rap on it.’ He wrote the song in about 15 minutes.”
Could “Heard 'Em Say” have helped Be edge out Late Registration for Best Rap Album at the 2006 GRAMMYs? (“I always told Common, you gotta time the album out better. You can’t drop the same year as me, man,” Kanye joked while accepting the award—and beating out Common's Finding Forever—two years later). Who knows, but that song was always going to be amazing.
Nas, “We Gonna Make It”
It’s a running joke that Nas isn’t particularly great at picking beats. Just listen to Nastradamus, the retail version of I Am… and most of Stillmatic (sorry not sorry). Or you can just look to when he gave up The Alchemist’s “We Gonna Make It” beat, one of the greatest blends of soul and hip-hop committed to wax.
“I had the beat, I knew it was dope. I played it for Nas. He and Horse said it’s gonna be a solo song,” The Alchemist recalled. Two weeks later, Alc discovered that Nas had given the beat to Millennium Thug, but he understandably wanted a bigger name on his beat. “We Gonna Make It” eventually found its way to Jadakiss and Styles P, who spun gold out of Nas’ missed opportunity.
(Fun fact: Jay Z also turned down the “We Gonna Make It” beat, but it’s not like he was short of hits in 2001).
Jadakiss, “Jigga My N*gga”
Jadakiss didn’t really make a dent on the Billboard Hot 100 until 2004—with “Why” and “U Make Me Wanna,” which peaked at No. 11 and No. 21, respectively—but he could have achieved similar success a few years earlier. During a recent appearance on N.O.R.E.’s Drink Champs podcast, Swizz Beatz revealed that Jada passed on the beat that eventually became Jay Z’s Top 30 hit, “Jigga My N*gga.”
“Jada had 'Jigga' first,” Swizz said. “Listen to the record close: the original record was ‘Jaaaada,’ and he didn’t want it. Then ‘Jigga’ came out and we got into some words. [Kiss] didn’t drop a verse on that.” Jadakiss did eventually jump on the beat (and torched it, obviously) 16 years later, which only makes his missed opportunity all the more painful.
(Sidebar: During his Drink Champs interview, Swizz also revealed that T.I.’s “Bring ’Em Out” was originally meant for Beanie Sigel, while Eve passed on Busta Rhymes’ “Touch It.” And for that, we thank her).
Memphis Bleek, “Oh Boy”
Memphis Bleek was always one hit away—Jay Z said so himself on Kanye’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix).” Bleek didn’t exactly help himself when he passed on Just Blaze’s “Oh Boy” beat, though.
As payback for Jay Z stealing Cam’ron’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” beat, Juelz Santana jacked the “Oh Boy” instrumental (which was offered to Hov before Bleek) from Young Guru’s drive and subsequently turned it into a top 10 hit alongside Cam’ron. Jay actually recorded a remix of “Oh Boy,” but Cam made him delete it after he dissed Nas in his verse.
So yeah, “Oh Boy” has a bit of complicated history, but back to the original point: Cam’ron turned the beat into an unforgettable record, while Memphis Bleek dropped M.A.D.E., which featured precisely zero classics.
Diddy, “0 to 100”
Drake may not have dropped a project in 2014, but “0 to 100” kept his historic win streak going. The song went Platinum and got nominated for two GRAMMYs while becoming a part of hip-hop vernacular. Despite his own decorated history as a hit maker, however, Diddy couldn’t quite see the potential of Frank Dukes and Boi-1da’s beat. “He said it wasn’t life changing enough and that was that,” Dukes said.
That wasn’t quite the end of it, though: Diddy claimed he sent Drake the beat to ghostwrite the song for him, only Drake kept the beat for himself. Hands were thrown (allegedly) and ex-girls have been turned into next girls. Whether or not Puff’s claim was true, the fact of the matter remains: Drake made “0 to 100" a hit, while the best Diddy could muster was “Workin.”
Pusha T, “N*ggas In Paris”
From Pharrell and Swizz Beatz to Kanye West and Timbaland, Pusha T has some of the greatest producers of all time in his Rolodex. But that doesn’t always guarantee great songs. Before he and Jay Z turned Hit-Boy’s beat into a hit, boy, Kanye West gave Push first dibs on the “N*ggas In Paris” instrumental, but he turned it down. “Pusha said, ‘It sounds like a video game. Get that sh*t out of here!’” his manager, Steven Victor, said.
Of course, there’s no guarantee Pusha T would’ve been able to replicate Hov and Ye’s GRAMMY-winning, arena-filling success with the song, but his decision has probably kept him up a few nights. “You have to have that imagination sometime, and that’s something I’m learning,” Push said. “I’m so ready to rap and stuff that imagination don’t be kicking in.”
Fat Joe, “Candy Shop”
Contrary to what Wikipedia tells you, Fat Joe claims he co-produced “Candy Shop” alongside Scott Storch (which is surprising not least because Joey doesn’t have any other production credits to his name). However, after having topped the charts with “Lean Back,” Joey Crack decided to be selfless and let an eager 50 Cent have the beat. “Scott called me like 50 times, 100 times: ‘Yo, you sure you don’t want to use it? 50 Cent called me. 50 Cent want it,’” he said. “I never had a problem with this dude. I was like, ‘Go ahead.’”
Not only did Fat Joe miss out on the chance to have two back-to-back No. 1 singles—and further cement his legacy—he ended up getting dissed by 50 a few years later for appearing on Ja Rule’s “New York” (“That fat n*gga thought ‘Lean Back’ was ‘In Da Club’ / My shit sold 11 mill, his shit was a dud,” he rapped on “Piggy Bank”).
D12, “In Da Club”
Despite being best known for playful hits like “Purple Pills” and “My Band,” D12 could still turn a Dr. Dre beat into a hardbody hit (see: “Fight Music”). Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with “In Da Club.” Unsure of how to approach the record, Eminem’s band passed on Dre and Mike Elizondo’s sizzling beat, which a then-up-and-coming 50 Cent used to cement himself as hip-hop’s hottest—and hardest—new star. Bizarre spoofed “In Da Club” in the hilarious video for D12’s “My Band,” but you know what they say: sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.