Contributors of ‘The Black Album’ Speak

Legends reflect on a legend.



Gloria Carter
“December 4th”
Shawn Corey Carter,
You have touched lives and have helped young people achieve their full potential. Keep doing what you do, so proud!
Your mom,
Gloria Carter

Just Blaze
Producer: “Interlude”, “December 4th”, “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)”
The Black Album, along with Fade to Black was a career defining period of time for me personally and professionally. From going through the process of recording and putting the album together, to performing it just weeks later at Madison Square Garden was beyond surreal. And then, to top it off, “PSA” (which almost never happened) ended up becoming one of the highlights of that night.  Everyone in the audience knew every word and was losing their minds. I wasn’t surprised, but I was in awe and stunned regardless. For me, the fact that it went on to become one of his hallmark songs is a blessing, but it’s also a testament to the synergy and energy we created in the culture at that time.

Mix Engineer: “What More Can I Say”
I didn’t realize how far into the project JAY was. I had reached out to Lenny S and he told me they were pretty much done. So I hit Hov directly and said, “There is no way this is your last album and I’m not a part of it.” The next day I was at Right Track in Studio B mixing “What More Can I Say.”

Additional Vocals: “Encore”
When we did “Encore” I was off that good green and a lil Hennessy. We were watching some Blaxploitation, Superfly-type film. I was doing impressions of some divine pimpin’ for the ladies in the studio and Ye was like, “Speak that on this record.” Over Kanye’s phenomenal production, I channeled some ’70s pimpin’ and enthusiasm and made the people say, “Hova, Hova, Hova!” It was rewarding as this album was one of two Grammy-nominated albums I worked on that year. Love to JAY, Ye, John Legend, Dame and Biggs for the opportunity as we made history! A lot of people never knew that Don C, Ibn Jasper, Ye, John Legend and myself were the crowd saying, “Hova, Hova, Hova!” When it came out and I heard my voice acting on a JAY-Z record, I looked to the sky and said, “Mama I made it!” #ism!

Producer: “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
JAY challenges me to create great music that matches his masterful flow. The session for “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” was no different, but as soon as everyone heard that beat, the energy exploded and we knew it was going to be a big one.

9th Wonder
Producer: “Threat”
The album and the placement that changed my career. I learned so much from the session. Probably the biggest thing I learned is that I was working with the Greatest Rapper of All Time….

Cedric The Entertainer
Additional Vocals: “Threat”
I was in the studio listening to JAY and he was recording the album and working on the song “Threat.” I had actually tried to pitch him an idea from Beverly Hills Cop, like, “Is this the man who did this and that for hip-hop?” He was like, “Yo that’s funny, but I need something that’s like threats; that’s almost like a mad rapper.” He left and I was in the studio with Guru and started recording all these ideas, never thinking I was going to make the album. He called me a little while later and told me I made it. It was exciting, and so that’s how I made The Black Album. It was dope.

Producer: “Moment of Clarity”
This was one of the first times I produced a track for someone other than myself. And I didn’t appear on it, so I think it’s kind of a “secret collab.” Jay blacked the fuck out. He always makes classic albums, but The Black Album is on another level.

Joe “3H” Weinberger
Co-Producer: “My 1st Song”
Lenny S., Hop, Gee and the GOAT all deserve the props. Aqua and I were kids and we were chosen, rather selected to be a part of greatness. My first song. Say no more. Out!

Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua
This was my last time working with JAY-Z and it was supposed to be his last album. It was a bucket list album. The Black Album was something he always wanted to do and we had a producer wishlist that had every hip-hop great mixed with some of our go-to producers. It turned more into a victory lap when everybody found out it was his last album. This led to songs like “What More Can I Say” and “Encore.” A lot of the producers we wanted didn’t pan out, but we did do “99 Problems” with Rick Rubin, which might not have happened if we didn’t create this big wishlist, so it all worked out in the end.

Lenny Santiago
A&R, Photography
Working on The Black Album was one of the best experiences of my career. Personally, to see my favorite artist working alongside some of my favorite producers was surreal to me. Just Blaze, Ye, Pharrell, Timbo, etc. “Threat” helped launch 9th Wonder’s amazing career. Rick Rubin snapped on there. It has my (personal) favorite JAY-Z song of life… “PSA”!  It was supposed to be JAY’s last album before retirement and I felt like (at the time) he treated it as such. He put his all into it and a masterpiece was made. So it was an honor to be a part of it and capture a few cool moments.

Jonathan Mannion, Photographer

“I’m so far ahead of my time, I’m ’bout to start another life/Look behind you, I’m ’bout to pass you twice.” – JAY Z

The period from 1996 to 2003 was most certainly one of JAY Z’s “Lifetimes” with Reasonable Doubt kicking off his journey and The Black Album album marking his retirement. “Grand Opening, Grand Closing.” I admire Jay’s mastery of craft and his ability to always make people discover the new portal into his creativity.

It was an honor to achieve the visuals for Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, and Vol. 2…, Dynasty, The Blueprint and The Black Album over those seven years. It is an indelible visual association with one of the greatest runs in music history establishing Shawn Carter as a true legend. One would have to look to the relationship of Neil Leifer with Muhammad Ali for an appropriate parallel of loyalty and synergy between artists. These were truly important photographs for hip-hop and, without a doubt, in my career.

As we celebrate the 15 year anniversary of the release of The Black Album, I congratulate JAY for his clear and perfectly articulated vision. Also, I salute all of the talented people who contributed valuable puzzle pieces to JAY’s journey. He is held high by those who admire his masterful craft, especially on this heartfelt album.

One of the most interesting facts about this image on the cover is that it was actually an image achieved during The Blueprint session. We were so far ahead of our time that we had the cover completed two albums prior to The Black Album’s’ release. Images were created for The Black Album, but, I feel that in JAY’s mind, he already had what he needed, so the pressure was off. Creatively, he wanted an all black album cover, with nothing on it, pure blackness. Def Jam and I pushed to achieve some accompanying images to see if we could top that repurposed image from The Blueprint, but there was something magical about THAT image that was graphically created that spoke to everyone. It is a timeless classic.

I tip my hat to one of the most magnificent artists to ever do it!

Gee Roberson
#23, 45 Points, 5.2 seconds, in stereo.


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