While singles like OutKast's "The Way You Move" and J-Kwon's "Tipsy" (yeah, you remember that one) were dominating the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2004, there was another single sitting amongst the top 10 by the name of "Breathe," off Fabolous' 2004 album Real Talk. Although it wasn't Fab's biggest commercial hit, "Breathe" is best known for its title-appropriate metaphors, easy-to-sing-along-with sample, and overall New York feel.
The Fabolous and Just Blaze collaboration will be turning the big 1-0 on August 31, hitting the first decade of its existence. Just Blaze spoke with HipHopDX and shared how the beat was made on a "slow" day in the studio and organically found its right lyrical match. As the mega producer shares his story, you'll learn about ridiculously extra out-of-pocket expenses made to release the single to the public, but as soon as the Brooklyn rapper begins the countdown — "One and then the two / Two and then the three / Three and then the four / Then you gotta breathe" — it's clear that the gamble turned out to be worthwhile.
Just Blaze Was Bored When He Made The Beat
I remember when I made it, I was just bored. It was a slow day. Well, what actually had happened was, I had come across that sample a couple of years before, and my assistant at the time, he dabbled in producing and deejaying a little bit — but that's not what he did for a living — but he had a great ear for music, and he's also a very good friend of mine aside from working for me. So we would just talk about music all the time, and then one day he… I wanna say we were talking on AIM, on instant messenger at like 6 in the morning, and he sends me the song, and I'm like, "Oh, I remember this, I always liked this song." The next day we were in the studio, and there was absolutely nothing going on. I was kinda there just to be there. So I made the beat, and then to be honest, forgot about it, and didn't think anything of it.
Fabolous, Jay Z and Just Blaze Are Very "Nonchalant" Guys
A couple weeks later, Fab came down to the studio and I was playing him some stuff, but nothing was really connecting, and then I pulled that up and he was like, "Yeah, let me get that one." And you know Fab is a very nonchalant guy. He's kinda like me, and also kinda like Jay in that way in that they don't express much. So he took it and I kinda just felt like at the time he took it just to take it, just to have something to take.
Fabolous & His Camp Thought The Sample Said "Breathe"
Maybe like a week later, his manager at the time, Cheo [Green], just starts emailing me like crazy like, "Yo we need to mix this Fab record like now." I’m like, "What are you talking about?" And he's like, "The 'Breathe' record," and I'm like, "What 'Breathe' record? What are you talking about?" He's like, "You didn't hear?" and I'm like, "No." They come by the studio, I think it was Duro, who was one of Fab's executive producers, comes by and plays it for me. I'm just like, "Oh, wow. But what's with the the weird spaces?" And they're like, "Well it's saying 'breathe.'" And I'm like, "No it's not. It's not saying anything." I chopped up that sample to a lot of pieces and there was a part where the guy that was singing, there was a "eee" in it, so they thought that he was saying "breathe," and I'm like, no he's not; that's just some guy saying "eee."
Just Blaze Sang "Breathe" On His Own Instrumental
So then I'm like, "You want this to say 'breathe'?" And they're like, "Yeah, it does." And I'm like "No, it doesn't; it's just 'eee,' and nobody's gonna know why there's these spaces there." So I went in the booth, that's actually me saying the "breathe" parts. I just went in the booth and sang "breathe," and kinda made it sound like a sample, and plugged that in.
Timing For The Single Was Perfect
I knew it was good — but I said this in an interview earlier, sometimes it almost doesn't matter what we think is good, obviously you wanna be confident in work, and put your best foot forward, and believe in your art and all that crap — but ultimately it's the public that really decides it. And it's also a matter of timing involved where...I think with that record, the public gravitated towards it not only because it was good, but you had never really heard Fab on such a hard record like that, and there was nothing else that sounded like it at the time. One of the analogies I always use is, if Jay's Blueprint had come out five years before, or five years after, would we be calling it a classic? We wouldn't. And that has no standing on whether or not the album is good, or the song is good. It's about what's happening in the musical environment, that it existed.
"Breathe" As A New York Hip Hop Anthem
So when The Blueprint came out, there was no soulful — everything was really keyboard driven, was synthesized, very electronic — it wasn't a lot of that gritty soul music in Hip Hop at that particular time. We've had it before. We've had it with Wu-Tang, we've had it with the digging in the crates era, but we never had it at that particular time. So when it came out, it made an impact. Same thing with "Breathe." We hadn't really had a really hard New York Hip Hop record like that that still found a way to be catchy in quite a few years probably since that Blueprint era, so that record captured the moment in time where all of a sudden the sound changed. And we thought it was good but the people are the ones who determine if it's gonna be great.
Supertramp Wanted $100K To Clear Sample
The other thing about that is that I sampled Supertramp, which is classic '70s Rock, and a lot of people in that era, they didn't take to Hip Hop too well, so most of them didn't clear the samples, and they definitely didn't wanna clear "Breathe." So when we submitted it, they came back and said, "We want 100 grand, and we want all the publishing," so we came back like "Ok, fine." And they really threw that number at us just because they expected us to say no. 'Cause who's gonna pay 100 grand for a sample? The average sample does not cost anywhere near that much. A sample, you're usually looking at maybe five to 10 grand as an advance, and a certain amount of the publishing. Usually anywhere from 30 to 50 percent depending on the publisher. These guys came back like, "Hey, we want 100 grand," laughing, figuring we were gonna say no. By that point, we knew the record had something special to it, so we were like, "Alright, yeah. Here's your 100 grand."
"Breathe" Was Almost Not Used As A Single
Then the lawyer comes back, "You can't use it as a single. You can only use it as an album track." We're like, "We're paying you guys 100 grand to use this. We want the right to use it as a single." So then they're like, "In that case, we want another $5,000." So I'm sure that was probably another lawyer trying to pay his mortgage and car payments in a month by tagging on that extra $5,000.
Just Blaze Never Made Any Money Off "Breathe"
I never made any money off of "Breathe," with the exception of the money I got paid to make the track, which I don't know how much it was. Decent amount, but in terms of residuals or royalties or anything like that, nothing was made. It was used for a movie trailer last year and the year before. All that money went back to Supertramp, we got nothing from it.
It Was All Worth It
But it's fine, because it's a balancing act. It's one of those things where you take the loss on the residuals or royalties, but you have a hot record out and shows and tour off of it, so even though you lose one revenue stream, you gain another.
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