Jay-Z recently spoke to MTV News about his famous recording sessions which bypass the normal writing process. Instead, Hova mulls over lines strictly in his head before stepping into the booth to spit a complete song from memorization. Although many of today’s hottest artists look up to Jay and admire his unique way of manifesting lyrics, he joked to MTV News last week saying, “I’ve inspired a generation of bad writers.”
But contrary to the legend that Jay never has taken a pen to pad, the iconic rapper revealed that he actually did so for “Can I Live,” on his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt.
“What happened was, I was doing that song with someone else, and they heard the first verse and they was like, ‘Man, you take that song. Finish it, ’cause it sounds like you got a lot more to say,’ “ Jay explained. “So I just wanted to get it down quick, I didn’t want to keep going over it. It was like [the album] mastering time, so I just sat down in the booth and wrote that [verse].”
According to Murder Inc‘s Irv Gotti, who produced the track, the song was supposed to be a collaboration between Jay and a member of the rap group Original Flavor. Gotti believed Nas was also set to appear on the track, but after the OF member passed on the guest appearance, Jay decided to finish the song solo.
“From what I remember, he actually didn’t write the full verse,” Gotti wrote in an e-mail to MTV. “But since the verse was so long, he wrote a few words down, and that made him remember the whole verse.”
Although Jay has gone years turning out mega-hit songs with no rough drafts on paper, he admitted the notion of actually penning lyrics does still appeal to him. He wanted to write down lyrics for The Black Album, which he believed was going to be his final contribution to Hip Hop as an artist, but he couldn’t seem to shake the process that he’s made so famous.
“It just felt better [the way I do it now],” Jay said. “In my mind, I said, ‘OK, I’m gonna sit down and I’mma just write it and really do this thing a certain way.’ But your natural process is your process. It’s difficult to go back to what you was doing when you was 15, 16 years old. My process is different now. It sounds great on paper, like ‘I’mma sit down, I’m going to write the entire album like I did before.’ But once you get back in the studio and you’ve been doing this process for years and years now, so it just felt natural to do it the way I’ve been doing it: no paper, no pen, just listen to the music.”