‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ Behind The Scenes: Five Producers Who Helped Craft The Album
Name: Jerome “J. Roc” Harmon
Repping: Fort Worth, Texas
Biggest Hits: Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” and Timbaland’s “Say Something”
MCHG Tracks: “Holy Grail,” “Picasso Baby,” “Tom Ford,” “F.U.T.W.,” “Heaven,” “Versus,” “Part II (On The Run),” “Jay Z Blue” and “La Familia”
Contribution: “‘Holy Grail’ was written by Dream and JT. Dream had an idea that he was just kinda startin’ on, and that was the first track that Jay really gave us specifics on how he wanted it to sound because of the material that he was rapping about. So we took his notes and really dove in it, and really dissected it to make it more [dramatic]. If you listen to it, it’s very descriptive; you can really visualize what he’s talking about without seeing a video, and that’s kind of what we wanted—we wanted it to be more visual, but through the mind. Me and Tim, we just took it from there and came up with an idea to keep it full of drama, but as minimal or spaced out as possible. That’s all live instruments, a lot of live instruments to really kind of depict that emotion for Justin. [If] on the album you want to hear everything programmed in, and then you throw a band in, it’s like hodgepodge, it’s too much. So we try to keep it consistent. What we do in the studio can be well-translated live.
“‘Picasso Baby,’ man, that’s just New York. That’s after being there for a couple weeks and you really feeling New York, you know what I mean? Pre-9/11, I thought I was from New York—and I’m from freakin’ Fort Worth Texas [Laughs]—’cause I just loved that New York sound, and all of a sudden it just got lost after 9/11. So being back up there, we were really just feeling the city, the energy that it gives out, just walking around you hear numerous different cultures and different dialects or sounds or the freakin’ trash guy, everything has rhythm. So we just wanted to bring the essence of New York, because New York’s been asleep too long. Let’s wake it up. We have much respect for New York artists down here in the South, and it’s reciprocated, ’cause when I come to New York I hear nothin’ but South. I don’t want to feel like I’m home, I want to feel like I’m in another land bringing the sound back home. And that’s where we came up with that. Just pure New York; we wanted to bring that pure aggressiveness back.
“‘Tom Ford’ is turn up, man, keep it turned up! That’s straight club, man, I wanna hear that in the strip club, I wanna hear it down in LIIV in Miami, you know? You know what we did? We bought us a disco light. [Laughs] We did. Disco lights, put em in the studio. We wanted to get the vibe of being in the club, ’cause a lot of times we work so hard, we don’t hardly get out to listen and hear what DJs are spinnin’ or what girls are dancin’ to because we’re so busy trying to create those moments. So we have to create those moments for people to feel that. So we had a disco ball we put in there, we just turned it up, man, we just went for it.
“Man, Jay is the best rapper alive, that’s all I can say. He’s really subliminally educating young people and brothers and sisters about how to really go after whatever your passion is. And the undertone of the music [on ‘F.U.T.W.’] is almost like a lullaby, but it hypnotizes you to pay attention to the lyrics, so there’s not that much moving or going on music-wise, it’s just repetitive, consistent, and it just, psychologically, locks you in to what he’s saying. Some stuff will go over some people’s heads, but after that third or fourth listen they’ll get it. And it’s really just uplifting and encouraging people, don’t just try to be good at what you do, you have to be great. There’s a lot of people out there who are just as good as you, but what does it take for you to be the elite? It takes sacrifice, it takes work, it takes sometimes you have to leave family behind, but whatever it is you’re going after you have to go after it full-fledged. So you know, if you’re good, you can fuck up the world.
“Most of the time when he’s writing his lyrics on one track, we’ve already started on two or three more. He’ll just walk in the room and he’ll hear it and the concept comes right to him. Whatever he hears music-wise, it strikes up a conversation for him in his mind. He has a conversation with himself all the time, and that’s how his lyrics come out. It’s right there in front of you—you just be trackin’ and all of a sudden you see him rubbin’ his head, makin’ that “Ooooooh” sound, and then he’ll be like, “Yo!” and he’ll start spitting some stuff, and right in the middle of us working on the track he’ll be like, “Stop stop stop,” and he’ll walk in and just come in with the coldest line you ever heard. And you know, you say that about every song, “that’s the coldest line ever!” but when does that stop? [Laughs] So yeah that’s kinda how it just happened, we were working on a beat and [‘F.U.T.W.’] just came up.