Just Blaze is responsible for producing some of the most memorable Jay Z songs in his catalog, from “Girls, Girls, Girls” to “Public Service Announcement” to “Show Me What You Got.” This week, however, the New Jersey-based producer is in the news for his contribution to Beyoncé’s universally praised sixth studio album, Lemonade. Linking up with Bey for the first time in his illustrious career, Just Blaze is credited with “Freedom,” the righteous collaboration between Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar, and lent a hand on multiple other tracks within the 12-song opus.
Days after Lemonade was spilled on Saturday night (April 23), Just Blaze talked to Fuse about the album release, the visual component of the full-length, Beyoncé’s creative process and the widespread speculation that the album details Jay Z’s infidelities:
FUSE: What’s been the most surprising thing that’s happened to you over the past few days?
JUST BLAZE: I guess just the actual arrival of the album! I mean, I had some ideas as to what the plans were, but I didn’t know the specific timing. I knew there was the HBO show happening, but I didn’t know there was going to be a full-on reveal with the album release right after. It’s one of those things where you’re sitting on a song for a while, you know it’s a great record, and you’re just waiting for the public to get their hands on it to see if they love it as much as you do. So aside from the actual surprise of the premiere, I guess the most surprising thing for me was not just the positive reaction [to ‘Freedom’], but the overwhelmingly positive reaction. It’s always a good feeling! I knew it would do well—I mean, it’s Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. But the amount of love that I’ve gotten, no matter how many times that’s happen to me before, it’s a surprise every time.
When did Beyoncé first approach you about working on this project?
I honestly don’t remember. I know she and I had a conversation around the time that Jay did the Tidal shows at Terminal 5 in New York [in May 2015]. We were at rehearsals, and she approached me then. But you know, it’s one of those things where you have certain artists that you always run into because you have mutual friends and relationships—so you have that thing where it’s like, ‘Oh, we have to work together some time!’ But at the Tidal show, she didn’t approach me through Jay or anything like that. She came to me herself and was like, ‘I’m ready.’ A few months after that, I started getting phone calls that were like, ‘Hey, she’s ready to go. Let’s get in the studio.’ I want to say that we started really getting down to business seven, eight months ago.
When the wheels started turning, what was the creative process like, in terms of the songwriting and the overall vision of the song?
It was pretty organic and quick, actually. She had a demo already started, and she called me and said something like, ‘This record has to be produced by you.’ I heard the demo and said, ‘I know what you mean!’ She had the basic arrangement and the sample, and some vocals. I took all of those elements back home, and worked on them for a few days, tried a few things out, and I had two guys that I collaborate with as well—Canei Finch [credited with additional piano on the song] and Myles William [credited with additional programming]—after I had my basic framework done, I had them come in and do some instrumental stuff on it to flesh it out. … It came together really quickly. It’s a classic-sounding Just Blaze record as it is, so it wasn’t one of those things where I had to break my head to get it to where it needed to be.
“"She really is there from beginning to end, going over every detail of the vision that she wants to get across."”
It was really interesting to see how “Freedom” was used within the visual component of the album. Did you have any input into that?
No, that was all her. One thing I will say is that, when she sets up shop and goes into the studio, it’s like a situation room. There are plans posted everywhere, and she’s got her visual inspirations all on one wall. When you see ‘Visuals Produced By Beyoncé,’ she’s not an artist who slaps her name on something because she can. She really is there from beginning to end, going over every detail of the vision that she wants to get across. That was all her.
You and Kendrick have worked together before, but this is the first time you and Beyoncé have worked together before, right?
Yes, I think this is probably the first time she and I have directly worked on something together. We’ve been in the studio together before, like when Jay is cutting a record and she was doing a background vocal on it, but in terms of full-on working on a record together, yes.
That has to be a pretty special career moment for you.
It totally is. We had talked about it a few times in the past, and it didn’t happen. But a lot of these pivotal career moments tend to happen when they’re supposed to. Going back to Recovery, the Eminem album I worked on extensively, they had been trying to get me into the studio with him since he started working on his second album, and every time it didn’t work out, for one reason or another. And I’m glad it didn’t, because when we finally connected in 2010 for Recovery, it was just that much more impactful. It was kind of the same thing with this—had [Beyoncé and I] connected beforehand, we might not have gotten the same result as we did with this. It was perfect timing.
You and Jay have worked extensively together, and you’ve known both Jay and Beyoncé for a very long time, so I’m curious what your reaction has been to the theme of the album and the public reaction and analysis of some of the lyrics.
To be honest, I don’t really have any thoughts on it. Here’s the thing: If she’s telling a true-life narrative and this is her way of expressing her feelings about it, great. If not, it’s still a great piece of art, regardless. Because I worked on a few songs on the album in various other ways, and probably heard maybe three or four other songs on the album [before its release], I was hearing some of these vocals that she’s writing and could say, ‘All right, there’s a common theme here.’ I didn’t know the overarching theme, but I could definitely get a sense of where she was going with it.
I know both of them, and I’m not going to get in their personal business to that degree. I’m not going to call her and say, ‘Are you doing what I think you’re doing?’ I’m not going to call him and be like, ‘Did you do something?’ It’s not my business—I’m here to make great records.
It’s one of those things where you’ll probably never get the full story. I mean, the visual album ends with them laying in bed together! Whether or not that’s something that they went through, I know that that’s something that a lot of couples can relate to—fidelity and other problems in a marriage, and at the end of the day, they work it out and figure it out. I guess they’re giving us a glimpse into the fact that they, too, very well may be human. At the same time, I know for a fact that Jay has rapped certain songs from a perspective of people that he knows, or friends that he knows, or people in certain situations. This could very well be her way of doing that—maybe she had a friend work through this. I don’t know.