The Story Behind Ice Cube's "Jackin' For Beats"
By Alec Banks
When people think of sampling, they tend to imagine a producer unearthing a dusty piece of vinyl from a different genre and giving birth to what will become the basis of countless Hip-Hop classics. Roy C's "Impeach the President" is a perfect example of how a singular song can completely shape the trajectory of Hip-Hop.
The rise of mixtape culture — as well as tried-and-true remixes — allowed for instances in which MC's could leverage the strength and foundation of a beat that already existed. While some may view it as an homage, others might take it as a slight.
Ice Cube's "Jackin' For Beats" remains one of the most interesting songs in Hip-Hop history just as he was establishing himself in a post N.W.A landscape. While Amerikka's Most Wanted showcased that his bars didn't fall apart without Dr. Dre's production, "Jackin For Beats" revealed that he clearly had a chip on his shoulder.
Produced by Sir Jinx, the song builds upon actual Hip-Hop songs like "Call Me D-Nice" by D-Nice, "So Wat Cha Sayin'" by EPMD, "Welcome to the Terrordome" by Public Enemy, "The Humpty Dance" by Digital Underground, "Big Ole Butt" by LL COOL J, and "Heed the Word of the Brother" by X-Clan.
The concept of taking another artists beat was already gestating in Ice Cube's mind. He and Sir Jinx frequented the Roadium Swap Meet where merchants like Steve Yano had created a mini-empire selling CD's and cassettes of upstart MC's looking to get a record deal.
Steven Yano was a former high school guidance counselor who was among the few pushing hip-hop cassettes in the ‘80s at the Roadium because many thought it was a fleeting trend. He was fascinated not only with the music, but also who was producing it. As the origin story goes, Yano was the one who ended up connecting Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. He trusted Eazy’s instincts when it came to deciding what would move off his shelves, and in turn, Eazy listened when Yano suggested he speak to Dr. Dre.
Since many of these upstart artists didn't have access to original beats, they were forced to use songs they could get off the radio.
"That was kind of my process [at the beginning] — trying to get ahold of the beats that I like and writing rhymes over them," Ice Cube says. "That was the origin of songs like "Jackin' for Beats." "It was all beats that I loved that year that I wanted to rap on,"
No matter if you're trying to secure a James Brown sample, or clearing an obscure pan flute sound from an artist who only pressed 50 copies, there is usually a hefty price to pay. In the case of "Jackin For Beats," Jinx illustrates just how exorbitant it was.
"'Jackin For Beats' is probably the most expensive publishing song in rap history," he says. They wanted 150 percent of the publishing! How do you get 150% out of 100%?"
Ice Cube doubled down on Jinx's assessment.
"Wait a minute, this song is actually costing me money to do," he says."That song becomes a reason why you don't sample as much anymore. It wasn't cost efficient."
It was obviously a problem. While many artists might have sacrificed the song because of the sheer price tag it would entail to clear it, Cube and Jinx weren't ready to let it hit the cutting room floor.
The song appeared on the Kill At Will EP. In order to satisfy the various parties, they sold off all the publishing to the remixes for songs like "Endangered Species" and "I Gotta Say What Up!!!" and cleared the samples for the "Humpty Dance" and "Big Ole Butt."
While the track was intended to honor the beats that Ice Cube loved, there was one negative byproduct of the song. D-Nice thought it was an intentional diss, but Cube assured him that it was an homage.
"It's all love, it's all love,'" Cube told him. "He understood. Once [people] hear Public Enemy on it, they know, 'Okay, it's done in a clever way.' It's not done in a way where I'm trying to take something from somebody. EPMD...they knew that was love because I went on tour with them. One day I jumped on the bus and rode up and down California with them. We were just tight like that. At the time, 'Jackin'' was really a West Coast term, so I was like, 'Hopefully we can get away with without people thinking I'm actually trying to Gaf somebody for their music.'"