How Jay Z and Hot 97 Combined Forces to Take Over Hip-Hop
FROM PITCHFORK By:Thomas Golianopoulos
In the ’90s, the alliance between New York’s most influential rap radio station and the ultimate hustler paid off handsomely for both.
Funkmaster Flex is a gifted storyteller. When asked about meeting Jay Z in the mid 1990s, the legendary Hot 97 DJ must first set the scene. “I want you to imagine Puff and Big and Bad Boy shining bright as hell, like nothing else moving,” Flex’s tale begins. “Roc-A-Fella, Dame Dash, and Jay Z were outcasts.”
At the time, Jay Z was best known for his cameo on his mentor Jaz-O’s goofy 1989 single “Hawaiian Sophie.” On most of his early records, Jay didn’t stand out lyrically and rhymed in double-time flows with an unearned confidence. Like some rap fans, Flex, who just happened to be the most influential DJ on the most influential rap radio station in the world, was unimpressed. “I had no faith in Jay Z,” he says. “I did not think he was going to be a hill of beans.”
Still, Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash hounded Flex whenever they crossed paths. “You know you’re f*cking sleeping, right?” Dash would tell him. He never asked Flex for his opinion on the music. “He spoke to me like a loan shark,” Flex remembers. “It was like, ‘Bro, this is going to f*cking happen—whether you’re on board is going to be your f*cking choice.’”
Jay Z, of course, did happen. Within five years he was the most popular rapper in the world not named Eminem. He now has 13 No. 1 albums, the most among solo artists, and has won 21 Grammys. Dubbing him the best rapper of all time is a matter of opinion; calling him the most accomplished rapper of all time is a matter of fact. Dash was wrong about one thing though: Flex and Hot 97 ended up playing a huge part in Jay Z’s rise.
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