As the art world goes crazy and the rap world goes “meh” for Magna Carta Holy Grail, here’s a very special Jay-Z edition of Sample Wars. “Crown,” one of that album’s standouts, was produced by a 16-year-old girl named Wondagurl, and used a sample from Sizzla’s 2006 dancehall classic “Solid as a Rock” –also reworked for 50 cent’s “My Crown” last year.
“Solid as a Rock,” Sizzla, 2006 (sample appears at :18): “Solid as a Rock” released in 2006 on Sizzla’s international audience-courting The Overstanding, is a reworking of a track the vocalist released four years earlier on Da Real Thing. The Dame Dash-funded production gives Sizzla an impossibly lush, loping backdrop over which to do his thing, chatting melodically about the resilience of his Rastafari faith.
“Crown,” Jay-Z, produced by WondaGurl, (sample appears at :00): To hear WondaGurl tell it, she crafted this monster of a beat after hearing “Solid as a Rock,” sent it to Travi$ Scott, with whom she’d collaborated in the past, and hoped Scott and perhaps Pusha T would get on it. Then she got a text from Scott that said “I’m about to change your life.” A few days later, she learned the beat would appear on MCHG. And yes, this thing is a monster–bassy and menacing, it feels something like a halfway point between Mike Will Made It’s super-shiny underwater club music and the dark, industrial-inflected sounds of Yeezus and Scott’s own Owl Pharaoh.
“My Crown,” 50 Cent, produced by Focus…, (sample appears at :00): 50 Cent’s track takes a much more traditional approach to sampling “Solid as a Rock” than Jay-Z’s, pitching up the refrain and playing it back straight for the hook. 50 has proved to be a surprisingly reliable, workmanlike rapper since his salad days, and that’s as true as ever here, especially when he shifts into double-time on the second verse. The beat, by industry lifer Focus…, is similarly no-bullshit, providing a strong pocket for 50 to ride and getting out of the way.
The Verdict: “Crown” is perhaps the grandest moment on an album full of grand moments (yes, there are plenty of songs that aim higher, but many of them fall flat). WondaGurl is an enormous talent (she produced this thing in FL Studio, for Christ’s sake), with plenty of room to grown. While lesser producers would be content with the enormous beat she brought for the tracks verses, she does them one better, adding a layer of dubby weirdness thanks to the excellently-placed Sizzla sample.