In the 1990s, Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige were two New York natives on a mission to break into the music industry. By the time Jay-Z released his debut album Reasonable Doubt in 1996, Blige had already been crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul thanks to her iconic albums What’s the 411? and My Life.
Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z teamed up for the song ‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’
In the mid-1990s, Jay-Z was a Brooklyn-bred rapper following in the footsteps of The Notorious B.I.G. He released his debut album Reasonable Doubt in 1996.
One of the album’s singles was “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” a collaboration with Mary J. Blige. It’s the album’s opening track, and introduced the world to Jay-Z and his lifestyle right off the bat
Blige was already one of the hottest new singers of the moment at the time, so it’s no surprise that Jay-Z wanted to have her featured on a song.
Jay-Z paid Mary J. Blige with a paper bag full of cash
Blige took up the opportunity to work with the young rapper. She looked back on the recording process in a 2022 interview on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning.
It’s such a raggedy process,” she laughed as she recounted the story. “This was during the My Life album and I was just straight on drugs and alcohol. And I got a call from my girlfriend, who knew [Roc-a-Fella co-founder] Dame Dash, and Dame Dash wanted to try to get in touch with me.”
“She said he has this artist by the name of Jay-Z who wants you on a record. And I said, ‘O.K. Let me go see what’s up,’” she continued. “I went. They had the money in a brown paper bag, 10 grand. I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ Went into the booth, sang the song, and was out.”