Erick Sermon Used a Karaoke Machine to Make a Hit Out of a Just Blaze Beat
How an early Just Blaze production sat on the shelf for years, turned into a hit through an Erick Sermon and Redman karaoke recording, and sparked a conversation about sampling ethics.
Several years before Erick Sermon’s single “React” spent four months on the Billboard Hot 100, the song “Chandhi Ka Badan” from the 1963 film Taj Mahal caught Just Blaze’s ear as a potential sample source. He was especially drawn to the vocals of Meena Kapoor, a successful Indian playback singer for several Hindi films during the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Feeling like the sample might need an added element not found in the original recording, he brought in an unnamed vocalist to re-sing it. After having the vocals re-sung and producing the beat that eventually turned into “React,” Blaze sat on the record for a bit.
A little while later opportunity came knocking when an A & R requested some Just Blaze instrumentals for an upcoming Redman album. Remembering that he had a very unique beat sitting on his shelf collecting dust, Blaze thought Reggie Noble could be a good fit for his unused creation and decided to pass it along. Though the Redman collaboration didn’t happen, the A & R called back two years later and indicated that Jermaine Dupri wanted to purchase his production.
The two artists sent each other a slew of emails and tried to work out an arrangement, but Dupri couldn’t quite bring himself to pull the trigger and buy the beat. For some reason, he had difficulty visualizing what the hook should sound like. Blaze once again resigned himself to the fact that his instrumental would remain unused for the time being.
“They had a cassette and recorded the record on a Karaoke machine. That’s what went up to the radio. Then, they sent me the Pro Tools files to mix the record.”
Then, out of the blue, he saw an email from famed radio DJ Angie Martinez in his inbox a short time later. When he opened it up, a perplexed Blaze read on as Martinez raved about his new record with Erick Sermon, saying that she and DJ Enuff had played it four consecutive times. “I was like, ‘What do you mean? I’ve never met Eric Sermon in my life,’” Blaze told Complex in a 2011 interview.
Minutes after receiving the confusing email from Martinez, Blaze’s inbox was flooded with congratulations and praise from people around the industry — and he still had no clue what any of them were talking about. Eventually someone contacted him with some helpful intel. “A manager hits me like, ‘So, Eric Sermon just did a record to a beat of yours that he found. And J Records wants to pay for it immediately,’” Blaze told Complex.
According to Blaze, Sermon was working on his React album at the time and wasn’t 100% happy with any of the potential singles. During a studio session, Redman pulled out a tape with the Just Blaze beat his A & R had obtained years before and it caught his friend’s ear. Smitten with the ultra-energetic instrumental, Sermon decided to lay down some verses with his Def Squad collaborator.
“It was one of those instances where, when you’re mixing and you take it apart and put it back together, you lose that initial spark that was there when you made the beat.”
For reasons that aren’t quite clear based on available interviews and articles, Sermon and Redman decided to record over Just Blaze’s beat with a rather odd setup. “They had a cassette and recorded the record on a Karaoke machine,” Blaze told Complex. “That’s what went up to the radio. Then, they sent me the Pro Tools files to mix the record.”
As often seems to be the case in stories like this, when Blaze later tried to mix the song professionally it lost some of the energy and rawness that made the original special. “It was one of those instances where, when you’re mixing and you take it apart and put it back together, you lose that initial spark that was there when you made the beat,” he told Complex.
According to Blaze, Erick Sermon and J Records did not like the newer, polished mix and asked him to master the original. After a bit of back forth, Blaze conceded and mastered the original karaoke machine version. “That’s what went out to the radio, and that’s what made the album,” he told Complex.
“It just goes to show that sometimes you don’t have to over-mix and over-think a record. Sometimes that initial spontaneous spark is what matters.”
Once the record caught fire on the radio in late 2002 and early 2003, “React” sparked some controversy for its use of a Hindi chorus that Just Blaze didn’t know the original meaning of. According to a 2003 Village Voice article, Meena Kapoor’s singing translates to, “If someone wants to commit suicide, so what can you do?” Sermon’s response of, “Whatever she said, then I’m that,” struck some people in the Indian community as tone-deaf. Blaze’s sampling of Kapoor — along with a larger trend of producers repurposing Indian music in singles like Truth Hurts’ “Addictive” — raised some debate around the ethics of sampling and cultural appropriation.
There are no easy answers to questions of sampling ethics, as “React” is far from the first record to take a vocal sample and completely flip it on its head. That said, Just Blaze and Erick Sermon’s collaboration is a unique case. The original meaning of “Chandhi Ka Badan” should at least give the listener pause when considering how the sample was repurposed.
Even in light of the controversy surrounding the song’s sample source, “React” proved to be an important moment in Just Blaze’s career — giving Erick Sermon his desired follow-up hit to “Music.” The song also marked another success in a remarkable hot streak for Blaze that included multiple hit records with Roc-A-Fella records, The Diplomats, and many others.
Producing “React” also taught him a valuable and enduring lesson about accepting special bursts of creativity as they are. “It just goes to show that sometimes you don’t have to over-mix and over-think a record,” he told Complex. “Sometimes that initial spontaneous spark is what matters.”