No slight on Beyoncé’s pipes, but her soaring voice isn’t what makes “Crazy in Love” the song that it is. And nothing against Jay-Z, but his rap alone doesn’t warrant the track getting three nominations for Sunday’s Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year honors.
What makes the first single off Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love work so well is that it blows.
“It’s the horn hook,” Beyoncé quickly pointed out when asked what made the track so lively and infectious. “It has this go-go feel to it, this old-school feel. I wasn’t sure if people were going to get it.”
The hook, a sample of the Chi-Lites’ 1970 song “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So),” came courtesy of producer Rich Harrison. And to her credit, Beyoncé was right about some people not getting it, at least at first.
“I remember when I first did the beat,” Harrison said, “I played it for a lot of my buddies, as I normally do, and they couldn’t dig it. But that’s when I knew I had something special,” he laughed. “Sometimes people need to hear the whole record.”
Harrison sampled the old soul track long before he met up with Beyoncé. Armed with a sound so full of blaring fanfare, he knew almost immediately that he had something hot on his hands. He also knew he had to wait for the right artist to bring it to.
“Yeah, I had it in the chamber,” he said. “I hadn’t really shopped it much, because sometimes you don’t want to come out of the bag before it’s right. People don’t really get it and you’ll leave them with a foul taste in their mouth. So it was just something that I held on to until I got the call from B.”
Harrison got more than he bargained for when he answered the call, however. He had anticipated an easy day: Stroll into the studio, play Beyoncé the golden sample and wait for her face to light up. To celebrate the anticipated victory, Harrison hit the clubs. The following day, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
For starters, he was a little late. He was also a bit hung over. “Oh my lord, it was crazy,” is all he revealed about the prior evening’s festivities. With two strikes against him going into a meeting with someone who was working on one of the most anticipated albums of the year, he played Beyoncé the sample and figuratively fouled one off to stay alive.
“From her face, she was kind of like, ‘I don’t know, but I’mma ride with you anyway,’ ” he remembered. “I knew I was going to have to sell it a little bit, because when it comes on it doesn’t sound like anything that was being done at the time.”
Beyoncé warmed up to the sample and then said something that, in his wildest dreams, Harrison would have never imagined, nor would he want to: “I love the idea,” he recalled Beyoncé saying. “Now write the song. I’ll be back in two hours.”
With production and songwriting credits for Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys and his own discovery Amerie, Harrison’s no slouch in the studio, but writing a hit song in 120 minutes is a daunting task for anybody.
Unpleasant reminders of the night before notwithstanding, Harrison stepped up and wrote the verses and the hook, leaving the bridge for Beyoncé. He wound up playing all the instruments on the track, too.
Jay-Z added his part later, and though Harrison wasn’t in the studio with him, he got the rapper’s reaction to his creation through Jay’s engineer Young Guru, a friend with whom Harrison attended Howard University.
“Hov love your sh–,” Guru told him. “He played the track and went crazy.”
When Harrison heard Jay’s addition, he, too, had a bit of a freak-out.
“I remember when I first heard Jay’s version,” he recalled. “I was in my car screaming, ‘Whoaaaa!’ ”
Despite receiving accolades from two artists at the top of the respective genres, Harrison wasn’t convinced the song was going to be the massive hit it turned into.
“No, not like that,” he admitted before clearing his throat. “I mean, I wrote it hung over.”
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Check out the story behind each of the Record of the Year nominees: