The debut of Nipsey Hussle and JAY-Z’s latest collaboration was an unforgettable moment in hip hop history. Hours after the song dropped on Friday (Feb. 12), the talented circle of creators behind the track confirmed that they made “What It Feels Like” over the course of eight years.
JAY-Z, Hit-Boy, and a team of seasoned producers including 1500 Or Nothin’s Larrance Dopson, L.A. natives Mike & Keys told GQ the story of how “What It Feels Like” came together. According to Mike & Keys and Dopson, the beat for the song was born in 2013. Two years later, the horns were added. By 2017, the strings were in place and Nipsey’s infectious “what it feels like” bar became the hook.
“We always thought that was going to be Nip and JAY-Z,” says Mike, “from the jump.” While on tour with 1500 Or Nothin’, Dopson managed to pass the track over to Jay’s trusted engineer Young Guru so that the Brooklyn native could hear it. “JAY heard it five years ago when Nipsey was still here, and loved it,” Dopson recalled. “Then he asked for it again about a year ago.” Eventually, the song would go on to be apart of the original soundtrack for Ryan Coogler’s Judas And The Black Messiah.
“My relationship with Ryan, who I consider my little bro, [is what] brought me to the movie,” JAY-Z said. “And once I saw it, I was blown away by what Shaka King brought to the table. I think I finished the song in the next day or two.”
After he recruited Hit-Boy to executively produce the album, Coogler himself brought “What It Feels Like” to the Roc Nation founder’s attention. “It’s unfair for him to be going that crazy, still,” Hit-Boy said about JAY-Z’s verse on the record.
Along with Hov and Hussle’s new collaboration, Judas And The Black Messiah: The Inspired Album also features contributions from Nas, Rakim, H.E.R., Lil Durk, G Herbo, Bump J, BJ The Chicago Kid, Polo G, Saba, and more. Read the full GQ story about the making of “What It Feels Like” here.