Who Flipped It Better? Jay-Z or Curren$y?
The Sample: Rose Royce – ‘Wishing On A Star’ (1977)
Like Lil’ B once said – Rose Royce, Rose Royce, Rose Royce.
A trademark ’70s soul sample, ‘Wishing On A Star’ was a hit from Rose Royce’s second album, ‘In Full Bloom.’ It was produced by Norman Whitfield, one of the seminal Motown men who helped Berry Gordy craft the label’s inimitable sound. He co-wrote and produced huge hits for Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Edwin Starr, and others. ‘Cloud Nine’ was his big break in 1968, and it set the precedent for more socially conscious, psychedelic music to spew from Hitsville.
Rose Royce itself was actually a group of musicians, not just vocalist Gwen Dickey. It was the only successful act on Whitfield’s eponymous label, which he started in 1973 after leaving Motown over creative differences with The Temptations. He brought The Undisputed Truth and Willie Hutch along with him, but Rose Royce was the only fortuitous venture, spawning chart-toppers like ‘Car Wash’ in 1976 and, to a lesser extent, ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ two years later.
Flip 1: Jay-Z – ‘Wishing On A Star’ (Prod. by Trackmasters) 
‘Wishing On A Star’ was left off of the U.S. version of Jay-Z’s 1997 album ‘In My Lifetime, Vol. 1′ but included on the U.K. release. It features Gwen Dickey, the same woman who sang the original twenty years prior, and it’s one of Jay’s best lesser-known songs. The Trackmasters produced it, as well as the remix that boomed with Billy Squier drums. The flip is standard Trackmasters bubblegum, but it incorporates the orchestration of the Royce song well, reflecting the depth of the original’s production while ensuring that Hov’s version would have been a standout on the U.S. pressing of ‘Vol. 1.’
Flip 2: Nesby Phips – ‘Magic’ (Feat. Curren$y & Stalley) 
But Ski Beatz flipped it better. In 2011 things were looking iffy for DD172. NYC brought the hammer down on Dame’s free-flowing alcohol, neighbors were complaining about the noise (and the weed smoke), and Curren$y had his eyes trained on Warner Bros. The star power of artists like Jay Electronica and Mos Def was beginning to dry up, and with it went the allure of Dame Dash’s creative paradise. By the end of the year, they’d shut down for good.
But in September, Nesby Phips let this loosie go starring Dame’s golden boy and the rapping beard. Curren$y had flashes of brilliance during his time on Duane Street, including his verse on Smoke DZA’s ‘Etc Etc,’ most of both ‘Pilot Talk’ albums, and this verse. Spitta’s chronic snobbery is on full display (“Rescue Ranger ass ni–as with the weed / always tryna save it, think you boss, you basic, clown”), but the dazzling thing about the song was Ski’s production.
For those that don’t know, Ski has been untouchable on the production tip since the early ’90s, starting as part of Original Flavor and eventually helming Jay-Z’s debut single, ‘In My Lifetime.’ He crafted classics for Camp Lo on ‘Uptown Saturday Night’ and would go on to work with artists like Nature, Big Pun, Sporty Thievz, Lil’ Kim, and tons more. When Dame decided to try his hand at another empire, he brought in the vet to handle Curren$y’s albums and drop gems like ‘Taxi’ and ‘Cream Of The Planet,’ both with Mos Def.
It’s almost impossible to hear the Royce flip at first because Ski snips very small parts of the original. You can watch Youtube videos of Ski chopping up samples to perfection on his MPC 2500, but he used the Maschine for ‘Magic’ (the same Maschine he used in Mass Appeal’s ingenius Rhythm Roulette episode). Trackmasters use the chorus of the original in a pretty conventional way, building the instrumentation around those vocals. Ski does something different — he makes a small echo of Dickey’s voice reverberate, like ripples in the water that join others to make larger rings. Handclaps make your head nod and wiffs of wah-wah guitar float through the beat (the guy who played guitar for Rose Royce was even named Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson), but it’s those haunting stretches of “aaah” that make the beat so indelible. Trackmasters and Ski both had their hands in crafting classics for Jay, but Ski is still around today to prolong his legacy, and he proved it on ‘Magic.’