Irv Gotti’s Reign: A Look at The Best Irv Gotti-Produced Tracks
If you listened to the radio in the '90s and 2000s, there was no way that you could escape the music coming out of Irv Gotti's Murder Inc camp.
Ja Rule and Ashanti dominated the charts, with hit after sing-songy hit. Looking back, it isn't difficult to understand why their music was so huge at the time. The sound was summery and sweet, with just enough of a gritty edge to catch the ear of hip-hop fans too.
Between their individual projects, to their work with other artists, the Murder Inc crew stayed on the radio, in the club and on the charts. Ja Rule had six top-ten albums, between 1999-2005, two of which hit No. 1on the Billboard 200— Pain Is Love and Rule 3:36.
Meanwhile, Ashanti's songwriting skills and breezy vocals were featured on virtually every hit song released at the time—hip-hop or R&B. In 2002, she made history when she became the first female artist to occupy the top two positions on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart simultaneously with "Always on Time" and "What's Luv?"
And together, Irv, Ja and Ashanti played no small role in propelling Jennifer Lopez's music career, helping her achieve pop crossover success while validating her sound to urban audiences via tracks like, "I'm Real."
The man behind the domination was Murder Inc. founder/CEO, Irv Gotti. His production fingerprints were on all of the hit records during the time, even when he was collaborating with other producers, namely Lil Rob and 7 Aurelius.
Before Irv's run as the head honcho at Murder Inc., he, as a part of Def Jam's in-house production team, created some monster hits for a slew of artists including Foxy Brown, Eve, Alicia Keys, JAY-Z and DMX. He easily had one of the best ears in the music business, and proved it with hit after hit.
Take a look at some of the best production from one of the most influential people to touch music, Irv Gotti.
A standout track on Jay's classic 1996 debut, "Can I Live" showcased Irv's penchant for sampling huge chunks from classics. The prominent sample in this mellow groove comes from Isaac Hayes' "The Look of Love."
Irv teamed up with Lil Rob to provide Jay with another hit in 1998. The track showed up on Jay's Vol 2... Hard Knock Life and was also featured on Def Jam's Rush Hour Soundtrack. The 1998 outing also helped push Ja Rule into hip-hop's spotlight.
The lead single from Foxy's 1998 album, Chyna Doll, "Hot Spot" was another Irv collab with Lil Rob. The song that peaked at No. 91 on the Billboard 100 would be the last time Foxy charted as a solo artist.
At the height of their run, no one was dominating the charts like Irv's Murder Inc. crew, with Ja Rule leading the pack. In 1999, he made his solo debut with what's now considered one of his signature tracks, "Holla Holla." Ja's raspy vocals were on full display over an interesting horn sample and stark drums, courtesy of Mr. Fingaz (and Irv).
The breakout track was actually the last song recorded for Ja's debut album after Def Jam told him the album he submitted didn't have hits. "I didn’t grasp the idea of making a radio record," he told Complex. "I got that beat in the ninth inning and I created what I call my stutter flow. That’s when you got the doubling up on the verses with the lyrics. It was catchy, it was creative and it became my lead single. Sometimes God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he’s not there when you call, but he’s always on time."
In 1999, DMX was reminding everyone he's "not a nice person!" over a frantic track with hard drums, produced by Irv and Self. Gotti —who played a role in DMX and Ruff Ryders getting signed to Def Jam — once recalled the time he quit Def Jam because they wouldn't sign DMX.
"I worked at Def Jam like a few months. DMX wasn't signed. They had me working acts I didn't feel a connection to. I QUIT!!," he wrote on Instagram on the 20th anniversary of X's debut Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood.
"[Lyor] told me come back up to the office. He would fix it. When I came back up. He told certain staff members that I was to be left alone. And that I was only to answer to him and Kevin Lyles... Once he did that. You know what I said. WE HAVE TO SIGN DMX AND RUFF RYDERS!! He said ok. And I brought Lyor and Kevin Liles. And actually, Dame Dash came up to Yonkers with us. And Lyor meet and watched DMX rap with his Jaws Wired Shut! The Lox was there. It was a HIP HOP SCENE that was once in a lifetime. You had to be there to understand the energy. After Lyor seeing what I was talking about. DMX AND RUFF RYDERS GOT SIGNED."
Really, this is less of a production and more like lifting a beat, but it was definitely one of the tracks that helped validate J. Lo's career to urban music audiences in 2002. The track, produced by Irv and 7 Aurelius samples Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear," originally produced by Easy Mo Bee.
"We had changed the sound of Jennifer Lopez [with "I'm Real"] and we didn't have anything else on the [J.Lo] album we could release as a single. We had to do another remix to keep the momentum going," Corey Rooney explained to Billboard. Ashanti wrote the verses one night in the studio when Ja Rule decided to focus more on video games than writing the hit he promised J. Lo. “I remember doing the hook, laying the hook, and falling asleep in the studio," Ja told Complex. "I told Ashanti, ‘Go ahead and hit that. Do what you do on that.’ So Ashanti wrote the verse for me. That’s our little secret. It’s not anymore, but at the time it was."
One of the biggest rap songs of 2002 was Fat Joe's "What's Luv?" featuring Ja Rule and Ashanti, further proof that anything the two touched turned to chart gold. The song, produced by Irv samples Tupac's "N***az Nature," while the hook is an interpolation of Tina Turner's classic, "What's Love Got To Do With It?." The track peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for 20 weeks. It was also featured in the (horrible) movie, Juwanna Man.
Complete with a very literal, very dramatic interpretation of the song via its video, "I Cry" came during Ja's chart reign in the early aughts. The 2001 track was produced by Irv and Lil Rob and samples the O'Jay's "Cry Together."
"A lot of artists are scared to be themselves on records, on wax, and speak their true feelings," Ja told Complex. "That may be one of the qualities, one of the things I took from Pac: Don’t being afraid to express your emotions on wax and be who you want to be on wax."
Another breezy hit from Ja and Ashanti, "Always On Time," released in 2001, scored Ashanti her first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Irv's busy bass drum and calm guitars defined the summery track.
Irv scored another hit with Eve's "Gangsta Lovin'" featuring Alicia Keys. The 2002 song— which features an interpolation of Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop the Music"— became Eve's second consecutive no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A DeBarge sample and Ashanti's light vocals made her debut solo outing in 2002 one of her biggest hits– and she has a string of them. Produced by Irv and 7 Aurelius, the track also made use of elements from Biggie's "One More Chance." It spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.