The Version Of JAY-Z’s “Feelin It” That You’ve (Probably) Never Heard
Camp Lo's Geechi Suede recounts the making of a classic
Long before JAY-Z anchored Baseline Studios—the legendary now-defunct recording headquarters that generated synergy between Roc-A-Fella stars like Cam’ron, Just Blaze, Beanie Sigel and Kanye West in the early 2000s—Hov set up shop Uptown. Rewind to 1996, when the Brooklyn hustler-turned-MC sought to go legit with his maiden album Reasonable Doubt. He recruited a tight team of beatmakers to help craft his classic debut, including soul architect Ski, who’d work from his own home studio in a small Harlem apartment.
The producer was concurrently grooming a teenage duo named Camp Lo that worked on the jazzy rookie LP Uptown Saturday Night out of that same cramped space. So of course the rappers (Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede) often crossed paths with Jay. All of the wordsmiths involved benefited from a palpable creative energy—a floss-rap cross-pollination that’s tangible in Reasonable Doubt’s melodic single “Feelin’ It,” which originated as a Camp Lo track.
With Reasonable Doubt reaching its 21st birthday today, MASS APPEAL sat down with Geechi Suede to discuss the making of “Feelin’ It” and reminisce on witnessing JAY-Z create his first masterpiece from the peripheral, all while recording Camp Lo’s 20-year old classic LP of its own.
When you think about the making of Reasonable Doubt and how the album has aged, what comes to mind?
It was definitely a bonafide classic. And a surreal feeling to have been there from him and Ski’s demo-ing days. When we were all getting started, Ski had a real small studio apartment on 101st and 1st Ave in Harlem. We would be in the kitchen sitting down writing our songs while JAY-Z would be a few feet away in the living room demoing up his stuff. He would always be like, “I’ma get this in one take, I’ma get this in one take.” And he would get the shit in one take. And we talking about the time where if he did mess up he had to do it all over again because the technology wasn’t…
You were still using reels, right?
Yeah. So we were working with the same producer—[Jay] would hear beats that Ski did for us and be like, “Damn!” And we would hear beats that Ski did for him and be like, “Ohh shit!” It would always go back and forth like that. One of the misconceptions that I saw a lot in the media was that he was taking beats from us—that wasn’t happening at all. Everybody was fam.
How did the original version of “Feelin’ It” come to life?
We were putting together Uptown Saturday Night around the same time he was recording Reasonable Doubt. “Coolie High” was starting to do well. I went back down South to Danville, Virginia. I grew up there and my childhood sweetheart Angela—she called herself Mecca—she could sing. Growing up my childhood dream was to become an established MC and she wanted to be a singer. I got a record deal and things were going really well so I convinced her father to let her come up and work on the project with me and Ski. I think they were at the tail end of Reasonable Doubt while we were right in the middle of Uptown Saturday Night.
Ski hooked up a beat and we was really hyped, like, “Oh, this shit is hot!” We started writing our verses. After we laid our verses down, me, him, and Mecca started coming up with cadences and writing the chorus. [Sings] “I’m feelin it, fill the glass to the top with Moet, I’m feelin it…” We laid her part down and afterwards we were just really excited about the record, we thought the record was super dope. Two days later, Ski hit me up like, “Yo, I was casually playing it for folks and they went crazy about the record. Jay would love it for his album, but I had to see how you felt about it.” I loved the record, but I didn’t think it was a fit for Uptown Saturday Night. We didn’t really have no R&B, no singing and stuff like that on the album and that was how we wanted to keep it. So as much as I loved it, it wasn’t a big deal to let it go.
How did you evaluate the difference between you and Ski’s approach to the song, and Jay’s approach? Was there anything that stood out to you about how Jay flipped it?
He kinda sampled Ski’s flow a little bit. The way Ski rhymed on the joint, Jay tapped into that frequency and took it to a whole ‘nother level. He took the approach of not being so rhyme-rhyme, rappity rap on it, but letting the record breathe more where people could really grasp what was being said. Whereas, especially me, I just kinda took the approach of I’m going in on this track. I’m gonna straight-up rhyme on it. His approach was, this is gonna be a radio record. Something happened like that with another record that Jay kinda saw a different kind of potential in—it might’ve been Ja Rule’s “Can I Get A…” That was Ja’s record first, too, and [Jay] just had a bigger vision for it, more than it just being an album cut where you rappity rap over it. But again allowing the record to breathe and drawing the person in more with the melody and the space in between your words. His approach was definitely better for making it a radio single. But again, that was how Ski rhymed on it. I thought the record was awesome. He did a great job.
The content of JAY-Z’s version of “Feelin’ It” also matched yours—the glitzy rap, champagne, money, etc.
In that aspect, we definitely set the tone. Because it’s like, “Feelin’ it, fill the glass to the top with Moet / Feelin’ it, feel the Lex pullin up on the set”—the lyrics we wrote for that hook set the stage for him to just come and kill it, because the subject was already there. With him being a hustler and the things that he was doing at that point in his life, that style of rhyming was what he was living. I clearly remember that.
I met Hov when I was a teenager working with Ski as a solo artist. So I kinda came up around all of that, so that’s where my poems would reflect—the lifestyle I saw myself living. When I heard Tupac say whatever you put in your music will come to pass, I started making my poems even more about living good and things of that nature. And he was absolutely right: All of those things did come to pass. I was successful, I traveled the world, I spent a gang of money and everything I’ve ever put in a song came true.
Did Ski ever make any beats with Jay in mind that ended up going your way?
Nothing that was [Jay’s] ever went to us or ours went to him. Only time that ever happened was with “Feelin’ It.” But it was a lot of times where Jay would walk into the studio and hear a beat that Ski just finished cooking for us and it’d be like, “Oh, that shit is hot!” But it’d be like, Camp Lo got that already. And vice versa. Ski would just finish making something and we’d get excited and he’d be like, “Ah, that’s for Jay.” But I know Jay really wanted “Luchini” and we really wanted [raps] “I love bitches, fly bitches, thug bitches…”
“Who Ya Wit.”
Yeah, man, that beat right there. I wanted that just as much as he wanted “Luchini.” I loved that fucking beat right there, B.
Camp Lo would’ve killed that instrumental.
That’s probably still to this day that beat that Ski made for Jay that I most wish we got. But there was another beat—I can’t remember the name of the sample. But our song was called “Hollywood.” Ski did that for us and that was another one that Jay really loved. But before we all knew it, Kim and Cease was out with [“Crush On You,”]. Fanatic produced that—we used the that same sample and they beat us to it. But that was another joint that we all was loving.
Mecca ended up hanging around a bit—she collaborated with Big L as well. Did she record anything else with Jay that didn’t get released?
That’s very much possible. She also featured on AZ’s album, Doe or Die. After the success of “Feelin’ It,” I’m sure she did some more work with them and a host of others and that didn’t get released. Nothing comes to mind right off the bat. But because things really started to take off for us and I couldn’t really be there for her like I told her father I would be—we were constantly on the go. But I trusted Ski and also Jocko, who produced “Coolie High” and some other classics. They were working with her and making sure everything was good, because we were young, man. We was kids then.
What’s Reasonable Doubt’s most memorable song?
“22 Twos” was one of my joints off of Reasonable Doubt. Watching him perform that live was always super ill, the wordplay was just crazy. I loved “Politics As Usual,” too. That’s easily my favorite joint off that album. But as a whole, Reasonable Doubt is definitely a fuckin’ classic. It was a dope feeling to have been a part of that in a few ways. Good times, man.