There’s a steep history behind Jay-Z’s single, "Izzo (H.O.V.A)." It was the lead single off The Blueprint and was Jay-Z’s first mainstream hit, making waves on the Billboard 100, and was making airwaves in the UK, Switzerland and Netherlands. But the beat once belonged to his former rap rival and labelmate, Cam’Ron.
“[Kanye West] was shopping beats and I was on Epic when he sold the [IZZO] beat to me,” Killa Cam told DJ Whoo Kid in an interview. "[After] he sold the beat to me, he gave it to Hov. I heard the song on the radio two weeks later. I was like, 'this dude here, he’s wild.'”
West made a brief cameo in the music video, shot by music video director Dave Meyers who said the then-24-year-old producer asked to be filmed getting a tattoo.
"Izzo (H.O.V.A)" has gone down as one of Jay-Z’s best songs. The track is an autobiography, with Hov going into detail about his past as a drug dealer and his not guilty plea on three-degree assault charges for physically attacking the record exec Lance "Un" Rivera during Q-Tip’s Amplified album release in 1999. The rapper would eventually plead guilty after a two-year legal battle and was given three years probation. (At the time, media reports claimed the incident was over Rivera bootlegging Jay-Z’s Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter, album, though Cam’Ron would claim that it was over Charli Baltimore).
The song’s success led to many confusing accusations: a documentary had claimed Jay-Z had stolen the beat. Jim Jones had explained the theory in an interview with Complex years earlier “Kanye came to our studio session at Sony, and he was playing some beats back when we were all signed to Rocafella. Cam was about to come out with Come Home With Me, so we told Kanye we wanted to buy the song 'H to the Izzo,'" Jones explained. “It was an understanding we had between us and Kanye because we were all under the same label. So then, I’ll never forget it, we’re at Cam’s house and this hip-hop award show comes on [BET Awards, 2001], and Cam and I are watching it on his couch, and we’re like, 'Next year we’re gonna be up there.' So they announce that Jay-Z is about to perform his new single off The Blueprint, and the dude comes out with the 'H to the Izzo' beat. Cam and I look at each other like, Oh, we’re going to kill Kanye. Oh my God, when we catch this n***a, we’re going to do something terrible to him. And that’s how Cam ended up getting the 'Down and Out' beat. Kanye gave it to him free of charge as payback.”
The cartoonish beat, which features a prominent Jackson 5 sample, was supposed to be for another artist, besides Cam’Ron and Jay-Z. Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua, who was managing Kanye at the time, breaks it down: “Kanye gave me and Gee [Roberson] a beat tape [separately]…he made the beats for specific people, and he gave ’em to Gee to go take to people, ’cause that’s kinda like what Gee did. [‘Izzo’] was for Ghostface [Killah]; [Cam’ron] had 'H To The Izzo' too, because Gee was working on Cam’s [Come Home With Me] album, so he let Cam hear it. Cam heard it. But when I had the tape I didn’t know that all of this was going on. I played the tape for Jay and he did everything on the tape. He recorded] Friday and Saturday, so by Sunday we had 'Never Change,' 'H To The Izzo,’ ‘Ain’t No Love,’… everything besides ‘Takeover.' That’s how that Blueprint sound really started, through that beat tape. Then we were seeing where it was goin’, then Just [Blaze] came with his stuff.” According to Gee, Ghostface had heard the beat and passed on it.
Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, said the nickname Hova was more of a status symbol bestowed upon him by his camp, who recognized his talent for rapping without writing lyrics down. “I would tell people ‘I just be sitting there. I don’t even write songs down. I can make these songs in five to seven minutes. Like, whole songs,” The rapper told MTV [My people would] be like, ‘That’s just like a gift.’ So, they start calling me Jay-Hova. I didn’t want to offend people, by saying I was Jehovah. I’m God or anything like that. I know way better than that.”
The rapper was humble about it, but he came out the victor in this authentic American success story.