Released as the third and final single off his 2003 “retirement” project, The Black Album, Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” was a legendary collaboration between him and Rick Rubin.
The song’s chorus, “I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one”, has gone on to become one of the greatest and most iconic rap lines in hip hop history, but most rap fans don’t know that it actually originated from a 1993 Ice-T song of the same name. Ice-T’s “99 Problems” appeared on his fifth studio album, Home Invasion, and featured 2 Live Crew’s Brother Marquis, who is credited for coming up with the line.
“Brother Marquis from 2 Live Crew, he made the hook,” Ice-T explained in an interview. “We were talking about ‘Whoomp! There It Is!’ which was a big hit, and he said, ‘Man, all the days when I was in Magic City and the girls would bend over and the DJs would say, “Whoomp! There it is!” It was the phrase that pays!’”
“And then out of nowhere he said, ‘Man, I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one!’ I said, ‘That’s a song [title]’,” he recalled. “So I made the song and called him to do a verse on it. [Years later], Chris Rock heard the song, and told Rick Rubin that Jay Z should remake it. They paid for the publishing and they made the song.”
In an 2014 interview with New York Magazine, Rick Rubin confirmed that it was Chris Rock who came up with the idea of using Ice-T’s hook for the Jay-Z song.
Rick Rubin: [Chris] said, ‘Ice-T has this song, and maybe there’s a way to flip it around and do a new version of that. And I told Jay Z the idea and he liked it. The Ice-T song is about ‘got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one,’ and then it’s a list of him talking about his girls and what a great pimp he is. And our idea was to use that same hook concept, and instead of it being about the girls that are not his problem, instead of being a bragging song, it’s more about the problems. Like, this is about the other side of that story.The Encyclopedia of New York Pop Music | Vulture