Soul singer Billy Paul died of pancreatic cancer yesterday at the age of 81. The Philadelphia-born musician joined with producers Gamble & Huff and their Philadelphia International label, which released his albums through the 1970s. Paul’s music was a favorite of hip-hop producers, including Don Cannon, another Philadelphia native, but one who made his name down in Atlanta. Cannon used Paul’s song “Let the Dollar Circulate” for “Circulate,” the centerpiece of Young Jeezy’s 2008 album The Recession. Here Cannon remembers Paul’s impact on his musical growth and how “Circulate” came together.
I’ve always been a soul guy and my parents were always playing [Billy Paul’s] albums around the house. This was way before I even knew about sampling, I was just listening my parents talk about the history of Philadelphia and me going down to Philadelphia International to learn from those producers as a youngin’. When I actually discovered Billy Paul’s records, him and the Jacksons were the first of the bunch from Philly International that I really started studying. Once I was introduced to that, it stuck with me all the way up to when I first started making beats. My first couple beats, some of them was from “Me and Mrs. Jones” and “I’m Just a Prisoner”—I sampled both of those, I didn’t even have a beat machine yet, trying to be like DJ Premier. I had those albums and I stayed with them. As I got better with some of the logistics of samples, I dug back into my mom’s War of the Gods album. Her copy skipped on one part, and when I first started on the ASR, I was able to manipulate that one little scratch on “War of the Gods” into a dope beat. I wish I still had it to this day, but I don’t, so I moved on.
Later on Dilla used “Let the Dollar Circulate” [on Steve Spacek’s “Dollar”] which was a sample that I always wanted to use, but I just didn’t know how to flip it, even when I was making “Circulate” with Jeezy. If I chopped it up and tried to own it and make it mine, I felt like I wasn’t going to get what I wanted to get, because Dilla already did it perfectly. I was trying to figure out how to make it musical. I decided to not just chop it and to instead give it a band feel. I had someone come in and play the drums and then someone play the horns over on top of it. You can hear the different drums and turnarounds that I had the drummer do in the studio. It was Jeezy over my own orchestration of all the guitars and everything else I blended together. If you go back and listen to “Circulate,” each individual part starts to build up. Leslie Brathwaite was such a good mixer that he made it sound like it was the original record. Even at the end of the record, Jeezy turned it off because we don’t like people to rap on our beats.
Me and Jeezy sit down together and come up with concepts for albums before we even start the record. At that point, money was so bad in the streets that we were looking for anything that would stand out in the recession. What we built Jeezy’s career on was a lot of aggressive music that was soulful at times. We looked at [albums] like a movie, where there’s a part in the middle when you feel it get deeper. “Circulate” was the point in the movie where you say, “I get it.” It was a real Robin Hood kind of feel. Jeezy does this thing every Thanksgiving where he gives out turkeys to the hood. We felt like taking a Brink’s truck with millions of dollars in it and just going through every hood in Atlanta and throwing money out. That’s the basis of that song, that’s basically how it came together. The idea for the album was that everybody needs money and what are we going to do for the hood so they don’t feel this recession as hard as a lot of people are feeling it. “Circulate” came out perfect for that need. We went ahead to run with it.