Music & Entertainment

Song Origins: “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”


Lesson time 06:51 min

Tim recalls how he built the backing track for Jay-Z’s hit “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and explains how to create a complex texture from simple elements.

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- You play-- play me something. I know where I'm going. - Huh? - Play me something. - How about we do something? - Oh, man. Why we go through this every freaking time? - Yeah. I mean, what? [MUSIC PLAYING] JAY-Z: Now tuned into the mothafuckin' greatest. - Jay-Z was doing "Fade to Black" with "Dirt off your Shoulders." If you saw "Fade to Black," the storyline is there. I had a bunch of beats made, and I played the beats. But when it got to "Dirt off your Shoulders"-- even the beat I played before, I knew was dope. But I felt that dirt off your shoulders was-- the first one was special. But there was just something about it. I don't know what it was, but it was a feeling. And I know when I did it, it had a certain feeling. So when I played it, that's why I reacted that way. Because the feeling was so contagious that it passed over to him, you know? So let's play it. [MUSIC - JAY-Z, "DIRT OFF YOUR SHOULDERS"] JAY-Z: Now tuned into the mothafuckin' greatest. - You hear that? It's just the sonics of the drum. See, watch this. You know why? It was the feel-- stop, stop. His ad libs at that moment was the feeling. All you feeling is the excitement. You now tuned into-- that's what this track made him do. And Jay-Z is one of the best poets that I know. I call him a poet. He's not a rapper. He's a poet. He doesn't write anything down. The beat made him feel that way. "Dirt off your Shoulders"-- don't ask me how he came up with that title. That's Jay-Z. But I know the beat made him say, "You're now tuned in"-- you know what I'm saying? All the ad libs, that was all the feeling. So let's play the beat. Play it again. Pause. All it is is two, three sounds. That's it. It was a tape strings, and I had got a tape strings sound from Japan. I forgot where I got it from-- some part of Japan. And I just-- [VOCALIZING KEYBOARD MUSIC]. Actually, I was just playing around, just hitting like-- [KEYBOARD MUSIC]-- and recorded it. And I was like, and I pushed play-- ooh, this sound good. So I had these drums that I always loved that was heavy, but I'd never had the right sound to put on top of it. And when I came up with that tape strings was so mono. It was so dirty and dull, and I just ran with that. And after that, he put his rap over it. That song don't have that many instruments in it. That song has just three instruments. It's nothing-- it's all about that tape strings. Just like Pony was about the [SOUND EFFECT], that one sound. And you know, back then-- and my drums are always heavy from the ASR. So that one sound just went perfect with that, you know? Just listen to. [MUSIC - JAY-Z, "DIRT OFF YOUR SHOULDERS"] JAY-Z: Crazy, baby. Don't forget that boy told you get that-- - Snare. Drum. Kick. Hi-hat. But you listen to the hi-hats-- dirty. That's a match, the tape strings. JAY-Z: Middle finger to the law, nigga, grippin' my balls. Said the ladies they love me. From the bleachers they ...

Find your beat

Grammy-winning music producer Timbaland takes you behind the boards to teach you his process for creating iconic tracks with artists like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and Aaliyah. In his first-ever online class, learn how to collaborate with vocalists, layer new tracks, and create hooks that stick. Step into Timbaland’s studio and learn from one of the industry’s most innovative hit makers.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I really enjoyed watching the process Timbaland uses to make tunes, and the bigger picture about attitude and commitment to making it happen

I'm really digging this course. If I had to describe it in one word - inspiring. For real.

Seing how others love what you love and find success via love justifies more my path.

Thanks so much for a wonderful look into your process. Being so open, free, funny and honest is refreshing. Thanks for keeping the light on for all of us.


Barbara M.

If you watch Timbaland dance in the "Jay-Z in the Studio" video he does the dirt off shoulders dance move and Jay-Z is watching him, I wonder if thats what put the lyrics in his head.

Jonathan P.

This is the best video I've seen so far in Master Class and they've all been great :)

Quentin B.

Love this breakdown so much. I hope I can produce tracks like this one day, shit is fire!! Always loved this song, it would bang in the car hard.

Simone P.

Jay looking like he's listening to something from another planet. He doesn't even know what to do! Love it!


THANX!!! This is gold material, learning n getting motivated by this genious

Richard N.

It’s sweet to see Tim speak so fluently about the composition of music and their sonics, against the background of the footage of those magic moments creating with JayZ.

Erik P.

Wow! So awesome to see the moment captured and history made. The power and impact of the simplicity of 3 instruments.


Jay-Z knew right away that was a nasty beat. We all knew it right away Mr. Tim. When it's good it's good.

A fellow student

Yes I liked it..I went out and bought a Brand New Triton Pro 88 key Workstation because of Timbaland..but of course to no avail was my sound to compare to Timbalands..Haha but inspiration is Powerful..

A fellow student

This Could have be used to cover more sound design, all this info was covered in Fade to Black.