Jonathan Burks (born October 4, 1964), better known by his stage name Jaz-O (formerly The Jaz), is an American rapper and record producer active in the late 1980s through the 1990s, best known for being the mentor of Brooklyn rapper Jay-Z. Burks is nicknamed "the Originator", and had a song titled "The Originators" that featured a young Jay-Z in 1990.[2]

Jaz-O in New York City, 2000
Jaz-O in New York City, 2000
Background information
Birth nameJonathan Burks
Also known as
  • The Jaz
  • Big Jaz
Born (1964-10-04) October 4, 1964 (age 57)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
GenresHip hop
  • Rapper
  • songwriter
  • record producer
Years active1986–present

Early lifeEdit

Jonathan Burks was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City and raised in Marcy Houses, a housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Originally attending college to become an accountant, he decided to become a rapper after being encouraged by a friend, and being inspired after hearing UTFO's "Roxanne, Roxanne."[3]


Early years and signing with EMI USAEdit

Being from the same projects as Jay-Z, the two would meet and become friends, with Jaz-O being a rhyme mentor to Jay-Z. Sometime during the year of 1986, the two lyricists would soon form a short-lived group by the name of High Potent. Despite the group being short-lived, the two recorded and released several songs throughout 1986, before Jaz-O would go on and get a record deal with EMI USA.[4] In regards to the signing, he stated:

I had been rhyming since I was 14. Do the math on your own! I became a legend on the east coast - which in the 'eighties' was quite remarkable, in about six years. I was always told I was the best most had ever heard. I put out a song in 1985 called "HP Gets Busy" on our own label (my manager at the time, Jack Walker and I), featuring two of my comrades from Long Island, NY, and my young apprentice, Jay Z. We did shows regionally; NY and Pittsburgh mostly. Meanwhile, I was recording with friend and producer, Fresh Gordon. He helped me get a single deal on Tommy Boy Records after I collaborated on a song with him called "My Fila" (a response to Run DMC's, "My Adidas"). A mutual friend of Gordon and I, Marlon Prescott, introduced me to my soon-to-be manager at that time, Stan Poses. In four months Stan solidified a major artist deal for me, and I became the first rap artist ever to sign with EMI Records. I also became the recipient of the largest advance and recording budget of any rap artist at that time.[5]

1989: Word to the JazEdit

Several months after signing with EMI USA, Jaz-O went on a trip to London, where he would record his debut album. Joining him on the trip was Jay-Z, as well as future Murder Inc Records CEO and producer Irv Gotti, who was Jaz-O's DJ at the time. After completion, Jaz-O released his debut album Word to the Jaz. The album was produced by Bryan "Chuck" New, Pete Q. Harris and Jaz-O himself. The album peaked at number 87 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.[6] It featured a guest appearance from Jay-Z on the song "Hawaiian Sophie", which peaked at number 18 on the Hot Rap Songs chart.[7] The single "Let's Play House"/"Buss the Speaker" peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.[8]

Jaz-O also made a guest appearance on The O'Jays's "Have You Had Your Love Today", which was a single released from their 1989 album Serious.[9]

1990: To Your SoulEdit

Jaz-O released his second album To Your Soul on July 16, 1990. Despite the album not reaching the Billboard charts, its two singles, "The Originators" and "A Groove (This Is What U Rap 2)", peaked at No. 13 and No. 18, respectively, on the Hot Rap Songs chart.[10] Similar to his debut album, Jay-Z was the only guest, being featured on two songs.

1991–1996: Production work behind the scenesEdit

Sometime after the album was released, Jaz-O was dropped from his record label and began to spend time working behind the scenes as a producer. At some point, Jaz-O connected with The Lox, and produced a demo tape for the group, which would become instrumental to the start of their successful career.[11] Fellow Yonkers native Mary J. Blige,[12] would receive the tape from a cousin who did music with the trio. Becoming a supporter of the group, Blige would pass the demo tape on to Bad Boy CEO Sean "Puffy" Combs while on a tour with Jodeci. Liking what he heard, Puff shortly signed The Lox to a deal.[12][13][14][15]

1996–1998: Involvement with Jay-Z's early successEdit

Throughout the late 1990s, Jaz-O had quite a hand in Jay-Z's early solo success. Jaz-O produced, and was featured on "Ain't No Nigga," the second single from Jay-Z's 1996 debut album, Reasonable Doubt. The song is cited as playing a significant role in securing Jay-Z's record with Def Jam.[16]

Jaz-O produced "Rap Game / Crack Game," a track that appeared on Jay's second album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, which was released in the year of 1997.

Jaz-O produced two tracks for Jay-Z's Streets Is Watching. The album fared well commercially reaching #3 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and was released May 12, 1998, by Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam Records.

In the year of 1999, Jaz-O appeared on Jay-Z's "Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)", a single that was released from Jay-Z's third album Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life. the song became a big hit in Jaz-O's career at that time. However, this would be one of the last times the two would work together on music, for the friendship soon soured shortly afterwards.

1999–2016: Feud with Jay-Z and forming Kingz KountyEdit

The long-standing feud between him and Jay-Z started when Jay-Z started Roc-A-Fella Records and he tried to convince Jaz-O and fellow rapper Sauce Money to sign with the label. They both refused. It is rumored that they didn't trust Roc-A-Fella Records CEO's Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke. In addition, they weren't satisfied with what they were to be receiving had they signed the contract, $300,000 in Jaz-O's case. Jay-Z confirms this event on the song "What We Talkin' About" on the Blueprint 3 album when he says "Dame made millions, even Jaz made some scraps, he could've made more but he ain't sign his contract".[17]

Instead of signing with Roc-A-Fella Records, Jaz-O inked a deal with Rancore Records, and formed the hip-hop group Immobilarie. With the group, he released a collaboration album Jaz-O & The Immobilarie Family Present: Kingz Kounty.

Jay-Z went on to diss Jaz first on a track released by DJ Kayslay featuring Freeway, Geda K, Young Chris, and Memphis Bleek titled "Fuck Jaz-O AKA Jaz Ho" in which they rapped over Styles P's "Good Times" instrumental and later on his album The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse. Jay-Z states on the track, "I'ma let karma catch up to Jaz-O." Jaz responded with a record on a DJ Kayslay mixtape entitled "Ova" and after the response from Jay-Z and the members of Roc-A-Fella, he released his own response with the diss record known as "Ova Part 2" in which he raps over N.O.R.E.'s "Nothin'" instrumental.

Despite the long-standing feud between mentor and protégé, Jay-Z still gives Jaz-O credit for his success (although he disses him at the same time) as heard in the song "I Do It For Hip Hop" on Ludacris's Theater of the Mind album. Jay-Z says "Shout out to Grand Master Flash and to Caz and even Jaz's bum ass".

Soon after the "I Do It For Hip Hop" diss from Jay-Z, Jaz-O responded with a diss record entitled "Go Harder" where he starts by rapping over his protege's "Brooklyn Go Hard" beat before the beat changes.

In late August 2009, Jaz-O was featured on another song dissing Jay-Z entitled "Gangstas Ride" with West Coast rapper, The Game. Jaz references "Ether" with the line, "Jaz-O, stupid motherfucker, not Shawn, never been bashed on a Tupac song". The song was fueled by the beef between Game and Jay-Z.

2017: Reunion with Jay-Z and signing with Roc NationEdit

In December 2017 they reunited at Jay Z's 4:44 concert seemingly ending the feud.[18] In the year of 2019, it was reported that the two worked out a music deal for Jaz-O's Kingz Kounty Media Group to distributed through Jay-Z's Roc Nation's Equity Distribution.[19]

On February 7, 2020, Jaz-O released an extended play (EP) titled The Warmup, on Kingz Kounty Media Group, and distributed by Roc Nation's Equity Distribution.[20][21]

2021: Other ventures and releasesEdit

Currently Jaz-O has moved his 'Kingz Kounty Music Group" to Rival Distribution. Releasing a collaboration single "Lookin' Like" with Nipsey Hussle on July 2, 2021. The music video is directed by Da Inphamus Amadeuz.[22]

Musical styleEdit


Jaz-O cites Grandmaster Caz as an early influence. Caz was the artist who made Jaz-O decide to become a rapper.[23]

Rhyming styleEdit

Jaz-O was the rapper to pioneer the triplet flow, which allows the rapper to flow far beyond sixteen syllables within the 4/4 time signature. Being able to add extra syllables to the sixteen multiplies the syllables into twenty-fourths, which makes a triplet of an eighth. Since the 1990s, the triplet rhyme technique has become a common distinction among some of the most respected hip-hop lyricists. Several lyricists who are well known for the technique include former apprentice Jay-Z, as well as Twista, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Fu-Schnickens, Spice-1, and Tech N9ne.[24]

Personal lifeEdit

Jaz-O was known to be a visible figure in the Nuwaubian Nation during the 1980s. Nuwaubian beliefs and symbolism were prominent in the earlier years of his music career, and Nuwaubian fashion influenced his wardrobe.[25]


Studio albumsEdit

Extended playsEdit


List of singles, with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
Year Title Artist(s) Album Peak position [26][27][28]
1986 "H. P. Gets Busy" High Potent (with Jay-Z)
1987 "I'm In Love"
1989 "Buss The Speaker" / "Let's Play House" Word to the Jaz No. 26 on Dance Club Songs
"Hawaiian Sophie" Jay-Z No. 18 on Hot Rap Songs
"Word To The Jaz"
1990 "The Originators" Jay-Z To Your Soul No. 13 on Hot Rap Songs
1991 "A Groove (This Is What U Rap 2)" No. 18 on Hot Rap Songs
"Hypocritters" Ya Don't Stop
1996 "Waitin'" / "Foundation" Jay-Z, Sauce Money
1999 "Jigga What..." Jay-Z, Amil Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life No. 84 on the Hot 100
2000 "Kingz Kounty" Kingz Kounty
2001 "Let's Go" Jay-Z
2002 "Love Is Gone" No. 20 on Hot Rap Songs
"Ova" / "Deadly"
2005 "Be There"
2021 "Lookin' Like" Remastered Jaz-O / Nipsey Hussle The Warm-Up

Production creditsEdit

Besides being an emcee, he has produced songs for several hip hop artists other than Jay-Z, such as Group Home, M.O.P, Ras Kass, Rakim, Kool G Rap, and others.



  1. ^ Shawn Grant (2019-07-10). "Jay-Z Signs Jaz-O To Roc Nation Deal". The Source. Retrieved 2019-09-03.
  2. ^ "Jay-Z Biography". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on May 4, 2011. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  3. ^ Finlay, Mitch (August 19, 2019). "Jaz-O Is The Originator: Reflections On Jay-Z, B.I.G, & Creating The Triplet Flow".
  4. ^ Bandini (June 18, 2015). "Jay Z's First Record Ever Was in 1986…And It Was Not Hawaiian Sophie. Take a Listen (Audio)".
  5. ^ "Jaz-O Interview".
  6. ^ "The Jaz Word To The Jaz Chart History". Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  7. ^ "The Jaz Hawaiian Sophie Chart History". Hot Rap Songs. Archived from the original on May 9, 2018. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  8. ^ "The Jaz Chart History". Dance Club Songs. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  9. ^ "The O'Jays – Serious (1989, CD)" – via
  10. ^ "The Jaz Chart History". Hot Rap Songs. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  11. ^ "Kingz Kounty Media Group Presents Jaz-O's New EP "The WarmUp" Available February 7th on All Platforms Via Equity Distribution". February 7, 2020.
  12. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (2000). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Nineties Music (First ed.). Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0427-8.
  13. ^ "Jaz-O & The Immobilarie "Kingz Kounty" (Album)". January 25, 2020.
  14. ^ "Jadakiss Talks About Growing Up In Yonkers and The LOX's Relationship with Mary J. Blige - The Combat Jack Show". Complex.
  15. ^ MTV News Staff (January 15, 1998). "The Lox Get By With A Little Help From Puffy And Mary J. Blige". She was like a number one fan for us. She was loving our music before anybody, and she just brought us to Puff. Puff was looking for a group, a rap group, at that time. It was instant. It just clicked like that. It was chemistry.
  16. ^ "Interview With Nick Raphael", HitQuarters, 25 May 2005.
  17. ^ "20 Rappers Who Almost Signed To Other LabelsJaz-O". Complex. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  18. ^ "Jay-Z and Jaz-O Reunite at 4:44 Tour Stop in Chicago - XXL". XXL Mag. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  19. ^ VIRAL MVP (July 9, 2019). "JAY-Z Signs Jaz-O to Roc Nation after Ending Beef".
  20. ^ "JAY-Z's mentor Jaz-O picks up where he left off with ten-track effort 'The Warmup': Listen – GRUNGECAKE".
  21. ^ "Jaz-O Raises the Bar In New 'The Warm Up' Project". Weekly Rap Gods. February 10, 2020.
  22. ^ "Jaz-O "Lookin Like" Single Set To Drop". Boom Bap Nation. 2021-06-10. Retrieved 2021-06-24.
  23. ^ Soren Baker (April 10, 2002). "Jaz-O Reminds World Where Jay-Z Got His Blueprint". When I heard Grandmaster Caz, it was like a light came on. His timing was just perfect, his voice was perfect and he wrote all of the routines that the Cold Crush did. A lot of them were jingles from old pop and R&B songs, but it was crazy the way he flipped them. I didn't know it could be like that. From that day on, I endeavored to get my timing like that, to have the same clarity and vocal punch.
  24. ^ Finlay, Mitch (August 19, 2019). "Jaz-O Is The Originator: Reflections On Jay-Z, B.I.G, & Creating The Triplet Flow". The reason I did it was because in one-sixteenth cadence and your average 4/4 time signature beat, if you have more than sixteen syllables in a measure, all of the sudden, you’re stuck with a dilemma to express yourself in a certain way or to get your point across the way you choose. I had to stuff those words, those extra syllables in the sixteen so it would transform those syllables into twenty-fourths, which became a triplet of an eighth. That’s why I called it the triplet style.
  25. ^ Unknown. "Jay-Z got his start rapping alongside Jaz-O. They got involved in the "conscious hip hop" movement with the release of "The Originators"".
  26. ^ "The Jaz Chart History". Hot Rap Songs. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  27. ^ "The Jaz Chart History". Dance Club Songs. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  28. ^ "Jaz-O Chart History". Hot Rap Songs. Retrieved 2018-01-08.