Ice-T recorded the original version in 1993 on his album Home Invasion. Jay-Z's version uses the same music style and line, "If you've got girl problems I feel bad for you son, I've got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one," but the verse lyrics are drastically different.
Rick Rubin, who produced the track for Jay-Z, says it was comedian Chris Rock who had the idea of adapting Ice-T's song. The music producer told New York Magazine: "[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," Rubin continued. "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."
By 2003, Jay-Z had a lot of projects going on, including a clothing line, a vodka and duties as a music mogul. In this song, he makes a statement that all these projects come with associated problems, but he was unaffected by girl problems. This was around the time he started dating Beyoncé.
Mark Ross, who was a member of 2 Live Crew known as "Brother Marquis," performed on the original Ice-T version of this song and claimed that he helped write it. Ice-T and his producer DJ Aladdin (Alphonso Henderson) were credited with writing the song, which earned them composer credits on Jay-Z's version as well, which was a nice payout for royalties. Ross filed a lawsuit in 2005 alleging he was paid just $10,000 for his contributions, but was entitled to much more. In an interesting act of contrition from the former 2 Live Crew member, his lawsuit stated: "Counsel for the plaintiff apologizes to the court for the graphic and profane nature of this song included in the body of this complaint."
The video was shot in black-and-white and contains a controversial scene at the end where Jay-Z is gunned down. MTV and BET played the video, but with an introduction by Jay-Z explaining that the scene depicted the "death" of Jay-Z, and the "rebirth" of Shawn Carter (his real name).
Some of the lyrics are based on Jay-Z's experiences as a cocaine dealer. In 1994, he was stopped by the police and refused to let them search his car, knowing they would find drugs. Police called for a K-9 (dog) unit, because if the dogs could smell the cocaine, they could take the car. However, the dogs were unavailable and the officer let Jay-Z go. Jay explained: "The dialogue is about the tension between a cop who knows that legally he's wrong for stopping someone with no probable cause other than race and a narrator who knows that legally he's wrong for moving the crack."
According to Jay, the "bitch" he refers to when he raps "I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one" wasn't a girl but a reference to the unavailability of the sniffer dogs.
This returned to the UK Top 40 in July 2008 after Jay-Z performed this at the Glastonbury festival. He sang it as a retort to Noel Gallagher following the Oasis singer's comments that the rapper's appearance at the rock festival was "wrong." After a rendition of Oasis' "Wonderwall
," Jay-Z launched into a performance of this song.
Some of the songs sampled on this track include Billy Squier's "The Big Beat" and Mountain's "Long Red." Leslie West of Mountain
was a frequent guest on the Howard Stern Show
, and thinks that Rick Rubin may have gotten the idea to sample his song from listening to the program.
The Ice-T version contains an early use of the term "Skeet," which means to ejaculate, heard when Marquis raps, "take it out and I skeet on them." Skeet hit the big time in 2002 when it became part of the chorus on the Lil' Jon song "Get Low
The song returned to the Hot 100 in May 2012 after The Voice contestant Tony Lucca took the stage to perform a rock/blues version on the finale episode of the singing contest. Though Lucca omitted the word "bitch," coach Christina Aguilera was quick to jump on his choice of song, calling it "derogatory" to women. The pair go back a long way, co-starring on The Mickey Mouse Club together as kids, and Aguilera consistently criticized him throughout the series.
The song was Rick Rubin's first hip-hop production since Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Return of the Bumpasaurus" in 1996.
Jay was asked during a Twitter Q&A in July 2013 whether he still has 99 problems. He replied: "New rules. New problems."
At one point in the song, Jay-Z raps, "I got 99 problems but being a bitch ain't one." In this context, he's talking about staying out of prison, thus avoiding becoming a bitch for another inmate.
Mark Romanek, who would later do Jay-Z's "Picasso Baby
," directed the video. It was shot in Brooklyn, with lots of footage from the Marcy projects where Jay was raised. Romanek says it took three months to edit.
Jay-Z famously stores his lyrics in his head, but according to Rick Rubin, verse two of this track was the first one he saw the rapper write down. According to Rubin, Jay had the verse on his laptop.
In 2016, Beyoncé released Lemonade, an album that served as a warning to an unfaithful husband. Social media was quickly flush with comments along the lines of "Looks like Jay-Z has 100 problems now."