The years 2013 and 2014 mark notable anniversaries for a lot of classic albums in Hip Hop, including the 20-year old birthdays for Nas’ Illmatic, OutKast’s Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Former Loud Records A&R Schott Free is one man who played a large part in a few of those releases, as well as others that came before and after, such as Mobb Deep’s 1995 album The Infamous. In order to get an accurate view of such a golden era it’s a good idea to go right to a person who actually lived through it and ask someone like Schott for their own enduring stories of the time, to help give a little perspective on all the exciting events that seemed to be happening every day back then. As Schott himself says, “There are so many memories. Every group has memories.”
Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but based on the Rap albums that came out in the early ‘90s, maybe that would be more than fine, according to how Schott tells it. Here are six memorable stories from Schott Free and Matty C’s run at Loud Records.
Jay Z & Notorious B.I.G. Almost Joined Loud Records
A lot of A&Rs would be content with having worked with Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Big Pun, and still others. But even with a track record like Schott Free’s, he can still remember the one that got away:
“With me and Matty C, there was probably only one time that we had ever brought something to Loud, and we really wanted to sign it and get on it, and Steve Rifkind told us that we could not. That was in ‘94, ‘95, with Jay Z. As the story goes, we just started messing with him because of a rhyme we had heard him kick at Big Daddy Kane’s birthday party. He hit Damon Dash, and Dash hit us with a demo. He had a record on there called “Reach The Top,” produced by Clark Kent, which was crazy. We wanted to come with that and put that out first. Steve said that someone told him not to do the deal for whatever reason. I don’t really know the specifics. From my standpoint of it all, I think they came to the table at that point maybe more gangsta than the record business was ready for. I always said that if Jay Z were to sign to Loud, we would’ve monopolized everything. You take Jay Z off the Def Jam roster and put him on Loud with Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Big Pun, all around the same time…and let’s not forget, Notorious B.I.G. was on the cusp when Puffy went to Uptown Records. Uptown started Bad Boy Records, and B.I.G. was on the cusp of, “I’m either gonna follow Puff, or I’m gonna go some place else.” And remember that Matty had brought B.I.G. to that situation, so B.I.G. also could’ve been a member of Loud.”
Schott Free Recalls The Night Wu-Tang Clan Recorded “C.R.E.A.M.”
Very rarely does someone get to see history being made right in front of them, and when it happens, even more rarely do they know it right at that exact moment. But just like he used his foresight to know the groups that he worked with would be big hits, he also knew at what points groups like Wu-Tang took things to the next level:
“In the studio the night that Raekwon and Inspectah Deck dropped they verses for “C.R.E.A.M.” it was just that feeling of, ‘I don’t think they understand what they just did.’ The next day on the boat, I saw Raekwon early in the morning and told him, ‘You understand you just made a classic last night, right?’ He laughed at me, but I just knew that record was it. That record was gonna change everybody’s life. It was just one of those. I waited to the end of the session to make sure I got my copy. I was like, ‘Yo, I can’t leave here without a copy of this right here.’ They weren’t big on letting people walk out the studio with copies of anything, but I was adamant about getting my copy of “C.R.E.A.M.” That’ll always stand out to me.”
A Look At The Rollercoaster Recording Of Mobb Deep’s “Hell On Earth”
Many listeners can’t get enough of Mobb Deep’s gritty, uncompromising portrayal of a city life that includes drugs, money, sex, and murder. Unfortunately, those life and death stories were sometimes inspired by real life events, like the untimely passing of a friend:
“The Mobb...there’s a thousand stories. When we did the Hell on Earth album, we basically had a loft on top of Studio 54, if you could imagine having a loft for an entire winter, recording. We had a shower up in there and everything, so that was really a fun time. It was really an organic record. But we lost Twin; we lost Scarface during the recording of that record. It was just a basic weed run. Guys in the studio, and a bunch of them decide to jump in the car and go uptown to go get weed. Godfather’s driving, and the car flips over, and Scarface broke his neck because the car flipped over and his neck twisted. I think about that session, like, ‘I shouldn’t have let them go,’ or ‘I shoulda went myself.’ All that kinda stuff that comes back to you. Days and moments in that time and era, I can remember a lot of it...a lot of that stuff.”
Schott Free On The Sample Behind Mobb Deep’s “Right Back At You”
The main A&Rs, Schott Free and Matty C, weren’t always behind the scenes. Schott got a production credit, on the track “Right Back At You,” on Mobb Deep’s album The Infamous:
“Basically I contributed the Les McCann loop that you hear, from a song called “Benjamin,” which was a loop that a few years prior to that I had found that I always wanted to use on something. So the story goes with that particular record, we were in Battery studios in New York, and Havoc had those drums up playing for a while. I had just come from the house—going to Matty C’s house—maybe afterwards or before that. For whatever reason I had a bunch of records under my arm that I had with the idea that I was gonna go to Matt’s house and jack up a couple of ‘em. And when Havoc had those drums playing, I just knew that loop would fit. So he just threw it on the turntable, and it just fit. We just took it and ran with it.”
How Big Pun Almost Didn’t Break Out On Loud Records
It might be impossible for some to imagine New York Hip Hop without the contributions of Big Pun, which include the platinum-certified Capital Punishment LP. But that hypothetical situation was almost a reality:
“After The Infamous LP, we had solidified that Loud records…we knew what the hell we were doing. Punisher, I’m proud of him for being the first Latino rapper to reach platinum success. The only thing that we ever stuttered or teetered on was the fact that he was such a big dude. You’re coming in, and you’re thinking about marketing and stuff like that. But what we always thought about was the fact that we watched B.I.G. do it, and just like B.I.G. Pun was a charismatic big dude. I got memories with Pun— just how he loved to eat. His wife would cook and just bring rice, peas, and beans. The chick would just come through the studio. We would eat right while he was laying verses. It was so everyday. It was everyday could be a story.”
Schott Free Still Has A Copy Of Jay Z’s 1994 Demo
If you can’t get enough of those old NYC Boom Bap records, you’re in luck: there’s still more out there.
“If you follow me on Instagram, every Throwback Thursday I try to throw up something to let the fans know what was what. Yesterday I actually found a promo, the “Survival Of The Fittest” remix, featuring Crystal Johnson. I had put that up, and Havoc actually signed it pretty recently when he was over here. But other things I have...I have a picture on my wall of Prodigy drawn by Havoc, sketched with a pencil on the back of a notebook pad. It’s kinda special to me. I have Jay-Z’s demo that he gave me back in ’94, and there are plenty of songs on there that people never heard before. It’s basketball season right now, and he got a ill basketball song on there. I need to get a lot of stuff off that tape before it pops. He signed that for me. There’s a ton of shit in this basement, or The Igloo, as we call it…cassettes of old demos. I used to have an old cassette with RZA and Ol’ Dirty on there. It’s called “Rugged And Raw.” If I still have it, that’s probably the only copy of that record, period. There’s a lot of that, like I said. Sometimes I just like to go through cassettes and see what pops up on there. I find all kind of stuff from that era, demos, records that got recorded and got scrapped, and all that type of thing.”
Martin Connor is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native who has contributed his own unique brand of incisive rap music analysis to both academic institutions, including Eastern Kentucky University, as well as a variety of blogs, such HipHopDX, RapGenius, and his own website, www.RapAnalysis.com. You can Google 'Rapper's Flow Encyclopedia' for more of his work, or follow him on Twitter @ComposersCorner.