Easy Mo Bee is one of the names who should come up in the conversation of the most important producers in the history of Hip Hop. Having witnessed the inception of the inner-city New York subculture develop from a cottage industry to becoming uprooted into mainstream lexicon across the world, he was at the forefront of producers from the second and third generations of Rap music, also renowned as the “Golden Era.” Hailed for his work with artists such as Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, The Genius and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan in the early stages of their careers, Das Efx, and has won Grammy awards for his work with the late Jazz icon Miles Davis and R&B songstress Alicia Keys. Notably, Mo Bee is also the only producer to have worked with both former mutual friends Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. during their lifetimes.
Twenty years ago on Sept 13, 1994, The Notorious B.I.G., or Biggie Smalls, became a Rap phenomenon with the release of his debut album Ready To Die. With production help from DJ Premier, Nashiem Myrick, Lord Finesse, Chucky Thompson, The Bluez Brothers (Lord Digga & Norman Glover), Darnell Scott, and The Trackmasters, nine of the album’s sixteen songs made each of these producers who championed the transition for New York City’s underground and commercial Rap sound into the late ‘90s. Easy Mo Bee was the first producer picked by former Uptown Records founder/CEO Andre Harrell and a then-young Sean “Puffy” Combs to record with Biggie on his first two commercially released solo records “Party and Bullshit” and the title track for Ready To Die.
Here, Easy Mo Bee speaks in the tone of a village griot that provides his younger neighbors with stories and occasionally sounding out his production work to accentuate his life experiences working amongst Rap’s elite. Easy Mo Bee discusses the beginnings of his history in the music business as an artist in Rappin’ Is Fundamental with his fellow Brooklyn, childhood friends J.R. and future business partner of New Vision Entertainment, A.B. Money, and how his work with ‘80s Rap god Big Daddy Kane led to him developing the early sounds of the future Wu Tang Clan co-founders The GZA and RZA during their time on Cold Chillin’ Records. To positively invert the media-sensationalized bi-coastal rap wars centered around 2Pac and Biggie, we examine the bi-coastal influences of Biggie’s Brooklyn hometown hero Big Daddy Kane and Los Angeles Rap legend Ice Cube upon Biggie’s flow and storytelling ability to assemble his iconic debut LP. Get ready to learn about the hard work and fate for both Easy Mo Bee and Biggie that led to their crossed paths to create of one of the greatest albums in music history.
Easy Mo Bee Details His Early Musical Influences
HipHopDX: What was your original connection music?
Easy Mo Bee: Music for me, it all started with my father. First of all, in my family I come from a line of preachers, and they have a couple of churches down South. I have uncles that play guitar, sing Gospel and stuff like that. And they don’t even do it for the money, you know? They do it for church on Sunday morning. And on Monday morning, they’re back to getting on the pickup truck and going to do their work and stuff like that. What I’m saying is that whole Gospel thing was handed down to me by my father. And then of course him being a part of the family and a lover of music by the time I was born, he was playing a bunch of blues and Gospel included around the house.
So as the years passed by and the genres were starting to change like Funk, Jazz, and he would even get into a little bit of the Disco when that came along. But it had to be that soulful kind of Disco, maybe something like Candi Staton or Tyrone Davis. For the most part, it was soul, Blues, Jazz, Funk, or James Brown. Stuff like that was my original connection to music. As a little kid, I would crawl up on the sofa and the stereo would playing be in the living room. I would sit there and not even move, and my father would just change 45 after 45 after 45, album after album. I was absorbing all this as a little kid, and I didn’t realize it, but I was starting to love music.
DX: How did Hip Hop come into the picture?
Easy Mo Bee: Growing up, I watched the Hip Hop thing start to take place. Cats started doing the block parties, and I’m seeing this dude who’s playing, the center of the whole scene—the deejay, man. Two turntables and the mixer, and he’s doing the emcee thing. At that time there was not even a real true Rap thing going on yet, as early as I experienced it. It was more like an echo chamber kinda, “To the beat y’all. Y’all- y’all! Yes, yes, y’all…y’all-y’all! Ya’ don’t stop-stop-stop! My man, my mellow-mellow-mellow!” Stuff like that vernacular going on top of the music and the deejay’s got two copies of the same record. And his favorite part of the record he’s running over and over and over. I was like, “Yo, I like this. I wanna do this!” [Laughs] I got old enough, and got me a pair of turntables and mixers to emulate what they’re doing in the park. I deejayed all the way through high school and a little bit before high school. I played records enough to where I wanted to make them. In other words, in the transition of going from a deejay to a producer.
Hip Hop started out with the bands. A lot of the early stuff was that live instrumentation, Groups like Sugar Hill Gang and Spoonie Gee rapping, “Ya say, ah-one for the treble, two for the time!” and the band drops in with the live bass and drums was going on. I’d say the sampling era was injected about ‘85 or ‘86. So it was like “OK, now I’m really seeing the concept of what was happening in the park with two copies of the same record and looping it. Now there is machinery and technology to emulate that.” You know what I mean? As soon as that happened. I said, “That’s it. I wanna do this.” Because as a kid, I had dreamed or wished they had a machine that could do that kinda stuff. And they made that kind of machine, one of the first ones being the Emulator by E-mu.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the first time a sampler was used on a record, believe it or not, wasn’t on a Hip Hop record. It was on a Pop/Rock record. Do you remember “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” by Yes?
DX: Yes, I do [laughs]. Absolutely. That was in the early ‘80s, maybe like ‘82 or ‘83, right?
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah, me and my boy Witch Doc, he’s one-third of the Bluez Brothers. They produced “Everyday Struggle,” “Me and My Bitch,” and the original “One More Chance” on Biggie’s album. When that Yes record came out, and we saw that we just looked at each other like “Yo, did you hear that?” [Laughs] And I guess it was an association thing as far as the labels go. Yes was on Atco, which was a subsidiary of Atlantic. As of now, Atlantic, or whatever you want to call it is part of the WEA system [Warner/Elektra/Atlantic]. Atlantic or Warner signed Malcolm McLaren and the World Famous Supreme Team. And right after Yes, then I heard that same technology or machine being used in those records, I was like “Wow. I want to do this.” And then the technology finally made its way into Hip Hop with some of the earliest producers that made me do it like Ced Gee of Ultramagnetic MCs, and everything that was happening in the early stages of Boogie Down Productions. Marley Marl is one of my greatest influences. Hurby Luv Bug, Howie Tee, Skeff Anselm, Jazzy Jay, we could go on and on. A lot of those are the guys that played the biggest influence in me to say, “You know what? I’ma get me some equipment and I’ma start doing this.” And believe it or not, I didn’t get any equipment until after my first gig. I’d say from 1986 to 1990, it’s was all R.I.F.—Rappin’ Is Fundamental.
How Easy Mo Bee Began Working With Big Daddy Kane, RZA & GZA
DX: So you were performing with Rapping Is Fundamental before producing for anyone?
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah. I’d say around 1986. All three of us were from Lafayette Gardens. A.B. (from Rappin’ Is Fundamental) is from the 433 building. I was from 411. Me and him started hanging out, and he told me that he went to Sarah J. Hale High School. And Big Daddy Kane was going to Sarah J. Hale High School, so they knew each other well and used to hang out. As a matter of fact, at the end of “Set It Off,” where Kane says, “I wanna shout out the Debonair Three,” that was A.B., Kane, and my man Understanding who was from my building 411. They had a little group, The Debonair Three, and Kane used to go around battling during the Sarah J. Hale High School days. A.B. was always telling Kane, “Yo, you know my man Boo?” He called me by my block nickname, Boo-Bee. In LG that’s my name as well as what my family called me, or Boo.
He always used to tell Kane, “Yo, my man Boo, I’m telling you he got some beats that you need to check out, Kane.” He was like “Yeah yeah, all right.” Finally, he checked out my beats. And the beats I showed him led to the two tracks on Kane’s second album It’s A Big Daddy Thing, which were “Calling Mr. Welfare” featuring Kool DJ Red Alert and “Another Victory.” Now all during the making of his first album, like during that “Just Rhymin’ Wit Biz” stage and all of that, me, A.B. and J.R. were hanging out with Kane. He and Biz Markie would be coming over my crib and going through 45s, so this was the warming up to eventually teaming up together. After “Calling Mr.Welfare” and “Another Victory” from his second album hit, that was it. From ‘86 to ‘90, I was doing RIF, and we had an independent record put out by my man Sudan Lawrence, but I always valued Kane. Those two songs are what I consider my first two commercial releases.
You know what was so controversial about that record at the time, and it broke my heart? He never put my hand on the buttons and said, “Do it like this.” When I say my mentor, I’m talking about Marley Marl, because I studied him so much. He came out with the same beat with Roxanne Shante.
DX: That sample was the Booker T. and the MG’s sample, right?
Easy Mo Bee: Right. And the dude that I look up to the most is killing me. I’m not going to say mine was better or nothing like that, but I if I’d have to say then, I think people gravitated more towards “Another Victory.” I mean, come on, that was the Kane. He was the man at that time, so anything he did was going to be well received. So it all just worked in my favor. “Another Victory” ended up being another victory [laughs].
DX: As for working with Cold Chillin’ Records artists, you segued into working with RZA and GZA as well on their early work too. Tell me about that.
Easy Mo Bee: At the end of [Big Daddy Kane’s] “Set It Off,” Kane shouted out two dudes named Melquan and Shabazz. And they walked up to me one day, and we were in the presence of being around Kane. Melquan, walked up to me and said “Yo, what’s up G? I’m Melquan, and I peeped the Kane joint recently. I want you to work with my rapper. His name is The Genius. And I was like “Yeah?” He said “Yo, I’m telling you. We got a whole squad. This is just the first one.” He started breaking them down saying, “We got The Ghostface Killer, we got Prince Rakeem, and we got another cat who’s style is ill. We call him the Ol’ Dirty Bastard.” He’s standing there telling me all this, and he’s like, “What they’re doing is fusing the concept of the martial arts to Hip Hop.” He’s telling me all this, and it’s far beyond me, so I’m standing there and in my mind I’m like “Yeah, whatever.” Melquan kept saying, “But I really want you to work with my rapper.”
That rapper was The Genius, and he ended up getting signed to Cold Chillin.’ So I produced 10 songs, and my brother ended up doing like five or six. We basically controlled that whole album Words From The Genius. And Jesse West, an associate of Kool Keith, produced the first single “Come Do Me,” which they were trying to push him in a real commercial light. I think it was actually seconds before working with The Genius, Melquan put me together with Prince Rakeem, who he was named at that time. Prince Rakeem, who is RZA now, had a single deal with Tommy Boy.
DX: Yes, and they put out “Ooh We Love You, Rakeem.” I remember that record.
Easy Mo Bee: His single “Ooh We Love You, Rakeem” was the A-side, and the B-side was “Sexcapades.” I had produced the B-side. Then there were a lot of remixes and stuff like that in between. So then I said to myself, “Now I got time under my belt. But nobody’s gonna know if I don’t do something about it now that I got some attention on me.” I’m thinking that I wanted to be managed. So I thought, “Who is everybody with?” And it didn’t take long for me to know who to look for because in the song “Paid In Full,” Eric B. said “Who we rolling with? We rolling with RUSH!” [Laughs] If you weren’t managed by Russell Simmons and RUSH, you weren’t doing it! That’s where everybody was, and I said, “That’s where I need to be.” Let me tell you how it happened. I kid you not. I called up information, man.
DX: You mean you dialed 411?
Easy Mo Bee: Yes. I picked up the phone, called and asked “What is the number to RUSH Artist Management?” And the operator gave me the number. So I called, and I’m new in the business, and I only got Kane under my belt. It’s like, “Hello, umm, my name is Easy Mo Bee. I just two songs for Big Daddy Kane’s album, and I’m looking for a manager.” And I’m trying to go into all of this, and the operator girl just cut in on me and said, “You gotta speak to a girl named Francesca Spero. If you leave your number, I’ll have her call you back.” So I got to speak to Fran, and I’m trying to explain to her all over again that I had produced Kane and Genius. Right in the middle of everything, she said, “I know who you are.” I flinched and said, ‘You do?” She said, “Yeah” and started to break down my work to me. She said, “Bring in a reel of tracks, and let’s see what we can do.”
So I came in and started shopping my stuff from that day on. It was just a hungry climb, man. I worked as hard as I could. Working from my crib, I tried to put out as much stuff as I could. It was many people in that [RUSH Artist Management] office tripping over each other trying to get things done, from marketing, to promotion, to actual A&R. I ended up on what was created as RPM. That was Rush Producers Management. It was just a blessing to know that I called up Information and made a connection, and being over there was like a whirlwind. You walk into that office and you see Run DMC, EPMD, bump into Rakim, Beastie Boys or whoever. And I was still a groupie, man [laughs]. It was like “Yo, that’s Run DMC!”
How Easy Mo Bee & Miles Davis Bonded Over The “Doo-Bop” Album
DX: So how did that lead to you working with Miles Davis?
Easy Mo Bee: Fran called me one day, and said, “Miles has been hanging out with Russell, and he wants to get into Hip Hop. Can you put together a tape or reel with beats that we can play for him? I’ll send him out some stuff from some of the other producers here too.” Out of all the producers, somehow he picked me. Fran told me, “I’m gonna put a reel together for you.” The reel consisted of songs for people that I had did, like she probably put the Kane songs on there, some of The Genius, Rappin’ Is Fundamental, and stuff like that. The meeting was arranged to be at Miles’ home. He lived in Central Park West at the time, between 88th and 89th. I came to the house, and he had that reel or tape that Fran sent to him. On the tape was The Genius’s “True Fresh MC.”
Miles was an eccentric type. He would move a little bit left or right, and he’s nodding but he ain’t saying nothing. Out of nowhere, he’s pointing at the stereo in the entertainment center that it was playing out of and said, “You can do that for me?” I was like “You like that?” He said “Yeah. Yeah. You can do that for me?” I said again, “Yeah definitely.” He asked me again like he wanted to be sure by saying “Nah nah, you can do that for me?” I said, “Yeah, Miles let’s do it!” So we went into the studio and started doing stuff, and that was the most amazing chemistry developed, man. One song turned into a full album.
DX: The Doo-Bop Legacy. I remember the video for the “Doo-Bop Song” too.
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah, that ended up being the very last album that he ever made. And it garnered “Best R&B Instrumental Performance” for a Grammy. He gave me the complete autonomy to name the songs and title the album. We would finish a song, and I would ask him, “Yo Miles, what we gonna call this one?” He would look at me and say, “Shit, I don’t even know. You name it. I don’t give a shit. Whatever you want to call it.” [Laughs] So I started coming up with these titles, and it was kinda easy because whenever I used to make my beats with the floppy disks back then with the SP-1200, I would nickname my beats. Some of the nicknames that were on those disks for whatever the beat was, or I would think harder and come up with a title for something. The titles of the album are all made by me like “Mystery,” “The Doo-Bop Song,” “Chocolate Chip,” “Duke Bootie.”
DX: Interesting you say that last title. Duke Bootie was a rapper back in the day featured on Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message Pt. 2 (Survival).”
Easy Mo Bee: Exactly! He was on that track with Grandmaster Flash and them. I thought that name was just wild and crazy. So I just wanted to honor that dude. An eccentric just like Miles. Then you got the really fast high-tempo Jazz record called “High Speed Chase.” And then to add more of an atmosphere, I had the sound effects to sound like a real car chase.
DX: There was a lot of sampling of Jazz at that time, so it sounded like that album was a pinnacle for that era of rap music. And for the Afrocentric Diaspora that was en vogue.
Easy Mo Bee: Do you remember in the early ‘90s where Tone Loc, Young MC, MC Hammer, and they were the ones winning the Grammys and everything? I used to think they had that thing called the “Grammy Curse,” as if to say “Once you win a Grammy, that’s it. You’re over.” We stumble over each other now in Hip Hop to get a Grammy, but back then winning a Grammy was frowned upon.
DX: Right, how the Grammy for “Best New Artist” used to be dubbed as “The Kiss of Death” award with example of 1980s acts like Men At Work or Christopher Cross.
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah, even though it’s considered the greatest achievement in music, it was frowned upon at the time. And Miles Davis true enough, won a Grammy and I started saying to myself like “Awww yo, they gonna be like to me, ‘You crossed over, man.’”
Easy Mo Bee Recalls His Initial Work With Biggie & Craig Mack
DX: How did you first get introduced to Biggie?
Easy Mo Bee: Fran gave me a call. She had called me by my block name from knowing me that well by then, and said, “Boo, Andre Harrell at Uptown and Puffy got a new artist, and I want you to play some stuff for them. Just go over there and play something for them. Just check them out. You never know if something might happen to you with them.” So I went over there. I’d say maybe earlier than that, maybe half a year at least before that, I was at Mister Cee’s apartment. Mister Cee grew up in my building on the eighth floor, and I lived on the eleventh. We lived in the same line of apartments. As kids we used to stick our heads out the window, and he’d look up and be like “Yo, what up Boobie!” And I’d be like “What up, Calvin!” [Laughs] But when he got older, he moved out of there and got his own crib.
So I was over his apartment one day, and he was like “Yo, check this dude out, man.” And he had a demo of the dude he said was named Biggie Smalls, just freestyling over an instrumental. So when I was in the office to see about the artist that Andre and Puffy had, I heard the music and said “Yo! This is the dude Mister Cee played me at his house.” Andre said “We got the Who’s The Man? soundtrack that’s being released on Uptown here, and we need a song for that soundtrack. We need you to do something with this new artist we’re getting ready to put out.”
DX: Craig Mack’s Project: Funk Da World is really a forgotten gem of an album, and you produced some other tracks on it. Can you talk about the making of “Flava In Ya Ear”?
Easy Mo Bee: I was gonna say that people tend to forget that Craig Mack dropped like seconds before Biggie. I guess that’s just in terms of development that Puff had Craig ready a little bit before Big. Here we go again with another story: “Flava In Ya Ear” was supposed to be Apache’s song.
DX: You mean “Gangsta Bitch” Apache?
Easy Mo Bee: Yes.
DX: Rest in peace to the brother.
Easy Mo Bee: Yes, sir. I gave him this beat, and I kept checking back like, “Yo, you put anything to it?” Apache was like, “Nah, I haven’t because I’m doing shows and stuff like that. I’m traveling with Naughty By Nature, and I’ll get around to it.” So when I came over to Bad Boy, playing stuff for Puff, I had a tape, right? He wasn’t supposed to hear that. Somehow the tape I brought over there still had the “Flava In Ya Ear” beat on the tape. I didn’t make up a new tape and say, “Hey yo, don’t put this beat on that tape.” So that beat came on and Puff said, “Yo, what’s that?” And my voice got real, real long and in my mind I’m like, “Awww.” I had a real low voice, and I said, “Yo, Apache is holding that.” Puff said “What? I will cut you a check for that right now!” Beat sold! I was like, “Homeboy’s on tour, and I don’t know when he’s coming back. I gotta get my money, man [laughs]!”
Rest in peace to Apache, man. Whenever I saw him, the brother had the brightest smile on his face. When you walked up on him, that was his whole aura. He was a vibrant, real colorful brother as far as his personality. And shout out to Nikki D because that was his soldier. They always were side by side. The first Rap lady of Def Jam. No doubt.
DX: Do you have any back stories dealing with Hype Williams at that video shoot?
Easy Mo Bee: First of all, I showed up to the video shoot. And I don’t know how it happened, but everybody was told to wear something black. And I showed up with colors that totally didn’t coincide with that. And Hype said, “Yo, what’s up with your colors, man?” Somehow I ended up not getting in the video.
DX: So you got sent home because you didn’t have black on for the video shoot?
Easy Mo Bee: They were like, “Yo, we’re trying to keep it all black, man.”
DX: So you were too colorful for the minimalism in the look of the video?
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah, I was supposed to be in the video. I was there. There’s a picture of me that I have stored in my computer from a photo shoot. It was like a break in the video, and everybody had a moment in which they’re together for a group photo. I don’t know. What is more important is that the record came out, and the world enjoyed it. You know what I’m saying?
And the original to the remix, Puff had the idea to turn the remix into like Big Daddy Kane and the Juice Crew’s “The Symphony.”
DX: Like a posse cut.
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah, with all these different emcees going one after the other. It was a crazy lineup. You have Biggie first, Craig Mack second, Flipmode Squad’s Rampage, and LL Cool J, then finally Busta came one. What was interesting was that LL at that time was a great thing that happened to him. I think that propelled him right back into stardom because second before that he had 14 Shots To The Dome. There was some records on there like “Back Seat Of My Jeep,” “Pink Cookies,” and things like that. But Hip Hop was changing, and a lot of attention was landing on a lot of the newer rappers. So the younger rappers might have overshadowed 14 Shots To The Dome. But when he got on that “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix),” he was back, baby! [Laughs] And he killed it. LL’s appearance on Flava In Ya Ear did so much for his career, too. And he came out with his Mr. Smith album, and I produced a track on it called “Life As.”
DX: What was the difference between Biggie and Craig Mack’s work ethic in the studio?
Easy Mo Bee: Well, the difference between the two was that Craig Mack was definitely more animated and more of an excited persona and character. Big was the type to just sit back and relax. Big wasn’t jumpy. He’d maybe freestyle to himself and stand in one spot. But he wasn’t running around the studio with all this energy. That was Craig. So I had to cater to that energy. It just fit. Puff was like, “Yeah gimme that beat. That’s gonna be for my new rapper.” That’s how Puff described Craig Mack, “my new rapper.” He had that crazy drunken style. I don’t know if anybody ever said this, but Craig Mack was reminiscent in the personality of Biz Markie to me.
DX: Yes! Absolutely. He both had that zany, crazy facial expression thing as part of their image, too.
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah I remember that. I don’t know if anyone had ever looked at it in that way, but I’m thinking of what’s happening and I was like, “Man, this is coming full circle.” I was heavily influenced by Marley Marl, and Biz Markie was one of his artists. “Flava In Ya Ear” was actually an ode to Marley Marl’s “Droppin’ Science (Remix)” for Craig G. And then Craig is on my track with the drunken style, and I was like “Yo, this is all unfolding properly [laughs].”
Easy Mo Bee Revisits The Making Of “Ready To Die”
DX: So you were the first producer enlisted to work with Biggie on Ready To Die. And one of Puff’s original Hitmen production crew.
Easy Mo Bee: I ended doing what people call the lion’s share amount of the album. I did six songs: the title track “Ready To Die,” “Gimme The Loot,” “Friend Of Mine,” “The What,” and “Machine Gun Funk.”
DX: What was your favorite song on Ready To Die and why?
Easy Mo Bee: Believe it or not, it’s almost like a tie between “Warning” and “The What.” When we explain how the song was created in like a “hush-hush” like way he’s telling the story on “Warning,” with the snares smacking hard like “dah-boom-doom-tah! dah-boom-doom-tah!” I thought the drums were just EQ’d so crazily, and that’s one of the best EQ’d records I felt like ever. Out of all of the records, the drums were just smacking so hard on “Warning.” Everything just sounded right.
And then the total opposite of that, “The What.” It wasn’t drummed up. It was that raw, gritty… And [Biggie and Method Man] sounded good on that one because all the records he had done up to that point [for Ready To Die], it was just… How can I explain it? A lot of production that went into it for a long time. And if anything, if I had to compare it to one of the only other records to “The What” would be like Premier’s “Unbelievable.”
DX: No doubt.
Easy Mo Bee: It was more laid-back. Really raw. Really gritty. It wasn’t necessary to have this so-called structure in the beat. Eccentric hooks created by the producers with the snares smacking really hard. Naw. It was a dope beat. It’s dope, but it shouldn’t be doper than the rapper. Not better than the emcee. If I can describe that, somebody told me that’s the way Nas picks his beats. Beats that aren’t bigger than him. It has to be good, but can’t be bigger and louder than him. It has to be just enough in the background to carry what he’s saying. And to me, that was “The What.” That was also Premier’s “Unbelievable.”
DX: Lore has it that it was just a skeleton of a beat that wasn’t even really completed. In an old XXL article, Premier was quoted about Biggie not have much money left from his recording budget, and he stepped to Premier to hopefully look out for him to pass him any beat he had available to rhyme on.
Easy Mo Bee: Right.
DX: Did Biggie feel intimidated by Meth’s verse or rhyming ability? Going back and forth, it seemed like they were trying to size each other up.
Easy Mo Bee: Oh yeah, you can hear that on the record. They’re going head-to-head. But the good thing about it was that you hadn’t heard that in a long time. Maybe like Black Moon or Smif-N-Wessun. What I’m getting at is that there was an EPMD-like back-and-forth exchange. One is saying two bars, and the other saying one bar, and they’re throwing it back and forth. You know, we can say that they were going head-to-head, but also a lot of that was thought out and put together. They planned that. They had to write that, and put it together like that.
DX: How did Meth come into the fold, notably as the only other rapper featured on the album?
Easy Mo Bee: I can only imagine that Puff had A&R’ed that. It was probably him that contracted Method Man to come in. Maybe he felt that was a good idea to put Meth on the song. With Meth being the only single feature on the album, it’s great too because today in order for cats to make albums they got a slew of features to help carry the album to make it sell. But back then you got Big who only had one person on there, and Craig Mack had nobody on Project: Funk Da World.
DX: I heard the beat for “Warning” was originally supposed to be for Big Daddy Kane, and he passed on it?
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah it’s true. [Laughs] It’s true.
DX: Kane’s influence seems to be the “X factor” in the developmental stages of Biggie’s career history. And the fact that “Warning,” one of the best songs and beats on Ready To Die, was initially for Kane is shocking. Explain how that happened.
Easy Mo Bee: I had an apartment on Gates and Greene. Kane used to come over my house, and this was around the time he was doing those post-Cold Chillin’ albums like Veteran’s Day. We were really tight at that time. I landed a couple of tracks on that album too.
So I’m playing tracks for him one day. I get to that [“Warning”] beat and say, “Yo Kane, that’s Isaac Hayes. That’s your shit.” He said, “Play the next beat.” I said “Yo man, that Isaac Hayes, dog! That’s your shit, man.” And he was sitting with a pad, and was writing. Again, he said to me, “I said play the next beat.” So I said one more time, a third time, “Are you sure, man?” He just replied, “Play the next beat.” So I said, “Okay, man.” Later he argued me down saying “No you didn’t play me that beat!” [Laughs] But I did. I did. What people don’t know is that beat was made for Kane. I can pull the disc out with that beat, and it still has his name on it.
How Big Daddy Kane & Ice Cube Influenced Biggie
DX: In an XXL article a few years ago, Ice Cube stated that Puffy acknowledged to him that Biggie and Puffy had listened to Amerikkka’s Most Wanted before they made Ready To Die. Does that statement or acknowledgement from Puffy qualify to you?
Easy Mo Bee: Wow, I never knew that. But I will say that Amerikka’s Most Wanted is one of my favorite albums. And I’ll tell you why. Because it was manned by Public Enemy’s The Bomb Squad. Shout out to Hank Shocklee and Keith Shocklee. They came at a slightly later period than Marley Marl, but I didn’t say it earlier that the Bomb Squad is highly influential to Easy Mo Bee. Highly influential to Easy Mo Bee! All of their creations were collages. Oh my goodness, man! And that’s one of the reasons why Amerikkka’s Most Wanted was one of my favorite albums. Just the layers, I can’t [sighs]… Let’s put it like this: Amerikka’s Most Wanted was just another Public Enemy album. It’s just that they had Ice Cube on top of it. The dopest thing ever at the time. Shout out to Ice Cube, man. Classic, man. It goes down in history with him and the Bomb Squad. My favorites.
DX: What’s also compelling in terms of Ready To Die’s political ethos and musical connection to Cube, Kane, and the Bomb Squad was that those artists only collaboration together was on Public Enemy’s song “Burn Hollywood Burn.” Who were Biggie’s favorite rappers? I heard DJ E-Swift from Alkaholiks say not long ago in an interview that they toured with Biggie in 1993, and that Biggie had told them about how his rap style was heavily influenced by King Tee. Did you ever hear that from him?
Easy Mo Bee: No I didn’t. But Big did tell me that he loved and studied Big Daddy Kane kinda hard. He loved Kane.
DX: What’s sad is that he died in L.A., but he mused about how loved Cali and you could hear it in his music on Ready To Die. And for us talking about the Amerikka’s Most Wanted influence on your production style and you hear Dr. Dre’s “Little Ghetto Boys” sample from The Chronic in the album’s first song “Things Done Changed.” So that’s why I had to ask about the West Coast influences.
Easy Mo Bee: Well come to think of it, he also was a big fan of Ice Cube too.
DX: Makes total sense. Ice Cube is a master storyteller. And Biggie made you feel like you were at a movie or like he was preaching from a pulpit on Ready To Die.
Easy Mo Bee: Two of the six songs we did are stories: “Warning” and “Gimme Da Loot.” Interesting. When we first did “Gimme The Loot” people would ask me, “Yo, who’s the other dude on the song?” I’d have to tell them, “That’s him [laughs]!”
DX: Was that the premise for making that song and that beat?
Easy Mo Bee: A lot of times giving Big beats, we would try all sorts of things. You know, that’s what you hear today, but we would go through maybe two, three, or four things to see what would actually work. Only certain things really fit together. Like for instance, on “Gimme The Loot” with that demure, laid-back, really spacey and open lawn that Biggie could just spit all over. It fit. Just like Public Enemy, with Chuck D and them would make things sometimes would be loud and aggressive like [mimicking Chuck D’s voice], “Here it is!” It’s appropriate. But they would have other records like “Pollywannacracka” [from Fear of a Black Planet] for the dialogue, and it’s not necessary to be that loud because they want you to hear what they’re saying. That’s how the beat was on “Gimme The Loot.” The beat was more demure, like hushed a bit for him to tell the story. The sound effects and things in the verses would help accentuate what he was saying, but basically the beat was hushed or quieted down. It was just all perfect, man. And then the time came when the hook had the loudness. It’s like when Chuck came in with the “Here it is!” Same thing with Biggie saying, “Gimmie the loot! Gimmie the loot!” There’s a time for everything that’s supposed to happen at certain points.
“Warning” was another one. He’s telling a story. Don’t make too much noise like [sounding out the “Warning” sample loop and drums]. That and a couple drawn out here and there from the strings, which represented anticipation. And it builds up. It’s like a story. You know?
DX: What was Biggie’s creative process for making songs and his lyrics? What stuck out to you the most?
Easy Mo Bee: A lot of times, the beats were presented to him before his lyrics were even written. He would get a track, and he may write something to it. And then he would get on it and might be like, “Nah, that don’t work.” So we gotta change the beat, and then it finally fits. It was a bunch of hit and miss, trial and error.
DX: People always talk about the beef between Tupac and Biggie before the end of their lives. But I want to ask you about what you witnessed during their friendship and working with them simultaneously in the same studio. What was the chemistry between them that you can best recall when you produced and recorded “Runnin’ From The Police?”
Easy Mo Bee: If you want me to recall that era and that session, they were friends, man! There were friends drinking the same liquor, smoking the same weed. Pac had his crew, The Outlawz up in there. Mopreme and Rappin’ Is Fundamental was there, because we were singing on the record, and a bunch of cats from my projects was up in there. But the session was fun-filled, and nothing but love and a bunch of creativity going on. That’s the best way I can describe the session. My engineer Eric Lynch was kind of frustrated from how crowded it was. Sometimes he had to lean forward over the SSL board. He couldn’t sit down while twisting knobs. There’s a bassline in the original version. Go back and listen to that record. I played the bassline live all the way through that record from the SP-1200 through multi-pitch. It was like a bass guitar strumming, and if I messed up, it was like “Yo bring it back, and plug me in.”
DX: No loops at all?
Easy Mo Bee: I played the bass all the way through the record. I used to do interesting things like that. I used to tell my engineer, “Just bring me back and punch me in.” I knew that 2Pac was big on the funk and valued that whole playas thing. So I wanted to create something loose.
DX: Biggie was also fabled to have a sense of humor. He had a sense of humor too in his lyrics, but also had a shyness I remember him saying. Was he ever shy around you or a jokester type of person?
Easy Mo Bee: Not shy but maybe a man of certain words when he was serious. But yes, a real prankster at times too!
DX: Was Ready To Die the working title of the album during the recording process of the album? Or was it something else?
Easy Mo Bee: “Ready To Die” was, the way I remember it, actually the first song we recorded for the album after doing “Party & Bullshit.” That set the tone for the rest of the album.
DX: That’s important to note because it spoke to his vulnerabilities to his mother and the mother of his first born child.
Easy Mo Bee: In the beginning, I had light conversation with him asking why he felt ready to die. At that time, I had never worked with anyone with such daring language, so I really wanted to know.
DX: So was he just being honest about his life and ready to give up? The track has a weeping undertone to it. Especially the chorus.
Easy Mo Bee: He told me that his mother had breast cancer, his girl was pregnant and that it was hard for him in the streets trying to keep paper in his pockets. In other words, “I don’t care. I will rob, steal, do whatever it takes for me to survive—to the point where I’m ‘Ready to die’ for this paper.” That was his take on it.
DX: He was far from an R&B artist, but he mused in a Rap style that was similar to one in regards to the women closest to him in his life it seemed. A lá “Me & My Bitch,” “Ready To Die,” and “Juicy.” Most rappers back then spoke of women as problematic like 2 Live Crew, Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero,” or EPMD’s “Jane” songs or “Golddigger.” But Biggie seemed like he was looking for solutions by any means necessary to provide for them.
Easy Mo Bee: Exactly. Junior Mafia used to tease me and would tell me, “Loosen up, Mo. You too sensitive.” All I wanted him to do was be aware with words, because sometimes we can speak ourselves into our own existence.
DX: Right. Did he freestyle on the title track “Ready To Die” or handwrite that song?
Easy Mo Bee: He just went in the booth and knocked it out in a couple of takes.
DX: Wow. Almost therapeutic for him.
Easy Mo Bee: Mmmmm hmmm! He wouldn’t even step into the booth until he knew he was ready.