DJ Clark Kent Remembers Biggie as “Brooklyn’s Finest”
Thirteen years ago today (March 9), Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace was gunned down in the streets of Los Angeles at the age of 24. In the time since the Brooklyn rapper's passing, he's become a musical icon, respected and loved by fans the world over. While his murder remains unsolved, Biggie's legacy lives on through his music and even film with the release of last year's biopic, Notorious. At the heart of the film was the story of a young man that survived the rough streets of his Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn neighborhood to become one of hip-hop's most heralded artists. Despite his fame and fortune, Biggie never forgot where he came from, as he always represented BK to the fullest. That fact was made crystal clear on Jay-Z's 1996 track, "Brooklyn's Finest," where Biggie and Jigga went flow for flow for the first time, resulting in a classic record that did their borough proud. With a big budget film recently borrowing its name from the monumental collaboration and today marking the anniversary of Big's passing, XXLMag.com reached out to the legendary DJ Clark Kent—who produced "Brooklyn's Finest"—to see how the record came to be, the day Biggie stopped writing his rhymes down and why we'll always love Big Poppa.
XXLMag.com: The chemistry between Big and Jay on “Brooklyn’s Finest” is amazing. But Jay actually recorded his rhymes way before Big even got on the record, right?
DJ Clark Kent: When Jay first made the record I think it was called “Once We Get Started.” Jay probably will say it was something else but I think if I remember properly; when we first did it, it didn’t have Big on it and it was called “Once We Get Started” or “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” …When Jay laid the verses, that’s when I said, “Jay, we should put Big on the record,” and nobody knew him but me ’cause I was Big’s DJ. He’s like, “I don’t know.” I was like, “He’s my man, I work with him, I’m his DJ, he’s my boy… I just left the studio with him.” So they said, “If you could get him on the record, then we’ll see.”
XXLMag.com: How’d you convince Jay to put Big on the track?
DJ Clark Kent: Jay and Dame didn’t know that I brought Big to the studio and had him in the car waiting. So I got up like I’m going to the bathroom and bring [Big] back and they look at me like I’m a funny guy. They played the song and Jay said, “You want to get on it?” Big said, “I’ll get on it,” then Jay goes in the booth and spits a brand new song. Understand what I’m telling you, in like 15 minutes Jay wrote a new song… The song was there, it was perfect already, he meets Big, stands around for a while, let the beat play, goes in the booth, does something totally different, and left the open spaces for Big to fill in.
XXLMag.com: Did Big finish his verses that same day?
DJ Clark Kent: I knew Big and he perfects his bars, so I knew it wasn’t going to happen like that and I knew he was going to bug out when he saw my man not using a pen. That was the day Big decided, “I’m not writing anything down. If he’s not writing anything, I’m not writing anything down.”
XXLMag.com: So before that session Big used to write his rhymes down?
DJ Clark Kent: Yes, sir, absolutely. That’s also the day Jay and Big became friends, so it’s like, right then and there they became friends. All of a sudden you see them together and interacting with each other. Big laying his verse [for “Brooklyn’s Finest”] didn’t happen until two months later. So that could have been two months that they were together formulating the verses but Jay’s verses were done.
XXLMag.com: How did you end up doing the hook?
DJ Clark Kent: I had to sit down and write a hook because they left me in the studio. We were at the mix session and I’m like, “You guys have to give me a hook” and they were like, “Scratch something.” Then Jay walked out like, “I’ll be back.” Big walked out saying the same thing, but they never came back. So it’s me and Dame sitting in the studio and here I go writing a hook. I go in the booth and say the hook but I’m scared to death because I’m like, “They gonna hate it.” There was one thing we agreed, and that’s that I will never rap but I went in there and did it and it came out how it came out. It was like they either gonna love it when we go to mastering this morning or it will never be on the album because everything I scratch didn’t work.
XXLMag.com: What were scratching for the hook?
DJ Clark Kent: I was scratching vocals from everything. I was trying to use words that said Brooklyn or lines that said Brooklyn. I tried to scratch when Biggie said, “Representin’ BK to the fullest…” To me the song wasn’t “Brooklyn’s Finest” until it was Brooklyn’s finest [Laughs]. It was just a song with them two rhyming on it. It wasn’t until it was a hook on the record that the record became “Brooklyn’s Finest.”
XXLMag.com: How did y’all decide on that name?
DJ Clark Kent: I don’t think Brooklyn’s finest was said on the record but the record was Brooklyn’s finest—Brooklyn’s finest rapper, Brooklyn’s finest MC, Brooklyn’s finest DJ, so the record was Brooklyn’s finest. That was the attitude once it was done… I tried to warn people that Big was one of the best. They ain’t hear me, so you make this record and I challenge anybody, any two rappers, to get together to make a more perfect combination record than that… To me, the name of the song is perfect, because they were Brooklyn’s finest—period. There hasn’t been any other rappers or MCs out of Brooklyn that were on the level that these guys were on.
XXLMag.com: Rap fans can argue all day about who’s the best MC; Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas? What do you remember about Biggie that truly made him one of Brooklyn’s finest?
DJ Clark Kent: Honestly, did you see his funeral? He got a motorcade, B. The police blocked off the street for them to take his body from Manhattan all the way to Brooklyn. He had to be that deal to us. He was that deal to Brooklyn.
XXLMag.com: What was that day like for you?
DJ Clark Kent: I was in one of the cars in the car in tears, ’cause this dude is really my mans but I’m like, We driving through the city behind Big’s body, this is crazy, yo. It just made it harder to see how they loved my man. We took all the things we were doing everyday for granted. We were just making records, on tour, performing, but then it’s like, “Nah, dawg, we changing lives. People are loving what you’re doing. You’re not just rapping, you’re changing lives. You making people feel a different way. Look how they feel, look how they love you.” Imagine being part of that motorcade, that motorcade is like one of the impacting things that happened to rappers. Look at what happens if you make it good. Look how they love you; they loved Big, yo. Brooklyn loved Big. Period. There was no question to that. Even if you didn’t think he was the best, you thought he was Brooklyn. —Anslem Samuel