Easy Mo Bee Reflects on The Notorious B.I.G.
Look at the production credits of Notorious B.I.G.’s, Ready to Die, and Easy Mo Bee’s name won’t be hard to find. The longtime producer crafted classic Biggie hits such as “Gimme the Loot,” “Machine Gun Funk,” “Warning,” “The What” featuring Method Man and the album’s title track, “Ready to Die.” Mo Bee's also responsible for Big's introductory solo single, "Party and Bullshit." The track originally appeared on the Who's the Man soundtrack in 1993 and was later featured on the Notorious soundtrack 16 years later. XXLMag.com recently had a word with the Brooklyn-bred producer, who talks about being the very first producer Big ever worked with in a studio, the Bed-Stuy lyricist's legacy and who the Black Frank White would have been working with if he were alive today. Mo Bee even takes a stab at what Biggie’s next album would have been titled. Think B.I.G.—Mark Lelinwalla (@XXL_Mark)
XXLMag.com: March 9th marks the 15th-year anniversary of Biggie’s passing. You worked with him closely...
Easy Mo Bee: Yeah. What a lot of people don’t know, they really don’t understand, I was the first producer that Biggie went into the studio with, like a real studio.
That’s incredible. Obviously, he was raw and right off the block from Brooklyn, so what was that first studio experience like?
I was just so surprised at how ready he was. Dude was not writing nothing down. He was just so ready. He would just go into the booth and bang out three verses from his head. Beside the dude AB Money, who used to be in a group with me called Rapping Is Fundamental, I had never seen nobody do that before. Biggie was the second person that I ever seen in my life that could just bang verses out off the top of his head without writing nothing down and everything being in perfect verbal order and making sense. His stories, punchlines, everything, I was like, "This dude is special, man."
Hypothetically, if Biggie was alive today, what direction would his music have gone?
I think I could hear B.I.G. experimenting with other producers. You know music has changed a lot. A lot of it is down South-driven, but I could hear him do some of that stuff too. I think there would have been a certain line that he would have drawn as far as the new stuff he would have been experimenting with, but I could see him now at this day in time as like a man, that lyrical matador that’s just holding fort and having everybody like, "Damn, man, what’s the next thing he’s going to say on a record?" The same type of position right now that Jay’s holding, that would have been Biggie right now.
What kind of sound do you think he would have sought out? Do you think he’d be rapping over beats that people didn’t expect?
Yeah, I definitely could see him doing that. I think in a lot of respects, that’s what Life After Death was. It was that initial departure from the grime and the grit from that first album Ready to Die and a big part of that was due to Puff, to Diddy. I don’t know if I told this story before, but Puff went through like 80-something beats or something like that I submitted for the second album. Every last one of them, he was like, "No, no, no, no. This album, we taking a different direction. We’re not trying to make him some kind of pop artist, but we’re trying to get that radio, trying to get that club." On the first album, I had submitted the concept to “I Love the Dough” on Ready to Die. But vice versa, Puff wasn’t ready for it then. He turned that down then. OK, so after the 80 beats I submitted and he was like, "No, no, no, no," I was like, "Yo, what about that “I Love the Dough?” He was like, "Aight, so hook it up, bring it in." So, I kind of tightened it up, brought it in and was like, "This is it, this is it." As an added attraction, I had “Going Back to Cali.” I did six songs on the first album. I’m just happy that I was there in the beginning to help jump that off. Even if he was alive today and no matter where he would have took it, I’m just happy that I was there in the beginning to inject that first funk, that first grit and grime. It’s just like Jay and Reasonable Doubt—no matter what he do, people would always base him upon that. It’s the same thing with Biggie. No matter where he would have taken it, they would always return to the blueprint of Ready to Die.
He had Ready to Die, Life After Death. What do you think the title of his next album would have been?
Before I answer that, let me just say that the title Life After Death...I was always uncomfortable with it. Number one because at the time him and 'Pac were going through all the different stuff they were going through and I remember going up to the label and first seeing the artwork for the second album and it had B.I.G. standing next to a hearse with the title Life After Death. I told them, "No, no no! Don’t do that!" I understand that the albums were following a timeline to tell a story, but according to what he was going through at the time, it wasn’t something that my soul was happy with, that my soul agreed with. We got to be careful what we say sometimes.
Art could imitate life kinda thing.
Yeah, yeah. And then beyond words, a title. I was like, "Whoa…that’s touchy." The title itself, Life After Death, I didn’t like because what else could be likened to life after death? First thing that came up in my mind was the Resurrection. Don’t get me wrong because I love B.I.G. I love B.I.G. with all my heart, but I don’t hold back my true feelings.
It’s interesting that you use the word resurrection, though. If you follow the trajectory of B.I.G.’s album titles, the next LP could have very well been titled The Resurrection or something to that effect, huh?
Yeah. If he was going to follow the timeline, yeah. Absolutely.
Who do you think he would have been collaborating with if he was alive?
I could see him doing records with Eminem just as well as doing records with more grimier street artists like Dipset. B.I.G. wasn’t really particular like that. I mean, you just had to be wack for him not to saddle up to you. If you look back at some of the people he did work with, it’s vast, man. I could have seen him working with Eminem, definitely continuing to work with Jay-Z with whatever they were going to do. That Commission thing definitely would have panned out and taken place. But I would have seen Jay as somebody he would have constantly collaborated with. I think they both probably would have continued to push each other to the edge lyrically. I could also see, you see what Jay and R. Kelly did or what Slaughterhouse is doing now, almost like a hip-hop LSG, I could have seen B.I.G. doing something like that. But overall, I love the concept that you’re bringing up of if he was still here because if he was still here, I think the whole standard would be raised. I think if he were still here, the standard would be raised and a whole lot of this garbage that you see, wouldn’t get through.
The standards would be raised, man. If it were lower, you’d have to limbo a little bit lower. [Laughs]. B.I.G. wasn’t an over-talker. If you caught it, then you caught it.
Do you remember some of the things B.I.G. used to tell you?
He would talk about getting his family right and by his family, he meant his family and Junior M.A.F.I.A., Lil' Kim. He wanted to set up companies, his clothing line, and get his paper straight. I remember him telling me, "Yo man, I don’t ever want to be broke again. I don’t ever want to be broke." If he was still here with all he was doing, that definitely would have allowed him to do things beyond Brooklyn. Ah man. I see dude really being smart with his companies and making things happen. One of the things I was always curious about was, "Was he gonna ever leave Bad Boy and start his own [label]?'
What do you think?
I think at the point he left us, he had the power to do anything. Once you reach this plateau, it’s like you can do anything you want. How they say, like Nas and Scarface, the world is yours. At the point and time he left us, he had the power and was sitting in the position that he could do anything. He could have taken it anywhere and it just would have happened just like that.
Anything I didn’t ask or mention, that you’d like to add?
Young hip-hop artists, I know they’re doing everything that they’re doing right now, but just make sure you do the history of where this came from. They got to know the Notorious B.I.G.s, the Big Daddy Kanes, the Rakims, the Tribe Called Quests and we could go on and on at how important they are to this game. They laid the groundwork for what they do now. Subliminally, we do a whole bunch of things musically and lyrically and sometimes we don’t even realize where we got that from. What we’re doing is monumenting Biggie and showing how important he was. This man wasn’t too big on his records to shout out people like Marley Marl, Kid Capri.