Stevie J Remembers His Greatest Hits
There's a lot more to Stevie J than funny facial expressions. To Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta's religious viewers, he's a deceptive womanizer who's become a consistent scene-stealer on the VH1 hit reality TV show. But Stevie's legacy will ultimately have to do with music. As part of Sean "Diddy" Combs' Hitmen production team, the self-taught multi-instrumentalist was a crucial part of Bad Boy Entertainment's late '90s dominance and has produced and written hits for the likes of Jay-Z, Mariah Carey and Eve, just to name a few. This year marks 15 years since the releases of three Bad Boy blockbuster LPs he was involved with—Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death, Puff Daddy's No Way Out and Ma$e's Harlem World. Stevie J recently chopped it up with XXL to look back on some of the standout songs of his discography. —Carl Chery (@cchery)
The Notorious B.I.G. “Intro,” Life After Death (1997)
That was done right after Biggie’s death. We were in the studio just listenin’ to a bunch of his old records. I was just playin’ piano on top of it and D. Dot was like, “Hold on, hold on. That’s it." So Puff’s sittin’ there, like, “That’s it.” [He] hit the record button. So I just started playin’. As the DJ was playin’ different Biggie records I was just playin’ piano, over, on top of it. It was organic so to say. It was like, shit, we listenin’ to our man’s joint that just passed and we’re just playin’ some sad music over it. And that became the intro.
The Notorious B.I.G. ft. The LOX “Last Day,” Life After Death(1997)
Most of the album, Life After Death, was a lot of samples. It was sample-driven. And these instruments that was in the sample, I would replay that. If it was a piano sample, I would come on top and play the piano. If it was also strings in that sample, I would play the string part, and embellish it. I’m on it musically. On “Last Day,” yes, Havoc was credited as producer, I co-produced it with him as I put all the musical elements into the song.
The Notorious B.I.G. “Mo Money Mo Problems,” Life After Death (1997)
That was actually Mason Betha’s idea [to sample Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out"]. We all came from Basketball City. We was hangin’ out a little bit that day. He came in the studio and was like, “I got one for the album right here. Sample this.” Put the record on, smashed it. [I] replayd the guitar sample, replayed the bass on it. I put the bass on it. That was it. The beat was done in literally 20 minutes. I mean, it was actually cool for me [to sample such a big song] because it was like playin’ the same instruments on the record so when you drop the sample out, that’s when the magic happens. I’ve never been opposed to samplin’. But now, and that era, it’s all about new things, new records, new classics, just a new way of doing everything.
The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony “Notorious Thugs,” Life After Death (1997)
Honestly, I was in the studio hanging out with Big all night. [I] smoke a little bit of somethin’ for my cataracts so [Biggie] brought me somethin’. He was like take this and it had somethin’ extra in that thing. I was like, “What’s goin’ on in my world?” I ended up makin’ that beat. We ended up takin’ the private jet that morning—no one got to sleep—we ended up takin’ the private jet that morning to L.A. to meet Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. After they heard that beat, it was magical. We stayed in L.A. for two days workin’ on that record. It was a beautiful experience, just being in the studio with Bone and watchin’ them rip the record. Now, Big is just sittin’ there. He’s just chillin’, conversatin’, smokin’, drinkin’. Everybody’s like, “Big, what you gon do?” All of a sudden Big was like, “I’m takin’ mine to New York. Y’all hear mine when I get back to New York." So, I go to my accountant’s office when I get back from L.A. and when I got to the studio Big had already laid his verse. When I heard his verse, I was like, “It’s a new world out here.” Big ripped that joint. He ripped it like Bone ripped it. Classic!
The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Lil’ Kim “Another,” Life After Death (1997)
Aw man, Biggie and Kim was arguing in the studio as usual. D. Dot was like, “I got a record that they need to laid down." So we put that joint together, me, Dot, Pluck, put that together in no time we ripped it. Everybody in the studio arguing, so take that energy in the booth and y’all make a song off that. That was really organic. The intro and everything, it was real. There was nothing scripted or made up.
The Notorious B.I.G. ft. “Niggas Bleed,” Life After Death (1997)
Nasheem Myrick and Carlos Broady, they came to the table with the actual sample of the track. They just brought it to me after Big laid his vocals. Him and Puff would always come in and be like, “Yo, test this and make this feel like this." We had a conversation about what it needed to feel like, the drama, what needed to take place on the record. So, once again I laid all the musical elements and painted the picture musically. I brought the drama with the strings and the piano, all the other sounds, sound effects and everything. That was a real classic record.
The Notorious B.I.G. “Playa Hater,” Life After Death (1997)
Biggie was gon make a record called Biggie Ballads. He wanted to sing on some joints. “Player Hater” that actually was done impromptu. He had an idea. He wanted to sing, “Playa hata [sings]." What I did, I went to grab the band from downstairs from the Blue Angel and we put that together, one take. We laid that down. Big came in and laid his vocals. Puff came in a laid his vocals. That song is so classic. Who wants to turn that down. That sound like somethin’ like Freddie from Vegas with the live bands and the flutes.
The Notorious B.I.G. “Nasty,” Life After Death (1997)
We actually had sampled Vanity 6. [Hums Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl”], but when we went to see Prince. We went to see him perform at his crib. Me and Puff was talking to him and he was like, basically, you can’t use this. After we watch Prince’s concert, we went back to New York and I just went in and just picked up the bass and made a bassline and created everything around that bassline.
On “Nasty Boy” Being Remade As “Nastsy Girl” for Biggie Duets
I’m gonna get paid from [“Nasty Boy” remake] regardless 'cause it’s an original record. And it’s actually kinda dope to keep Biggie’s legacy alive. Having great producers and great singers singing on the hook, make sure the kids continue to know about the greatness of Notorious B.I.G. It’s actually a win on both sides—a win because my kids will eat off the publishing from that record and then the young generation gets to know about Big. Win all around the board.
The Notorious B.I.G. “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Kills You,” Life After Death (1997)
[DJ Enuff] brought the sample to the table and he produced the beat of it, but I ended up strippin’ the sample and playing everything live. It was great just to be able to take a sample and strip it all the way down to nothin’ and begin to put the guitar part down, the live bass part, and the keyboard parts. The way the guitar sample was on that record [mimics guitar sound], I had to replay all of that. It just makes me feel good to know that I can take someone’s creation, dissect it and make it my own and make it a complete masterpiece with help from DJ Enuff and the Notorious B.I.G.
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Puff Daddy ft. Busta Rhymes and The Notorious B.I.G. "Victory," No Way Out (1997)
Well, actually I was listenin’ to the Rocky soundtrack. And, as I heard those horns, I was like, “Oh my God.” It’s about to be, “Houston, we have a problem.” At that point, the energy around Bad Boy was already so high. Those horns definitely symbolize some type of victory. When I jacked those joints, cut the three different parts of it, or four different parts of it up…I mean, when Big heard that joint, when Puff heard that joint, when Busta heard that joint. It had its own magic. That sample is definitely magical.
Puff Daddy ft. Carl Thomas, Ginuwine and Twista “Is This the End,” No Way Out (1997)
I did a lot of work before I got with Puff with Missy, Timbaland, Static—God bless the dead—Playa, Ginuwine. That sounded like a Timbaland joint to me. So, he rubbed off on me. Puff was tellin’ me he needed somethin’ fly. What I did was I took the stutter kick that Timbaland used to use, [mimics stutter drum] . It created a little different sound with the sounds that I used, the guitar, the mandolin. That was just a fun record. I give a little credit to Timbaland on that one right there. I took a couple of pages out his book. Great producer.
Puff Daddy ft. Foxy Brown “Friends,” No Way Out (1997)
Once again in the midi room in Daddy’s House studio, creating, taking those samples and just wanted to use them like nobody else has used them. I remember Puff bringing me that joint. And he was like, “What do you think about Foxy on that joint?” I’m like, “Perfect, yo.” That all worked out perfectly. Took the sample, cut it up, played over the sample and had it ready for Foxy in an hour.
Puff Daddy ft. Faith Evans and 112 “I’ll Be Missing You,” Life After Death (1997)
Puff and myself, we were listenin’ to—sad to say after our brother’s demise—we were in the studio listenin’ to records with candles lit, Puff, myself, 112, Faith Evans, D. Dot, it was a bunch of us. When that record came on, everybody looked at each other like, “Wow.” Everybody left the room. I chopped it up, played all the elements over on the guitar, the keys, added the bassline and we were ready to jump on it. 112, Faith and Puff and myself sat in the room and made a classic along with Sauce Money. Everybody knows Sauce’s pen game is mean. The way he colors and paints the picture on the painting, he does it like Picasso. It was only right on a record like that, you need a Picasso painted, you need that paintbrush on a record like that. I believe it was an excellent decision from Puff to reach out to Sauce Money.
Jay-Z “Ride or Die,” Hard Knock Life, Vol. 2 (1998)
I didn’t find out that [Jay-Z] was gonna diss Ma$e on it until Puff come walking in on my session, like, “Yo, I need to talk to you.” You know, with the look that he had, I was like, “Damn, I did somethin’ and shit?” We go in the vocal booth, he’s like, “Yo, you know, the Jay-Z record you did, he’s talkin’ about Ma$e." I’m like, “No. I didn’t know nothin’ about it. All I know is he gave me 50 grand." Me and Ma$e was in the same building. We were in the Hit Factory, so I went to Ma$e like, “I didn’t know.” I wouldn’t be part of no fuckery against the brotherhood. I had to make sure everything was cool with Ma$e. I had no knowledge that it was gonna go down like that. I wouldn’t have been on no bullshit like that. [I told Jay-Z] come on, you can’t throw me in no beef like that, especially when I’m producin’ the record for you and [you’re dissing] Ma$e. But you know, what’s done is done.
Eve ft. Gwen Stefani “Blow Your Mind,” Scorpion (2001)
I had no parts in making the beat, but on the writing side, on the hook and the verse. [My] Pen game [is] crazy. Gwen was not there. It was me, Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, Mike Elizondo and Eve in the studio. It was bananas and it was great to be in the studio with Dr. Dre and Eve.