biggie-life-after-death-album-anniversary
Bad Boy Entertainment

If Ya Don't Know, Now Ya Know: Notorious B.I.G.'s Final Album 'Life After Death' Defined An Era

Meet the masterminds who mixed and mastered Biggie's 'Life After Death' album. 

Birthed out of Bad Boy Records in 1997, which was still in its infancy at the time, Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death was poised to be a breakout album from the rapper, that would continue to push forward Puff Daddy's dream of getting big and changing an otherwise saturated industry.

While the album would serve as the follow-up to his 1994 project, Ready to Die, unbeknownst to just about everyone, it would also serve as a eulogy for his death. Even so, the album's crisp, club-friendly beats on singles like "Hypnotize" and its striking storytelling on "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)," made it a classic and turned Biggie into one of the greatest to ever do it.

The album was released on a somber note, rolling out two weeks after the late rapper was killed leaving a VIBE party in Los Angeles. But those who worked closely with him on the album remember the early stages of its creation and Biggie's star power with fondness.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Notorious B.I.G's Life After Death album (March 25), hear stories from some of the producers who worked, created, and partied with Biggie, and how they defined an era of hip-hop.

The Producers

Steven "Stevie J" Jordan ("Mo Money Mo Problems," "Notorious Thugs," "Another")
Nashiem Myrick ("Somebody's Gotta Die," "What's Beef")
DJ Clark Kent ("Sky's The Limit")
Easy Mo Bee ("I Love The Dough," "Going Back To Cali")
DJ Premier ("Ten Crack Commandments")

Meet the B.I.G. Crew: How They Got Started

Stevie J.: I grew up around music. My dad had a gospel group called the Jordan Gospel Singers. I used to listen to them sing and play music all the time. They used to have instruments sitting around after rehearsals, so I got in the mood of playing drums at seven years old. [My dad] gave me some pots and pans and said, ‘Once you beat a hole in these, I’ll give you some drums.’ Two months later, I had a hole in them joints. That inspired me to then pick up the guitar and the bass, the piano, trumpet, saxophone and xylophone. Then when I met this group by the name of Joe Public, they showed me how to make a complete song. From then on, I met Jodeci and after, I met Puffy and it was all history.

Nashiem Myrick: My father was a DJ and he introduced me to the turntables and music. I was in a group with a fella by the name of Harve Pierre, who works at Bad Boy still, and David Abraham. We were under Empire Management and signed to Payday Records. That’s my only experience with the music industry before Bad Boy because we got dropped on my birthday in 1991. My friend Harve was friends with Puff, so once Puff did the transition from Howard [University] to Uptown and then to his own label, [Harve] followed and brought me along.

DJ Clark Kent: I’ve been a DJ since nine, producer since 21. I’ve been a record company executive since 24. I’ve travelled the world as a DJ, as Dana Dane’s DJ, Rakim’s DJ, Biggie’s, Puff’s and Jay Z’s DJ. I make records. I have fun. I loved music since I can remember.

Easy Mo Bee: I grew up in Brooklyn in the housing projects of Lafayette Gardens. I had a father from the South, who’d always bring a lot of gospel, blues, soul and funk around. That’s where I got the love of music from. Besides him being the one who originally introduced me to music, I watched hip-hop begin to take place right in the back park in those projects. That’s where I caught the bug, watching those block parties with the DJs and turntables, and that’s how I became a DJ at 12 years old. After DJ-ing, I made the natural evolution from playing records to wanting to make them. I didn’t know what they called it. I just knew sooner or later I wanted to do that.

DJ Premier: I’m originally from Houston, Texas and I used to work at a record store in Houston called Soundwaves Records and Tapes. The guy that got me the job heard my demo with the group I was originally with when I was going to college. My main MC and I cut newer demos, and impressed Wild Pitch Records with something new, but it didn’t pan out. So my MC got to the point of frustration where he said he was going to join the military and [eventually] joined. That’s when I told Guru [original member of Gang Starr] that I’m down to join Gang Starr because now I’m without my MC. Next thing you know, I joined the group. The other members were from Boston and didn’t want to go to New York. I was brought into the group as the third generation of Gang Starr. There used to be Guru and Damo D-Ski. Prior to that, it was Big Sug and Guru and Swav D. Sug was incarcerated, so since he was gone, that’s how I ended up in the group and carried it on from there. The rest is history.

First Impressions: 'You Know You Just Said F**k Your Mom?'

Stevie J: It was rare for an artist to just go in the booth without a pen and a pad. He would go in with nothing but a story in his head. It just blew my mind that an artist could write a phenomenal rhyme with just an imagination. He was one of the best artists to work with, not to mention that tone and his gifts to be the most fun and funny guy ever.

Easy Mo Bee: I hadn’t really worked with stuff too rough of a texture. I think about the roughest thing I had worked with was a remix for Freddy Foxxx a.k.a. Bumpy Knuckles. I started working with Biggie [on Ready to Die] and he said, ‘F**k the world. F**k my moms. F**k my girl. My life is played out like a jheri curl. I’m ready to die.’ He came out of the booth, and I said, ‘Yo, you know you just said f**k your mom?’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah. This how I’m feeling. Not literally f**k my moms. But it’s hard out here. I’m going through a lot.’ But the more we worked together, the closer we got. He said, ‘Yo Mo, my mom got cancer on her breast. I got a baby on the way, and Puff talking about this music. I hope this sh*t is going to work out.’ He was optimistic about it and hopeful, but he still wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. I grew to understand him more, and from there, it made it easier for us to work together.

DJ Clark Kent: Nothing was hard. Nothing was a fight; nothing was confusing. There wasn’t anything that he was a hard a** about. If you could make him understand it, he would say, 'Alright.’ It wasn’t no, ‘let me explain why you have to do this.’ It was, ‘This why we got to do it.’ He was the easiest artist I’ve ever worked with on any level. Even when I could tell there were things he didn’t want to do, if I could give him a clean, easy explanation, he was cool. He was the artist that if he respected you, he trusted you. That’s the reason why somebody like Puff could make a decision on "Juicy," because he trusted him.

DJ Premier: Biggie used to be on the corner of Fourth and Washington Ave and I lived at this brownstone right down on Washington, in between Lafayette and Green. You had to go to the corner where B.I.G. was posted to go to the corner store for food, weed and our 40 oz. It just became normal to see each other posted on the block. I never had a chance to listen to his demo. When I finally heard it, I liked his attitude and his delivery, and the wit of how he constructed his rhymes. It matched the way he looked when you finally saw him, like, ‘Wow, you look like just what I heard on the tape.’

Live From The Studio

Nashiem Myrick: For the most part, me and B.I.G. had a kinetic relationship because I used to always give him my material and he would love it. Working with B.I.G. was natural. [We] would understand each other, as far as music was concerned. I’d sit in with B.I.G. on his sessions when everybody would leave and go out to a club. He’d bounce things off of me in the booth like, ‘Nash, how that sound?’ I’m like, wow, this guy is asking me to direct him. That’s the relationship we had. We had one big disagreement. He used to bring this one chick from around his way to the studio. I know they was involved at one time, but I don’t know if they was involved then. She was just a cool, beautiful chick. She would always come and pay me some attention when she came to the studio. So what happened was, B.I.G. married Faith [Evans], and then after the “Big Poppa” video, [the chick] came at me and told me the truth: ‘I like you. I always liked you.’ I knew this was going on! So me and her started dating, and she got pregnant by me. B.I.G. took offense, then me and him didn’t speak for like six months and we were working together! Imagine being in the studio with someone and he’s not talking to you, but we still have to produce songs together. It was crazy to me. One day, we had a party in Queens and B.I.G. stepped to me and we aired it out.

Stevie J: The relationship that me and B.I.G. had in the studio is, he trusted me with me being a musician and producer, to do what I do, and I trusted him as a phenomenal MC and storyteller that he was, to do him. It was never no, ‘Try and do it like this.’ He knew what it was. He knew what he wanted the outcome to sound like. So it was never a discrepancy in the studio with me and him. Nine times out of ten, all the beats I played him, he liked them all. B.I.G. would come in the studio with his Jarell Branson and his Don Perignon, his Malibu, cranberry pineapple juice, and might be some Remy there. He would be there with all the boys, they’d be talking while he’s writing, and by the time B.I.G. was ready to go in the booth, all the n***as was sleep. It would be  2 a.m., but you’d hear some of the stories that all the dudes was telling in the rhymes. So how could B.I.G. listen to every single thing in the room and put it all together? I mean phenomenal! That's storytelling at its best.

Easy Mo Bee: B.I.G., Junior Mafia and Lil Cease used to be in the studio like, ‘Mo, just chill man. You sensitive!’ They used that word ‘sensitive.’ I’m from the projects in Brooklyn, and they just called me sensitive. Are you calling me soft? It got to the point that I stopped trying to talk to B.I.G. One time I went to Puffy and said, ‘Listen man, I’m telling you, you better be careful and think about some of the things he's saying. If you ain’t too careful, you might have women’s rights organizations pulling your album off the shelf and all kinds of sh*t.’ He said, ‘Everything's going to be alright. Just chill.’ Seriously though, I think the roughest thing that had come out of New York before Biggie was when Coogie Rap made that album Live and Let Die. Typically back then, that was the roughest thing that ever came out of New York. The West Coast was "ganstering" it up. We wasn’t really doing that yet. So the kind of lyrics he was kicking, I was just concerned about them. That’s all.

DJ Premier: It was just a regular studio situation. In hip-hop, you always got your crew there. Everybody’s smoking weed, drinking, talking sh*t. You always got girls in the room. Girls always want to be around rappers, especially in the 90s because we were really young, rock n’ roll stars in our culture and money was coming in. We didn’t have billions, but a couple hundred thousands was like being a millionaire back in the day. It was just like a frat party.

Disc Notes: Mixing and Mastering

"Somebody's Gotta Die"

Nashiem Myrick: That’s the first track he had for Life After Death. I gave him that during the finishing of Ready to Die, right after I gave him “Who Shot Ya.” It wasn’t even for Life After Death because he didn’t even make that up yet. It was a year before we even started the album. He was working on it gradually. He’d let me hear a verse here, a line there. And then after he finished, I heard the whole story, and put all the sound effects in it. B.I.G. is just a great storyteller, and that was a signature on the album. It bridged the Ready to Die with Life After Death. The last track of Ready to Die, "Suicidal Thoughts," goes right in "Somebody Gotta Die." It’s the perfect blend. The way it’s constructed was fairly new because we had a lyricist like B.I.G., who was painting you such a picture, that we could add elements in it. If you listen to that song, it’s like a movie on wax. You hear all the sound effects, the backgrounds, the rain, people walking, the door shutting, and it goes right along where you can actually picture the song in your head as a movie. No one was doing that at all... We took a lot of things out of a lot of songs because I probably overloaded them too much, but we had time to really sit down and just master that album correctly. I finished "Somebody Gotta Die" after B.I.G. died. He didn’t hear the finished version.

"I Love the Dough"

Easy Mo Bee: It was kind of difficult picking the tracks because we had just finished doing Ready to Die. When it came time to submit tracks for [Life After Death], I’m submitting Ready to Die texture. Puff said, ‘No, we already did that. This time I want it to be more radio, more club.’ He said, ‘ We going to touch on that, but I already got them records from other people.’ I remember during the Ready to Die album, I had made a beat tape. At the end of the beat tape, I put “I Love You More” by Rene and Angela on there. I didn’t make a beat with it; I just knew it was a cool idea. Puff listened to the whole tape. I said to him that [the song] might be a good idea for B.I.G. to use, and he said, ‘Nah.’ So on the second album, when I submitted all these Ready to Die rough texture songs, and he’s like we want something more radio, club, I said, ‘Puff remember that “I Love You More?" What about that?’ His exact words were: ‘Well, hook it up.’ I went back home and hooked the beat up, drummed it up, added some keys, rounded it out, and I brought it back. We took that into the studio and I remember setting up the tracking session at Daddy’s House, but they were just beats. They didn’t have the lyrics. I remember Biggie came in, him and Jay Z, talking and stuff. Then after a while, they started to write in their heads and pace and mumble to themselves. They did that for a while and then B.I.G. told me: ‘Yo Mo, me and Jigga going to step out.’ That was the last time I ever saw him. I waited from that afternoon time to about two or three in the morning and he still hadn’t come back. I had another meeting the next day and I remember telling [Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie] I had to leave so I could get up in the morning. I never got a call about that next session.

"What's Beef?"

Nashiem Myrick: The idea came from Carlos Broady, my partner that I produced with on many joints. He actually sent the raw version to me. When I got it, I immediately gave it to Puff, along with some other tracks. The thing with that is, B.I.G. did the song and I heard the verse, but I didn’t hear the hook. That was the one thing where I said, 'I don’t know about this one.' Puff is looking at me like, ‘What is this guy, crazy?’ But I didn’t hear the whole song, just the first verse. I’m like, ‘Puff, I don’t know about this track. Maybe it’s not the one for B.I.G.’ So Puff brought me in the studio one night and played me the whole song. He said, ‘You still feel that way?’ When I heard it, I got it. You can’t hear that in pieces; you got to hear the whole composition. Then I’m like, wow, B.I.G. did it again! This guy can’t fail. That joint is crazy. And he explains it to you, what's beef. A lot of people was having fake beef in the industry and that was not beef, my man. Beef is when your life is in jeopardy.

"Mo Money Mo Problems"

Stevie J: I’m in the lab in the Midi Room and Ma$e came through. Ma$e said, ‘Diddy, I want you to flip this right here. You got to freak this for me.’ They put that on, I sampled it, looped it up, put the drums on it, replayed the guitar part and added a baseline to it, and that’s that. Ma$e went in and laid his part, then B.I.G laid his. It was actually supposed to be for Ma$e and B.I.G was like, ‘I'll trade you a song for that. Let me get that.’ That’s how B.I.G. got it. Then Kelly Price came and laid the hook. At the time, and even still today, she had that real sultry voice. Once she put that hook on there, we knew it was gone. After, Puff laid his rap, and it was a wrap.

"Notorious Thugs"

Stevie J: I’m in the Midi Room at Daddy’s House studio. I wasn’t a smoker. That wasn’t my thing; I just liked to sip a little bit. We were supposed to be going to L.A. the next day to do the track with Bone and B.I.G., but we didn’t have the track yet. We had a lot of tracks, but B.I.G said, ‘I want you to do a new track for the Bone joint. Here, smoke this.’ It was a weed blunt with liquid hash in it. He’s like, ‘It got leak leak in it.’ I’m like, ‘What is that?’ I didn’t know what it is. He said, ‘Man, just smoke that sh*t.’ So that’s the track that happened after that. The rest of it was history. We got on a private jet, went to L.A., and went in the studio with Bone and B.I.G. Puff kept playing everybody else track. B.I.G. said, ‘Man, play the track from last night.’ That’s when the room erupted. B.I.G. did a song with Bone and cloned the whole sh*t New York style! Who does that?

"Another"

Stevie J: [Lil'] Kim and him were really beefing so you hear all that stuff at the beginning where she said, ‘F**k you,’ and he said, ‘F**k you, b***h.’ They were really going back and forth at each other at that moment. That was real; it wasn’t just ad-libs. So what I did with that track, I pretty much played everything over on the sample ["Another Man" by Barbara Mason], which is what I’d do if I sampled anything. I played all the instruments over and I found the exact drum sounds from the samples and put them on that.

"Going Back to Cali"

Easy Mo Bee: That song is based upon "More Bounce to the Ounce" by Zapp. Mind you, this is the time when B.I.G. and Pac are having their difficulties. It had spilled over into a full fledged East, West war. I told my old manager, in New York at the old block parties and house parties, that joint that would always make everybody go, ‘ohhh yooo!’ is and always will be,"Love is the Message" by MFSB. That’s an anthem. So I was asked, ‘In California, what is compared to what we got in New York? What is that anthem out there at the house parties.’ With no hesitation he said, ‘Man, "More Bounce."’ So I hooked up the "More Bounce" beat. I must have chopped that song into so many pieces. I was trying to cater to the West Coast. I was trying to get everybody on the same accord musically. I figured if I could use an ingredient, something that they loved, maybe that could take our attention off of this nonsense. Let’s party.

Mind you, I didn't know what kind of lyrics B.I.G. was going to put on there. We did not sit down together... The way I found out the song was titled "Going Back to Cali" was I was in the store around the way one night, and Blake C from Junior Mafia came in the store. He said, ‘Mo! What up man? I just came from out there from Cali. I had to leave and come back. They out there balling, having mad fun.’ First of all, it took me by surprise because I was like don’t they got beef, Biggie and Pac, and the East-West tensions? What is he doing out there? Anyway, Blake C was like B.I.G. laced my joint. He said, ‘Yeah, yeah. That "More Bounce" one, he called that "Going Back to Cali."’ I said, ‘What the f**k! Come on man!’ ‘He said, ‘Nah Mo, it ain’t dissing Cali. Matter of fact, it’s bigging them up. You got to hear it.’ I said, ‘Don’t do this sh*t man!’ He said, ‘Trust me, you’re going to love it when you hear it.’ I heard the song, and I was like okay, but I still had this fear about how they would receive it. What’s crazy about that song is here I am just musically trying to cater to California, stroke them a little bit, not knowing that Biggie would come along and he would do that lyrically on the song. I had no complaints about the mix.

"Ten Crack Commandments"

DJ Premier: That was a promo that we did for Angie Martinez on Hot 97. Back then she did a show called “The Hot Five At Nine,” where she played the top five records at nine o’clock. If you listen to the scratch at the beginning, it only goes to nine before the beat drops because it’s nine o’clock. Then when the beat drops, I only go to five because it’s five at nine. It was never ten because it was never intended for Biggie to begin with. Angie was the biggest thing on Hot 97 at that time. Everybody from Wu-Tang to every popular artist that was on the radio at that time, was doing dope promos for Angie’s “Hot Five at Nine” show. So [me and Jeru The Damaja] did our hot five and it just happened to be that beat. That’s why it was so simple. I didn’t want to overproduce. Puff happened to be on the radio that particular day. He heard it, and was like, what’s that? He started putting word out on the radio, ‘Yo Premier, if you hear this, call us on Hot 97.’ He didn’t say he wanted the beat at the time; he just said call. This was back in the time of pagers. All my homies are hitting me up telling me Puffy telling me to call him. I’m said, ‘Word? I’m in the car listening.’ I hear him interviewing, and then maybe 20 minutes in, he said it again. ‘Premier, I’m still looking for you baby. Call Hot 97.’ Once I heard him say it, because I needed to hear it myself, I called. He got on the phone and said him and B.I.G. wanted that beat. He told me the song was called “Ten Crack Commandments” and it was already done. I brought the same reel to Daddy’s House and muted Jeru’s vocals and added a ten because it was only intended for “Hot Five at Nine.” I didn’t have a ten so I put the T-minus ten countdown from NASA when they launch the rockets. Flew that in, and we had a record in maybe an hour. I really like that beat because it was simple. I’ve been driving for a long time and hip-hop comes from the car booming system and the radio. Everything I do is geared towards boomboxes and cars.

"Sky's the Limit"

DJ Clark Kent:  I didn’t have “Sky’s the Limit” in mind. I’m a producer, so I was making tracks all the time. It wasn’t like it was something specific. I made the track and it was actually given to Jay Z first. LL Cool J even had it, but they didn’t want it. We were on the road, and B.I.G. said, ‘When we go back out, bring some tracks so we can start working on Junior Mafia's album.’ I’m like, ‘You serious.?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, we going to make an album.’ We get back on the tour bus and we sat there playing tracks, and he picked what he wanted for Junior Mafia. He came up with the hooks immediately and simply went back home, but in the midst of him picking “Player’s Anthem,” he heard the track for “Sky’s the Limit.” He said, ‘I need that.’ I said, ‘For who?’ Because all I’m thinking is Junior Mafia. He goes, ‘I need that for me.’ I’m like, ‘You’re going to do a solo on this album?’ ‘Naw I need that for my album.’ In my mind I’m going, no. You can’t have it. I’m like, ‘You’re not doing that album right now.' He goes, ‘Yeah, but I’m gonna. I need it.’ I said, ‘So you want me to hold this record until after we do all this other stuff and you maybe make a new record?’ He’s like, ‘I need it.’

The funny part about the track is that I had given it to somebody before. I had to go back to that person and say, 'Do you want it? Yes or no? This is how much it costs because if you don’t want it, I got to give it away.' The guy was like, ‘No, it costs too much.’ So I was like okay, forget it. I kept it for B.I.G. He came up with the hook while he was listening to it, so I knew immediately that it was going to be that good of a record. When Biggie came up with the hook, I was like, oh yeah that’s crazy and he just kept singing the hook. Not everybody can discern Biggie’s voice, but if you listen to “Sky’s the Limit” well enough, you can hear him singing with 112. When it got mixed, I forgot to take his voice out. He sang the whole hook and the verses and everything, then we gave it to 112 for them to sing. In the process, the track gets laid first. The artist goes in, does his verses, puts a scratch hook in. 112 got the record, they sang the hook, and then the record went to mixing, which was the part where you make the song as beautiful as possible. In the mixing, you’re supposed to take out what you didn’t want. The song didn’t really have anything that we didn’t want except for that Biggie vocal on the scratch hook, but it kind of got stuffed in there by accident.

Was It A Hit?: Initial Reactions

Easy Mo Bee: I already knew [Life After Death] was going to be a hit, but when I saw that cover art with the hearse and him standing [to the side] in all black, it shocked me. It looked eerie and spooky. When I saw that cover I said, 'He is going to die.' From that point on I became very worried and fearful for him.

DJ Premier: When it got time to drop Life After Death I definitely knew he had some joints. I was already like damn, this guy got some f**king sh*t. He played me “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You),” which scared me because that can manifest itself, which it did. And not that, that’s not true of what he said lyrically, because it is. It also made me fear that something could happen to him. Especially after Pac had already passed, it made it even worse. It was frightening.

DJ Clark Kent: I don’t know if it was the first of any kind, I just knew that it was dope. When you’re in it, you’re not thinking we’re making history. You’re like, are the records good or not? That’s all that really matters and we knew the records were good. You have to understand, he already had Ready to Die. That was amazing. Then he had Snoop Dogg’s, Nas’ album, and Reasonable Doubt to look at to go, ‘Alright, what I gotta do?’ But the best thing about him is that he didn’t change who he was. He still is the best rapper we ever heard. He understood that Jay Z was the best MC, but he also understood he was the best rapper.

B.I.G.'s Downfall

DJ Clark Kent: There’s video tapes of me in the party dancing, drinking champagne and wearing a Versace shirt. I was Vice President at Motown Records, and B.I.G. said, ‘Yo, we gotta go to London.’ And I’m looking at him like, 'N***a I got a job.' He’s going, ‘Dog, I need you to come to London.’ This is the conversation we’re having inside the party. Twenty minutes later, I got on the phone and was like, ‘Yo, I think I need to do this.’ Then we all were leaving. I turned one corner, he turned around the other corner. I’m at the stop light, the light changes, and then you hear shots ringing. His car was stuck at the light. We didn’t know that they were shooting at his car. We get to where we’re going and I get a call, 'Yo, your man got shot.' I had to double back and go to the hospital. We were going to go to London. Earlier in the day, we were laughing about sh*t.

Stevie J: I was in the car in front of him. I was in the party. I had bought all of the Don Perignon that night, spent about $7,000. I was with him earlier that day. We were at Andre Harrell’s house listening to the album and talking about going on tour, making a whole bunch of money every show. Just a few hours later, he’s not with us. The day before that, me and him in the studio and he’s having a baby with Faith and I’m having a baby with Antoinette [Bennett]. And he said, ‘You could be my son’s godfather.’ I said, ‘You could be my son’s godfather.’ We talking about getting money together for the rest of our lives and this happened. It’s just f**ked up that you could take a life of somebody so [phenomenal]. He didn’t deserve that. That part of the history of my man’s story was not the coolest part.

Nashiem Myrick: That night before B.I.G. went to Cali, we was in the studio and had a chance to talk. I told him, ‘I’m not going to L.A. with ya’ll.’ I had a feeling about that because I usually go everywhere with them. If the whole crew is going, I’m there, but I said, ‘B.I.G., you know how we do. You got problems out there.’ Even if a n***a live around the corner from you, if you got beef with n***as, you don’t go around the corner. I said, ‘Just be careful.’ He said, ‘Yeah, we got that. We got that.’ I felt good when he said it. I was like alright, he must know what they doing. So to get that call, it really didn’t sink in until later on. How did B.I.G. die? It doesn’t happen to people, a big artist in the prime of his career getting murdered.

Life After Death: The Legacy

DJ Clark Kent: The only reason reason why it holds so much weight is because it’s a great album. Him dying had nothing to do with the fact that it’s a great album. Him dying is the tragedy of that album. That ain’t the impact, that’s the tragedy. Still, if he lived, it would be an amazing album. It ain’t about life or death; it’s about the music. A great album is a great album. There’s no science. Bet you know a song by Stevie Wonder. They’re great songs. They can’t go away. You can’t erase what a great song is going to do to you. If a great song is made, it’s going to be great forever.

Nashiem Myrick: Not to boast or brag, but we was making classic joints. We wasn’t making music that was involved with the times. We was doing music on a whole other level. We wasn’t caring about what the sound was at that time. We was the sound at the time. The imagery in those songs comes from a whole different circumstance. We was doing things so different, and I think that imagery that we had then, still transfers to today. You have records from the 50s and the 60s that still big hits today if you really look at the charts. And it’s because of the imagery that Motown had back then. That doesn’t come around every year or every decade. That comes around once in awhile, and [Life After Death] was one of those times. I was involved in one of those moments.

Stevie J: The music that was on Life After Death is timeless music. I listen to a lot of songs right now in the club, and I’m turnt. But I’m not going to be turnt next year to hear that joint. I’m going to go back to that classic Life After Death album. I’m going to go to “Nasty Boy,” “Notorious Thugs,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and I’m going to be like, damn, I can play that for the rest of my life. Classics are around forever.

DJ Premier: You can’t deny greatness. Even those younger generations... I know Lil Yachty said, ‘I wasn’t into B.I.G. or Pac.’ And that’s cool, but it doesn’t disservice to B.I.G’s longevity. B.I.G. didn’t hold down two decades alive; he’s holding down decades dead. His music is not forgotten in the presence of his situation.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Six Things To Know About The Mysterious Death Of Tamla Horsford

Georgia officials have officially closed the case of Tamla Horsford, citing no foul play in her mysterious death.

But the case of a mother of five who died at an adult sleepover has raised a vast amount of questions due to the nature and behavior of those present. The mysterious death of Tamla Horsford caught the eye of the public this month, but the 40-year-old was found dead at a friend’s home in Cumming, Georgia in November 2018.

On Wednesday (Feb. 20), Major Joe Perkins with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office told reporters in a press conference that none of the 40-year-old's injuries were aligned with foul play. “It was a party. They were drinking,” 11 Alive reports. “She was drinking. Most of the partygoers had gone to bed at that time, and she was on the deck alone.”

It was initially reported that Horsford accidentally fell off a balcony on Nov. 4, where she was attending a “Football Moms” sleepover with seven other mothers and three men. Local news site WSB-TV shared an early coroner’s death certificate that listed Horsford’s death as an accident but the fall from the deck caused “multiple blunt force injuries” and “acute ethanol intoxication,” known commonly as alcohol poisoning which might have led to the fall.

But friends and the internet sleuths believe there are other layers to the story as it never reached public attention until it was reported that court employee Jose Barrera was fired for illegally accessing documents related to the case. Barrera is also the boyfriend of the woman who owns the home.

Horsford’s best friend Michelle Graves who wasn’t at the party also believed foul play took part in her friend’s death. “It’s impossible to get the injuries that she had from one fall,” Graves said. After speaking to the WSB-TV about the case, she claimed her personal information was released by Barrera and sent to five of the women who were at the party. Only during an investigation into Graves claims it was revealed that Barrera accessed court documents related to Horsford’s case as well as a stalking incident involving his girlfriend.

On Wednesday (Feb. 20), more details were released about the case in the form of a 911 call made by Barrera the day Horsford’s body was found. While Barrera's 911 call was made at 8:59 am, Horsford’s body was discovered at 7:30 am by the homeowner’s aunt. Hashtags with Horsford’s name and videos shared by popular activists like Chakabars who have helped bring the story to public knowledge.

With so many layers to uncover, here’s what you need to know about the mysterious case of Tamla Horsford.

__

1. Tamala Horsford Was Found Dead At “Football Moms” Sleepover, But Men Were Present

In a video sent to WSB-TV from the adult sleepover, Horsford is all smiles while singing “Happy Birthday” with friends. What’s also seen in the video are three men, including Jose Barrera who made the 911 call. Many have wondered why men were present if the witnesses claimed it was a sleepover meant for women.

2. Her Wrist Was Cut, But Attendees Believe She Fell Off A Balcony

In the 911 call released Wednesday (Feb, 20), Barrera is heard pointing out a cut on Horsford’s wrist. "She's lying in the yard, basically on the patio downstairs. She's not moving one bit. She's not breathing," he told dispatchers. "I'm noticing a small cut on her right wrist. She's not breathing whatsoever. I don't know if this cut was self-inflicted."

As mentioned above, an original coroner’s report claimed there was blunt force trauma to Horsford’s body from the fall, but close friend Michelle Graves says the family hired another medical examiner who reportedly found multiple abrasions on Horsford’s body. "We're glad we're not the only ones who feel there's something awry with the story and with how she lost her life," Graves told Mike Petchenik of WSB-TV.

3. Boyfriend Of Homeowner Where Horsford Died Was Fired For Accessing Court Files On The Case

In December 2018, Barrera, who worked as a pretrial services officer within the Forsyth County Court system was placed on administrative leave for using his position to “access confidential files on a current investigation surrounding a death in which you were a witness.”

Forsyth County News reported he was later terminated in a letter where Court Administrator Robin S. Rooks wrote he lost confidence in Barrera’s ability to do his job. It wasn’t until February 1 that an incident report was written mentioning Barrera’s actions. In addition to the findings, Graves claimed Barrera stated in the same report that the Georgia native exposed her “work and cell phone numbers, home address, work address and driver’s license, along with information about her height, weight and extended family.” Graves stated the information was given to the other women who were at the adult sleepover.

He denied the accusations but alluded that anyone’s information can be found publically. “For her to believe that her information was leaked by me is grossly incorrect and I will believe that until the day I die,” Barrera told FCN. “Anybody can be found.”

Barrera previously worked as a probation officer in Hall County from March to November 2017 and earlier as an officer of the Department of Community Supervision in Cumming County. He was fired for the latter position but alleged it was an unlawful firing due to an “interoffice disagreement over a relationship with a coworker.”

4. Public Curiosity Believes There Are Racial Undertones To The Case

Friends and relationships exist outside of color lines all the time, just see an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or studies on the population increase of non-white people in America. But Horsford’s case has raised eyebrows because she was the only woman of color at the party. Forsyth County’s history with black people isn’t the most favorable as it was a popular gathering of white supremacists as recent as 1987.

In a segment on the early days of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the former talk show host took a trip to Cumming, where she talked with residents about their disdain for “race mixing” the LGBTQ+ community as well as the difference between “blacks” and “ni****s.”

Weird history aside, the case didn’t get national attention until two months later. History has proven deaths of black women are often overlooked and while this case was heading that way, Black Twitter and black Georgia natives tried to rewrite it.

A GoFundMe was also made for Horsford’s family but hasn’t raised much since it’s creation on November 27, 2018.

5. Homeowner And Other Attendees Of Party Have Received Death Threats On Social Media

Marcy Hardin, Jeanne Marie and Nichole Renee Lawson are reportedly some of the women who were at the sleepover at the time of Horsford’s death. As the story gained traction, the group has been the target of death threats accusations that they played a role in their friend’s death.

Law firm Banks, Stubbs, and McFarland LLP, who is representing the homeowner, issued a statement maintaining their innocence.

“At this time, each of the partygoers and their families have received death threats on various social media postings," it reads. "The threats need to stop. This tragic accident is exactly that, an accident. It is unfortunate, sad, and unbelievably heartbreaking to her family and friends. However, certain very vocal friends and family members of Mrs. Horsford have been describing this accident as a “murder.” Nothing can be farther from the truth."

6. The Case Has Been Officially Ruled An Accidental Death

On Thursday (Feb. 20),  Horsford's case was officially closed, 11Alive reported.

“The State of Georgia has ruled the death accidental and consistent with an accidental fall,” said Major Joe Perkins with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. “None of the injury patterns noted were consistent with foul play.” After speaking to the attendees' police said Horsford's death happened when she accidentally fell from a deck at the house.

None of the attendees saw the fall because they were reportedly sleeping when it happened. “While the injuries sustained appeared to have been likely received in a fall, detectives awaited toxicology and medical examiner reports to verify the findings,” Perkins said.

Horsford’s body was taken to the GBI medical examiner for an additional autopsy report. Her family has told reporters that they aren't ready to speak the public about the case and are hoping to have family photos of Tamla Horsford removed from social media.

Continue Reading
Darnell Bennett

'Frozen' Actors Discuss The Significance Of Being Black On Broadway

The breeze blowing off of New York's Hudson River made for expediency, as pedestrians bundled in their winter's warmest traveled to and from their destinations. The gunmetal January sky often teased rainshower, adding another unwanted weather condition. Stinging cold with freezing rain is prime for miserable attitudes. But inside Milk Studios, warmth and jubilance bounced.

The African-American cast members of Disney's Frozen, Aladdin and Lion King were dressed in all black as photographer Darnell Bennett snapped candids and portraits. The purpose of the photoshoot? Simple: celebrating blackness on Broadway.

It's no surprise many of the actors—both members of the ensemble and understudies—would've had to enter the theater via a backdoor a few decades ago. The history of segregation runs deep within the theater community, so it's not lost on the actors that being center stage wasn't a luxury often afforded to their theatrical foremothers and fathers.

But with time hopefully comes change.

In 2013, Frozen hit theaters, and even if you tried you couldn't escape the standout ballad, "Let It Go." Five years later, the movie found its Broadway home at the St. James Theater, where audiences can see Aisha Jackson, a black girl from Atlanta, Georgia, act as a standby as Elsa's kid sister, Anna. (The role of Elsa is portrayed by Patti Murin) Taking over the role as Kristoff is Noah J. Ricketts, another actor of color and a large triumph in the fight for equality, representation, and normality.

Ricketts and Jackson sat with VIBE and several other outlets to discuss their road to Broadway and why musicals aren't just for kids.

--

VIBE: What is like to be black on Broadway? Aisha Jackson: It’s beautiful. I’m always honored and glad to be able to represent us on stage. The best moments are when someone comes up to me and says, "This little girl was sitting next to her mom and she said ‘mommy she looks like me!’" That to me is why I’m doing this; just to inspire other little chocolate drops so they know they can do it, too.

You really stepped up. Tell us the story behind it. It was the day before the first understudy rehearsal. They usually rehearse the people who are on stage all the time first, and then they get to us and say this is what we’re doing. So I sit and I'm watching and I’m writing everything down, but I hadn’t had rehearsal since we did it in Denver which was three, four months prior. The day before, Ms.Patti Murin (who plays Anna) had bronchitis and she did the matinee and everyone was freaking out. I was like I’m not going to freak out until they tell me. But I was like ‘Okay God, I really don’t want to do this show tonight.’

So I warmed up in between shows, it was a two-show day, and my stage director came to me and said, ‘she’s going to pull through.’ I was on stage with my dance captain and they were like ‘Just run through it for rehearsal tomorrow.’ Ten minutes later, my stage director came back and said ‘so you’re on tonight’ and I was like, Oh...Okay.

But I prepared. Something I like to say is, ‘stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,’ and so I prepared and was ready.

How important is it for you to be on Broadway during Black History Month? Noah J. Ricketts: It’s very important. I would say in the last five years Broadway has changed so much in terms of representation. I know when I was growing up and coming to see shows in New York, I saw black people on stage but only telling black stories. So to see people globally accepting these stories and to see them in a new way and being a part of that change for a younger generation is incredible.

When did being a Broadway actor become real for both of you? NR: We made our Broadway debut in the same show.

AJ: Oh really? Which one?

NR: Beautiful, The Carol King Musical. I think that was the moment, at least for me, that I had my first Broadway bow. I was swung into the show four days early, so I had to really rush to learn the show. It was kind of one of those 'stay ready so you don’t have to get ready' moments and it’s amazing to be here now.

To be on Broadway is incredible. There’s so much training involved. You work your whole life to get to a certain point and one day you wake up and its here. We try and soak it in as much as we can every day and every time we bow we really try and take in the audience's applause because we don’t take it for granted at all.

AJ: I think the Broadway bug bit me when I did a production of Aida in high school. I was on stage as the understudy and they let us do one show. I went out there and I did it and I felt so at home and at peace on stage. I was like ‘Okay, I think I can do this. This is what I want to do with my life.’  I feel like we’ve all been given gifts to inspire others and my prayers are to minister and inspire others.

How would you explain the importance of going to see a play on Broadway? NR: I would say its important for children and adults because Broadway shows and Broadway plays are your life reflected. There’s something to gain each time you see a show or a musical. It could be as simple as Frozen the musical. So many people think it's just for kids, but the stories behind that really resonate with adults and families specifically. I would say give it a shot. Take that money that you may spend on a basketball game or a Christmas present and spend it at the theater because you never know what your kids can take from it and what you’ll take from it.

How do you feel like you’re giving back? AJ: Well representation matters—I say that a lot. Growing up, my mother always made sure I saw people of color excelling and so I think for us, that’s a way for us to give back to make sure that these little kids see themselves on stage in stories about them, in stories they can relate to, just see themselves doing well. I feel like in news and politics we focus on ‘this is bad,’ ‘this is poor,’ ‘this isn’t working.’ I think for us, it’s our responsibility to show them you can do this to succeed. The sky is the limit. Just keep reaching.

Continue Reading
Stacy-Ann Ellis

DJ Jazzy Jeff Takes The World: Conversations With A Hip-Hop Legend

DJ Jazzy Jeff is in just as much awe as everyone else, taking in the sprawling metropolis laid out before the W Hotel Taipei. “This is amazing,” he says from the immaculate 10th-floor pool deck, enamored by not only the sweeping city views, but also the manmade green oasis decorated with ivy walls, spindly trees and peaceful, picturesque nooks. As he imagines what the space would look like if he were here in June and not January, it’s hard not to imagine his and Will Smith’s anthemic (and Grammy award-winning) 1991 hit, “Summertime,” queued up to soundtrack the hypothetical party. But as Jeff gawks at the sights, the real on-site marvel—and part of the reason scores of worldwide DJs have flocked to Taiwan’s buzzy capital—is him.

The man born Jeffrey Allen Townes has spent the better part of his week in Taipei bonding with not only his Vinyl Destination tour bredren Rhymefest and Dayne Jordan, who came along for the trip, but also with what feels like a brotherhood (and sisterhood!) of DJs striving to keep the culture alive. Prior to his rooftop break, Jeff sat in front of a packed room of Red Bull Music 3Style attendees leaning forward in their seats, listening to him backtrack his journey from being a West Philadelphia “street DJ” to rocking booths and stages all around the world.

The animated tone made familiar by his character’s witty quips on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air hasn’t changed too much. He still sounds borderline cartoonish when he cracks well-timed jokes or cuts the air with cuss words. Only now, that signature voice belongs to a more relaxed, less wiry, and salt-and-pepper haired Jeff. “She’s in the kitchen cooking. She had to endure me working out stuff without her saying, ‘This sh*t is getting on my nerves, can you turn that down?’” he said, drifting down memory lane. Jeff, now 54, still remembers the days of his mother tolerating his many teenaged practice sessions.

At the time, he was dealing with a scrappy starter setup in his dining room: Technics B101, mismatch turntables that jumped, needles with tape on them. Essentially a janky operation he made work. “I found myself practicing cuts that I felt would make my mom pleased. If I’m practicing something to a specific song, how can I become a part of this song? How can I become a percussion in this song instead of fighting against it? I almost want my mom not to know that I’m scratching over it because I’m so much embedded in the song that [I’m] cutting on. That kind of developed somewhat of a style.”

When not doling out anecdotes like this and advice to turntable enthusiasts, he’s spinning for the international audiences that still love him. Before taking on his official judging duties alongside DJ Skratch Bastid, DJ Nu-Mark, Nina Las Vegas and DJ Craze—they eventually crowned Bay Area DJ, J. Espinosa the Red Bull 3Style IX World Finals champion—he spun to a sold-out crowd of over 3000 people at Taipei’s temple-laden national landmark, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. You can consider Jeff the OG of the multi-genre DJ competition that has crowned winners in France, Canada, Azerbaijan, Japan, Chile, Poland, Taiwan, and looking to Russia next year, all thousands of miles away from the Pennsylvania city that launched his career.

Jeff’s infectious charisma makes plain that he is still equally as excited about his career as when it kicked off in Philadelphia over 30 years ago. “I think that if there is anything that keeps me going, it's me realizing that I play music to make people have a good time,” he says from a break room at the W, after dapping up and taking pictures with the diverse room. “It's just really paying attention to how things change, and [then] adapting.”

Funny enough, Jeff didn’t want to even leave Philly at first. In a shocking confession—and one that he says Will still won’t let him live down—he turned down an opportunity for the two of them to tour Africa when the duo started getting hot. As he says, he just wanted to live off the local success and ride around his city in peace. Then in 1998, he wised up. A show in Bristol, England was the first time he realized the viable success of touring as a DJ. Hearing the cheers from the modest-sized audience, one so far removed from the comfort of his state lines (and getting paid that lump sum immediately), “fed his soul.” Once he got a taste, he just couldn’t stop.

“It’s a big world out there,” Jeff says, grinning. At some point, he had to start bringing his homies along to witness his new reality every time he booked a gig. “I am going to bring you ‘cause you gotta see this sh*t. You don't understand... you're at the house party, at the ballroom party, thinking that ‘this is it,’ and there are 50,000 people on the beach [abroad] enjoying this music.”

At this point, Jeff’s many professional lives, all of which have reached major levels of success, are well-known. “He's had an incredible career. I think we all look up to Jeff, because how do you stay relevant over three decades of music?” DJ Skratch Bastid says, visibly in awe. “In the '80s he started as a house party DJ, then eventually started making his own records, then he signed to a major label, and then The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air created this level of celebrity and this Hollywood thing. Then he went back and started to work more in the studios—A Touch of Jazz Studios—doing a bit more of the production side and then after that, he started realizing you can go out and do more DJing again. Now he is a full-time headlining DJ. He never stopped moving.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Wanna see what PLAYLIST 2018 was like??? Check the full video here... Link in bio. #PLAYLISTRETREAT2018

A post shared by DJ Jazzy Jeff (@djjazzyjeff) on Aug 13, 2018 at 7:46pm PDT

Take, for instance, his annual Playlist Retreat (the idea of which was sparked in 2015 by the 3Style sessions), which have brought together guests as diverse as Masego, Young Guru, Mac Ayres, RCA executive Tunji Balogun, activist Deray McKesson, J. Cole, a bevy of tech figureheads and more. Every year, they camp out at his Delaware home to exchange ideas, skills, inspiration, and advice in a comfortable setting without any set expectations. “It's providing creative spaces that build collaboration,” Jeff says. “I can make music by myself, but if I make music with you, it has the chance to be twice as good."

Going from someone who didn’t have someone to follow to being a pioneer, the effect Jeff has had on the culture—both within and outside of the DJ space—has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

“I saw [Jeff] in L.A. at the Conga Room and I had never seen him play a DJ set before that night,” DJ Nu-Mark says of an unforgettable 2004 memory. “I watched it and I literally teared up for a lot of reasons, it was really hard to verbalize it. One of them was, Jeff was one of the people that I highly looked up to in the game. There was no way to learn [how to] scratch or learn how to do this other than picking up the needle on his records and going, ‘Okay what is he doing with the fader? Is he cutting it out? Oh, let me try it, oh got it wrong again.’ I’m 13 or 14 in my bedroom trying to figure it out. So watching him play live was amazing.”

Now, even from what presumably feels like the pinnacle, Jeff has no intentions to slow down his stride, stop learning or loving the craft that has brought him so far, and stop trying to groom the next crop of selectas to carry on the (digital) crates.

"Because you can change the musical form of hip-hop, it will fit into any whole. It's hip-house, it's hip-jazz, it's hip-jungle, it's hip-disco, it's whatever you want it to be because it attaches itself to any type of musical form and for that reason and that reason alone, it will always be the biggest form of music." —DJ Jazzy Jeff

Skratch Bastid has personally felt the effects of Jeff using his many platforms to expand and uplift the DJ community. “Jeff knows just by positively supporting people with simple actions you can help change peoples lives or help bring the spotlight,” Skratch says, recalling a time he casually gave Jeff a mix CD at a dinner and he actually listened to it later. “One day he tweeted three or four months later, ‘Rolling through Vegas bumping my man’s Skratch Bastid’s mix CD.’ I was like holy sh*t, jumping off the ground. Jeff uses his influence and that is the currency we all have. It doesn't cost anyone anything to big this thing up.”

“You know, as grateful as I am, I am not supposed to be in the position that I am in,” Jeff says, adamant about sharing the spotlight with those who are down to put in the work. “Like, Michael Jordan is not supposed to be one of the best basketball players at 50-something. Him being one of them points out an issue. We need to do something to break this because there is no way that you want the culture to die with you. No, that is selfish.”

Here, in a candid sit-down, the living icon opens up about the tricks and truths he’s learned about the music industry, how Beyonce changed the trajectory of music consumption, all the ways a DJ is the servant of the people, the major label exodus, and why an international career is undefeated.

--

VIBE: Let's start from the top. How did you first get involved in the Red Bull Music 3Style World Finals? DJ Jazzy Jeff: I was invited to judge and it was cool because I’ve judged DJ competitions but when they started outlining what the criteria for this one was, that you have to play three different styles of music, I just was like, ‘Wow this is dope.’ The first one I judged was in Paris [in 2010]. People pulled out different styles of music. It was really exciting. I'm not picking the best scratcher or the best mixer. I'm picking the best overall. Like, ‘Who can do a little bit of everything? Who would I want to go see if they were in a club? Will I have a good time?’ And I thought that was super important because you want as many great DJs to be around because that strengthens the culture. We are just trying to find, build and hone the skills of these DJs that will end up being the ones that run the clubs.

So when you’re in the crowd, taking off your DJ hat for a second, what do you think makes that great set? The best DJs aren't the people that play the most popular records, it's the person who played the most unexpected record at the right time. You don't go to a club and walk out and be like, ‘Yo the DJ killed it when he played Drake.’ You know what I mean? Because you expect that. It's kind of like, ‘Yo, I can't believe he played such-and-such and then went into…’ Those are the moments. When you have people who come up to you and are like, ‘Oh my God, I saw you in Vegas 10 years ago and that was the best night of my life, I met my wife.’ You want to create some kind of mood and environment that will get people there and that's what I am looking for, too.

"Just ‘cause you don't like it or just ‘cause you don't understand it, doesn't mean it should not be here." —DJ Jazzy Jeff

How do you as a DJ deal with the request game? People who want to hear that new Drake? I don't. I don't at all.

When did you draw that line? I never drew it, I never had to. When I first started DJing that wasn't a thing. Requests came when the club culture changed to bottle service and managers started being demanding with the music. It was kind of like, ‘I feel like I can tell the DJ what to play.’ I try to remove myself from those situations, because if I’m going into a restaurant to get a meal, I am going to let the chef cook it. If I am going to tell the chef how to cook it, then I might as well just buy the ingredients and stay home and do it myself.

That's true. Do you think it’s reversible? It's reversible if you don't buy into it. It's also one of those things when you go to the club that somebody takes requests and you go to the club where someone doesn't. You can tell the difference. At the end of the day, you end up going to the place that you don't know what to expect. I think that is the issue with radio or with commercial radio. When you can pick up the phone and request your favorite song, you can almost tell exactly what is coming up next. I remember driving down the street flipping stations and you get a chance to hear all of the stuff. Now I hear the same thing. There was a point in time where if I drove through Baltimore, I turned the radio on and heard a Baltimore club song that I didn't hear in Philly. When I got to D.C., I played some D.C. gogo that I didn't hear. You go to Atlanta, you hear some down south stuff that you don't normally hear, and now it's just the same thing from New England to San Diego and you're just like, ‘What happened to that discovery?’

You’ve said before that you try not to play at the same spots too often. Give them something to miss. Would you say that has attributed to your longevity? Because people do not surpass those passages of time, especially now with our short attention spans. Absolutely. It's really paying attention. You have to pay attention to not only shift in music but just to shift in culture, where you realize that we are at a time that you can't tell someone something is coming. We used to be like, ‘Oh my god I am dropping my album in June.’ That sh*t doesn't work. I never forget when I realized that culture has completely changed. Beyonce dropped Lemonade right after Scandal. Scandal went off and that was just genius. It was like Scandal went off and it's just like, ‘Oh sh*t what happened to Fitz? Wait, she dropped an album, when? She just dropped it?’ It caught everybody off guard and that was the, Okay this is where we are. Now you get an understanding of how you can release something. When we started doing Vinyl Destination, it was a point in time that we would shoot a tour and four months, three months later we would put the recap of the tour out. Now we are putting recaps out of 3Style every night. It's just really paying attention to how things change, and [then] adapting. It really doesn't have to do with you liking it. There is a lot of sh*t I have to adapt to that I don't like.

Like? Well, I don't like the way that we consume music, but in order for me to stay relevant, I have to figure out ways to play both, that it is not so much about me. I can't change the culture. You would have a lot of DJ friends that will just play none of this new sh*t and I completely respect that. I completely respect your approach to what you want to play and what you don't want to play, but you can't be mad that they don't throw a '90s party every week.

You have to understand, hey if I open up a Thai restaurant, I am only going to get people that like Thai food. You can't be mad that the industry does not support everybody coming in. It's like nah, you have a specific restaurant and you are going to get the people that like what you do. There is a difference between a Thai restaurant and Walmart. Walmart has everything, you're gonna get a piece of everybody. I think that the advice I give a lot of people is to figure out what type of store you want to open up. Are you trying to open up the bodega that has everything, or are you trying to open up the hardware store that has nails? None of them are wrong, you just have to pick what you want and own it and be cool with change, too. I mean, if the sh*t ain't work I'm gonna open up a bodega.

Be adaptable. I was listening to some of your stuff earlier and it's super melody, R&B-based. Much of your roots reside in that neo-soul vein, but I've heard some people complain about today’s R&B space. 'It’s not quite as authentic as the old stuff. I’d rather hear trap.' Is there a space and a balance for both? Absolutely. You know what it is? I think when people pay attention to what mainstream is doing, there is a deep soulful emotional musical culture in every city out there. It's just not the main culture. If you are turning on the radio looking for that, the radio is only going to play what is popular. You're not going to find it, but don't think that it doesn't exist. It may not be the ad on the radio, it may not be the billboard, it might be the flyer that somebody gives you. You may go to the function and realize that it's 200 people instead of 2,000, but it exists. I have a bunch of DJ friends that that's all they do. I go, I play this sh*t, have these great events and I do really really well because I play somewhere every week. Somebody like Rich Medina may not be the household name like Calvin Harris is, but Rich Medina has been doing this sh*t for 20 some-odd years, playing Afrobeats, funk, soul, hip-hop, and all the rest of that.

Rich Medina at 2018 PLAYLIST Retreat from PLAYLIST Retreat on DJcityTV on Vimeo.

How have your personal music tastes evolved over that timeline? What are you listening to now, just as a music consumer? I don't know if it's changed, I think it's adding. I've added new music, but I think overall there was sh*t in the '90s that I thought was great and there was sh*t in the '90s that I thought sucked and it's the exact same way. There is some new trap music that I am like, oh this sh*t is knocking, and there is some new sh*t and I am like, it sucks. It's the exact same thing and it's just really accepting what you like and understanding that there is some stuff that you don't. If it deserves to be here, it deserves a space. I think it's a form of prejudice when you say, ‘why they playing that trap sh*t, that's why these black people here.’ It's the exact same thing. Just ‘cause you don't like it or just ‘cause you don't understand it, doesn't mean it should not be here.

There is something for everyone. There is an entire world out there. What has that been like exploring that international scene, and do you tell that to artists or DJs who are not understanding, ‘why am I not blowing up?’ Absolutely. That was something that once I realized that, I never not wanted to have that. I remember. I want to say that it was easily 2000, I did the ZoukOut festival in Singapore. It was 50,000 people on the beach. I started bringing people with me, some of my friends. I am going to bring you ‘cause you gotta see this sh*t. Like, you don't understand, you're at the house party, at the ballroom party thinking that this is it and there are 50,000 people on the beach enjoying this music. It's going into the culture side. I was really telling my son that you spend all of your money in college and on spring break you drive down to D.C. and hang out in Georgetown. I know people who save their money and their spring break they are in Amsterdam at these music festivals. Understand that there is a lot of sh*t out there that you just have to open your mind up to. Thank God with social media and the Internet, it makes it a little bit easier for people to see that there is something other than what you are used to.

What keeps you in love with the craft despite any of the doubts you admitted pop up every now and then? Loving music. That's it. I don't know if the construction worker is in love with picking up the hammer and smashing it. He's doing something because he has to. Realizing that this is a blessing to do something that you love does not mean that the work is easier. It just means that I am doing something that I love and I can make a living off of it. I think that if there is anything that keeps me going, it's me realizing that I play music to make people have a good time. It's as simple as that, there is no deep analogy. I could have a hammer in my hand or I could be digging a ditch in 10-degree weather, so there is not really too much I should complain about if I am playing music for people to have a good time.

All around the world. And to see how hip-hop has grown legs since the Grammys in 1989 to become the most popular genre in 2019. What is it like to have just been in there from that early time? In 1989, it was the most popular genre. We just didn't get the props for it. So just to realize that you have watched props be given, you watched the props be taken away, and then you watched the props be given again, that's that whole cycle thing. That's if you are around long enough, you watch it come and go, and it comes and it goes. I really think, too, that a big part of this success has to do with, in my opinion, hip-hop isn't a musical form, hip-hop is a lyrical form over any kind of music. So because you can change the musical form of hip-hop, it will fit into any whole. It's hip-house, it's hip-jazz, it's hip-jungle, it's hip-disco, it's whatever you want it to be because it attaches itself to any type of musical form and for that reason and that reason alone, it will always be the biggest form of music because it takes the shape every kind of music imaginable.

I think that is true. It's just that people will always want those props, that stamp of validation from an institution, whether it's from the Grammys or whatever award show or a cosign. It is very hard to separate that desire for acknowledgment. Do you think that’s good or bad or will it change? It's funny because there was a period in time where your validation came when you got signed to major label. We are going through a thing now that everybody is fighting this exodus to get off the major label and become independent because you realize a lot of this stuff you can do on your own and someone taking the majority of your work isn't really cool anymore. It's the same thing, this has been around since the beginning of time that I think the validation that we all are looking for you used to have to go through an entity to get it. You almost felt like in order for me to get the recognition or that Grammy nom, I have to go through this record company in order to get that. Now it's at the point where I can go direct to consumer and I can get that nod without it. I am realizing that this isn't cool and I want to change it, but I think the desire to get that nod has not necessarily changed. You have just realized that you do not have to go through a middleman to get it.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Will Smith (@willsmith) on Feb 10, 2019 at 1:59pm PST

Do you think an award show statement like your Grammy boycott in 1989 would have the same effect now that we have a lot of extra things like social media? I don't know. I think the music industry is a lot smarter now. I think that boycott, when you look at it from a business perspective, something like that gets that side thinking of how not to let that happen again. So I think you can but you’ll never be able to do it the exact same way. I almost feel that they desensitize things to the point that it kind of works out in their favor. Which to me is extremely smart; it's so smart that the average person does not think about it like that, but it's kind of like, you know they are not dumb. When the whole industry changed with social media and everything got to a point where you could become more independent, it was really silly to think that the music industry was just going to roll over and die. All they did is adapt.

It’s okay, we’re not selling music anymore. The record sales are down, people are bootlegging, you have Napster, you have all of these things. Someone pointed out to me that I signed a record deal in the '90s and my record deal was for albums, CDs, and cassettes. My record deal wasn't for streaming, so who negotiated my terms for streams? Who negotiated my money for streams? Someone is making a lot, a lot, a lot of money off of streams and it's not me. Everybody who complains about the streaming industry are only artists. I have never heard a label say one bad thing about the streaming culture. They figured out a way to make themselves relevant and latch on to something and they also figured out the way to be very quiet about it. They don't say anything. Understand, everybody didn't go to the store and buy records, but everybody's got a phone. Everybody got some form of streaming something so we are getting paid off of everybody with a phone.

"From the perspective of the [Playlist] Retreat, it was really getting people in the room and rebuilding this collaboration culture that I felt like we really lost." —DJ Jazzy Jeff

Unless you are independent. Yeah, and then you kind of have a lot more control with that and that's where I think the fight is. There is a tennis match, you know we hit it over to them and they won the last set and now it's back over and we're are trying to figure it out, but do not think there is not someone in some room figuring out the next move. Everybody wants to be independent. I guarantee you, the independent market place is about to become the new majors. Easy. Everybody says “own your masters, own your masters,” that's all you hear. What do you do with them? What do they look like?

The masters? Yeah.

I don't know. It's wild because you're told to own something that you can't give an explanation of what it looks like. You can't give an explanation of, if you own it what are you going to do with it, because someone is telling you that you need to own it. And we are not doing the investigation work to realize why. Why do I need to own it? What is the purpose of owning it? I am watching this trend of, you got to own your masters, own your masters, your masters are your future, and it's kind of like how are your masters your future? Okay, you own it, so if somebody uses something down the line you will always get paid for it. What if you make something that no one ever uses? Like seriously, you know there is a lot of music out here now I can't see somebody remaking 10 years down the line. I can't see a remake of "I got h*es," and no disrespect to the rapper but you can't see that remake, so the reason for owning that master is what? You watch the chess game and it's very interesting especially if you've watched it for 20 or 30 years. This is the new thing. This was back in the day when somebody would come up to me in the studio and it was like hey, do you have an SSL? And you say what's an SSL and they would kind of look at you like, ‘I don't know, I just know the Hit Factory has one and I am supposed to.’ You don't even know what it is.

Is it because of the lack of mentorship or lack of counsel? Well, you know what it is, the music industry was set up on very bad principles. I have said on occasions, that if we start a business and we say we are going to split it 50/50 and we make $10, I know how much I am going to make. If you tell me that you are going to give me a dollar amount every $10 that we make, you get $4, I know how much I'm going to make. I have not in 30 some-odd years of the music industry been able to find someone to tell me how much 10 points is worth because there are so many factors that go into that. There are so many factors that you don't know, but it also designed to throw you off. It is designed to confuse you. It's kind of like, wow, this is crazy ‘cause I have never gotten an explanation and the more that I ask, the more I was deemed the trouble maker because I am supposed to just shut up. Michael Jackson didn't know. Prince didn't know. Prince wrote “Slave” on his face because he did not know. They are upset and they are frustrated. Michael Jackson had issues with his record company, Prince had issues with his record company. You don't think I am going to have issues with mine? So this is like, I feel like I am trapped.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Taking it back to the block party days. "3Style" DJ Jazzy Jeff, Dayne Jordan & Rhymefest. Live from Tiawan. #RedBull3Style #PlayWithMusic

A post shared by DJ Jazzy Jeff (@djjazzyjeff) on Jan 31, 2019 at 6:29pm PST

Maybe it’s not asking the right questions? Well you know what is funny, I don't know if it's so much not asking the right questions. I think it's not getting the right answers. You can ask the right questions, that doesn't mean somebody is going to answer it, especially if the answer is not conducive to the person.

And this is where collaborative sessions come in. Masego rants and raves about your Playlist Retreats, and then we see Dreamville’s Atlanta sessions. What are those kinds of initiatives doing right? J. Cole has come to the retreat. You know what it is, it's providing creative spaces that build collaboration. I can make music by myself, but if I make music with you, it has the chance to be twice as good. I feel like we don't have groups anymore as a result of the super bad infrastructure in a record company that when it got to the point that the individual isn't making money, the five-man group really isn't making money. If we are splitting crumbs, I got to split crumbs with five people, and I think that had a bad effect on the music. That got to a point that now you're kind of like, well sh*t I need to make the money so I need to cut everybody in the group out and I need to do it myself. That's why we don't have bands as we used to. That's why we have so many solo producers.

It's kind of like with you putting a bunch of people in the room and everybody collaborating on it, it has no choice but to be better than if it was one idea. So I think from the perspective of the retreat, it was really getting people in the room and rebuilding this collaboration culture that I felt like we really lost. It was wild because a lot of the new artists that came to the retreat had never collaborated with anybody in their life. Think about it, the first time I went in the studio, I could not run the studio by myself. I could not go in the studio by myself and actively do something. You needed an engineer and you needed a keyboard player and you needed a such-in-such. Now you buy a laptop, you have a one-man show. Someone who grew up in that time period has never had to collaborate, so putting people in this position does like—well you and you, and you have to get together and you have to make something. You know it was a super level of making people uncomfortable.

Right, I was going to say, that’s got to have its awkward moments. Everybody was uncomfortable, but what came out was the most incredible thing in the world. We did that challenge pretty much every year at the retreat and it may be one of the best albums of the year, that we've never played for anybody.

So those unplayed projects, are they just for... Us. They're just for us. Picasso didn't sell every painting he made. Sometimes he saw something really dope and he painted it and that was it. A lot of times you get people that are like oh my God, this is great, you should put this out, you should sell it, you should sell it. Well, why don't we just share it amongst each other and play this sh*t to clean the house? Everything ain't going to be for everybody.

READ MORE: Mija’s ‘F**k A Genre’ Production Prowess Takes ‘Culture Clash’ By Storm

Continue Reading

Top Stories