On July 1, 1997, No Way Out – one of the mores seismic rap albums of all-time – altered the landscape of rap forever. More than a classic body of work, the debut album marked the completion of Sean “Puffy” Combs’ evolution from high-powered music executive, label head, and producer, to one of the biggest rap stars on the planet.
Displaying a glowing charisma during his days as an A&R with Uptown Records with scene-stealing cameos in music videos of his artists, Puffy possessed many of the traits that make a superstar. With the encouragement of The Notorious B.I.G., Combs decided to record an album of his own. Pulling together his roster of in-house producers, The Hitmen, Puff and company would take an excursion to the tropics and hunker down in the studio, crafting material that would wind up on multi-platinum releases from The Notorious B.I.G. (Life After Death) and Ma$e (Harlem World), as well as Puff’s own pet-project, No Way Out.
Released on July 1, 1997, No Way Out debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 with 561,000 copies sold in its first week of release and would go on to sell over seven million copies in the U.S. alone, making it the best-selling single-disc in the history of the label. In the wake of the tragic death of The Notorious B.I.G., Puffy and The Bad Boy Family banded together for one of the first true blockbuster albums in rap, one that helped define an era and is symbolic of the peak of the label’s dominance over the music world.
To mark commemorate the 20th anniversary of No Way Out, we’ve dug up 20 interesting facts about the album that will blow your mind and give insight into the making of this masterpiece.
1. No Way Out Won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 1998
In 1998, the Grammy Awards category for Best Rap Album was loaded with pivotal releases from some of rap’s biggest acts, with Missy Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly, Wyclef Jean’s Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival, The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Wu-Tang Forever all receiving nominations. Although all albums held strong cases for consideration, in the end, No Way Out took home the hardware, one of two Grammy awards Puff would win at that years ceremony, the other being Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “I’ll Be Missing You.”
2. No Way Out Was Not The Original Title Of The Album
Diddy’s debut was initially slated as Puff Daddy & The Goodfellas, an extension of the mafioso image the label had taken on during its reign. A change of heart would cause Diddy to change the tentative title to Hell Up in Harlem before settling on the title No Way Out after the death of The Notorious B.I.G.
3. “Young Gs” – Biggie Recorded His Verse Years Before It Was Released
“Young Gs” is one of three instances in which The Notorious B.I.G. appeared on tracks using original vocals, and the last of the three that the world would be blessed to hear. But in contrast to “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “I Love the Dough,” JAY-Z and Biggie didn’t work on the record together, as Biggie’s verse was recorded during a Ready to Die session, but would be salvaged by producer Rashad Smith and Puff after his death. Puff then called in JAY-Z to appear on the track, resulting in the classic that we know and love today.
4. A Majority of the Production on No Way Out Was Made in the Caribbean.
At the height of the East coast versus West coast beef, Diddy decided to fly his camp of in-house producers, The Hitmen, out to Maraval, Trinidad, with the goal of creating hit records that would dominate radio for the foreseeable future. Camping out at the Caribbean Sound Basin studio, Diddy, The Hitmen, and a crew of engineers would craft the foundation of the sound that would take Bad Boy’s success and appeal to the stratosphere.
5. “Victory” is one of the Most Expensive Music Videos of All-Time
The latter half of the ’90s were dominated by groundbreaking visuals, with Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes both upping the ante of what a rap music video could be, but in terms of breaking the bank, Puffy has them both beat. “Victory,” the fifth single released from No Way Out, would be accompanied with a big budget video, directed by Marcus Nispel, and included cameos from actors Dennis Hopper and Danny Devito, as well as British socialite Tamara Beckwith. Clocking in at $2,700,000 in production costs, “Victory” is the 9th most expensive video of all time upon, and remains the most expensive rap video made to date.
6. No Way Out‘s Intended Title-Track Does Not Appear on the Album
A week prior to the release of No Way Out, the soundtrack for the 1997 film Money Talks, starring actor/comedian Chris Tucker, hit shelves. The soundtrack boasted contributions from Mary J. Blige, Naughty By Nature, SWV, and Deborah Cox, among other notable names, but was dominated by the Bad Boy Family, with Diddy, Lil’ Kim, Ma$e, Black Rob, Faith Evans, and Lil’ Cease all making appearances. “No Way Out,” one of the batch of records from the soundtrack with Bad Boy’s fingerprint on it, featured Puffy, Black Rob, and vocalist Kelly Price, and was intended to be included in No Way Out, but would ultimately not appear on the final tracklist.
7. Every Song on No Way Out Was Produced by The Hitmen, Except One
Diddy’s stable of producer’s, The Hitmen, would craft the entirety of the beats on No Way Out, outside of one song on the album, which also happens to be one of the best selections on the album. That song, “Young Gs,” which featured The Notorious B.I.G. and JAY-Z, was produced by Rashad Smith, one of the top producers on the East coast, with credits on records from the likes of LL Cool J, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, and A Tribe Called Quest. Although The Hitmen rightfully get a large amount of credit for crafting the sound of No Way Out, Smith’s contribution to the album proved to be an invaluable one.
8. “It’s All About The Benjamins” Originally Debuted on a Mixtape
The mixtape game during the ’90s was a game built on exclusives. DJ Clue was the reigning king of gaining access to songs that no one else had and including them on his mixtapes, instantly creating a buzz on the street. In 1996, on his Holiday Holdup mixtape, was a song titled “All About the Benjamins,” which featured Puffy rapping alongside Jadakiss and Sheek of The Lox, a track that would help boost the Bad Boy signees appeal and make it one of the hottest records on the street. Although the remixed version is the one that ruled the latter half of 1997, the original remains a gem of its own.
9. “It’s All About The Benjamins” Includes an Uncredited Vocal Arrangement from Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott is more known for her own music, but behind the scenes, she is also known as one of the most accomplished songwriters in hip-hop and R&B. Unbeknownst to many, Missy also lent her talents to “It’s All About the Benjamins,” arranging the popular refrain that dominates the record. Although the vocal arrangement was uncredited, it speaks to the amount of talent that was involved in the making of this masterpiece.
10. The Music Video for “It’s All About The Benjamins (Rock Remix)” Was Nominated for Video of The Year at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards
Rap and Rock have collided on many occasions over the course of the past four decades, but one of the more memorable instances was when Diddy joined forces with Tommy Stinson, Fuzzbubble, Rob Zombie, and Dave Grohl for the “It’s All About the Benjamins (Rock Remix).” The remix was accompanied by a Spike Jonze-directed video, which earned a nomination for Video of the Year at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, but ultimately lost to Madonna’s “Ray of Light.”
11. Styles P. Originally Had a Verse on “It’s All About the Benjamins”
Styles P. turned in one of the more ferocious verses on No Way Out for The Lox assisted cut “I Got the Power,” but the Yonkers hard-rock would’ve also appeared on the “All About the Benjamins (Remix)” had his opening verse not been replaced by Diddy. Originally a solo song by The Lox, the then named “Puff Daddy” liked it so much that he decided to use it for his own album, and the rest is history.
12. “I’ll Be Missing You” Was the First Rap Song To Debut At No. 1 on the Billlboard Hot 100
It may be hard to believe these days, but at one point in time, a rap song topping the charts was a pretty big deal, but having a song debut at No. 1 on Billboard‘s was a feat that was unheard of. Until “I’ll Be Missing You” was released, of course. The second single released from No Way Out was Bad Boy’s dedication to the life and legacy of The Notorious B.I.G. It debuted atop the Billboard charts on June 14, 1997 and held the slot down for 11 consecutive weeks until “Mo Money Mo Problems” moved to No. 1 on August 30th. It was the first time a rap song achieved such a feat.
13. The Notorious B.I.G.’s Verses on “Victory” Were The Last He Ever Recorded
The Notorious B.I.G. made multiple appearances on No Way Out, but only three of his four verses on the album were recorded with that intention. The album’s opening salvo, “Victory,” includes a pair of his verses, which were recorded the day before he was fatally murdered and would be the last rhymes the rapper would ever lay down in the booth.
14. The Album Cover Was Shot In Miami
The timeless album cover for No Way Out was originally slated to be captured by photographer Michael Lavine. However, the shot would ultimately be captured by veteran photographer Micheal Benabib, who stepped in at the last minute to replace Lavine. Shot in the winter of 1997 during Super Bowl XXXI weekend, the cover of No Way Out features the Bad Boy Family clad in suits, mirrors with the mafioso vibe of the album’s original title, making it one of the most recognizable album covers in hip-hop history.
15. Songs Recorded For No Way Out Ended Up On Other Bad Boy Albums
Contrary to his reputation as a cunning opportunist when it comes to hit records, Diddy was also instrumental in setting his artists up with material that would help push their own projects, as was the case with the cutting-room material that didn’t make No Way Out. With Bad Boy members like Ma$e, The Lox, and Black Rob having yet to release their own debuts at the time of No Way Out‘s release, various tracks intended for No Way Out would wind up on those albums throughout the subsequent years
16. Lil Kim Wrote The Lyrics For “What You Gonna Do”
The Notorious B.I.G. is credited with writing the bulk of Lil’ Kim’s early material, however, according to engineer Stephen Dent, who was a part of the making of No Way Out, Lil’ Kim was also swift with the pen in her own right, allegedly lending her talents to the album cut “What You Gonna Do,” among others.
17. “If I Should Die Tonight (Interlude)” Is Carl Thomas’s First Listed Appearance on a Bad Boy Song
Following the success of R&B acts Faith Evans, Total, and 112, Bad Boy would unleash another star crooner in Carl Thomas, who would later release his 2000 debut album, Emotional, on the label. Although his vocals would appear on The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death album, his first listed feature as a member of the Bad Boy Family was on the No Way Out interlude, “If I Should Die Tonight.” Delivering impassioned vocals amid Diddy’s solemn thoughts, Carl Thomas’ contribution to No Way Out is a chilling one and familiarized the public with the silky tenor vocalist.
18. Kelly Price Contributes Backup Vocals on Three Songs
Prior to catching her big break as a solo artist, R&B singer Kelly Price was one of the integral members of Bad Boy, albeit behind the scenes, where she helped with songwriting, vocal arrangements and background vocals. On No Way Out, Kelly Price provides vocals on three songs: “Don’t Stop What You’re Doing,” “Do You Know,” and “Young Gs.”
19. Sauce Money Helped Write “I’ll Be Missing You” and “Do You Know”
Most known for his appearances alongside JAY-Z, in addition to being a solo artist, Sauce Money was also one of the more in-demand ghostwriters of his era, with his lyrics appearing on some of the bigger hits of the decade. Sauce Money’s skills would be put to good use on No Way Out, with the Brooklyn lyricist penning Diddy’s lyrics on “I’ll Be Missing You,” as well as the album cut “Do You Know,” earning himself a Grammy Award in the process.
20. “I Love You Baby” was originally for Black Rob’s Album
Notorious for his propensity to take a good thing and make it better, during the making of No Way Out, Diddy pilfered through a few of his label’s rising talent’s unreleased material, mining it for songs to include on his own album. One of these such instances occurred with the No Way Out standout “I Love You Baby,” featuring Black Rob, who turns in a scene-stealing performance, which created the demand for his eventual solo album, Life Story. But what many people don’t know is that “I Love You Baby” was originally a solo song by Black Rob, with Diddy replacing Rob’s third verse with his own, resulting in the track we all know and love today.