Do You Know What a Legendary Producer Easy Mo Bee Is? Do You???
I love hip-hop with every fiber of my being, but the way we treat producers is deplorable. Though they are just as important as any emcee they certainly ARE NOT treated with the same respect. And as much as I'd like to think I'm well-versed in the world of production, both the business side and the music side, I still constantly learn that I'm sleeping on amazing producers; I've been infected by the system. Case and point, Easy Mo Bee. When Nathan told me about him I thought he was talking about Moby for a second; you know this guy. But the real Mo Bee is a hip-hop historical figure, a living legend. You have to know his music and the story behind it.
When I looked at Easy Mo's resume, when I rap nerded the fuck out over all of his creations, I felt pretty ashamed. The name was familiar, but how could I not know a guy who has produced for some of the most resected emcees ever? How could I not know he produced for Miles Davis?! Miles fucking Davis! I know Biggie and Pac are legends (and we'll get there) but they are dwarfed by Miles Davis. It's true. Miles Davis is hands down one of the most amazing, talented and influential musicians ever. He's up there with Bach and Mozart in terms of OG status as far as I'm concerned. Everyone loves Kind Of Blue and Bitches Brew, but I'll always have a soft spot for Miles' last album, Doo-Bop.
Back in my Pandora days this discovery was one of my favorites. The purity, the immediate yet deep freshness that consumes you in the first 10 seconds, is simply stunning. When it came on, I knew it was a keeper immediately. I was right. I love this album not because of what it is, but what it could have been. Sadly, Miles Davis died when only about half the album had been put together, but it's clear that Davis was starting to experiment with hip-hop and, when placing this album in the timeline of rap, it becomes even more amazing. At a time when rap was really picking up steam, Miles Davis could have helped legitimize hip-hop in the eyes of those who may still dismiss it. Miles Davis is the ultimate co-sign.
Sadly, it never happened, but one producer was able to capture the genius of Davis posthumously and fill in the blanks, creating an album that stayed true to Davis' jazz roots yet had a undeniable hip-hop vibe. That producer was Easy Mo Bee. Tying to produce an album with Miles Davis name attached is a daunting task - that's not a name you really want to fuck with at all - and yet Mo succeeded. As a rap fan who appreciates jazz but doesn't really know all that much, I highly suggest this album; it really is a great blend of something new and something so familiar.
Speaking of the familiar, Miles Davis may be kind of exotic, but Notorious B.I.G is like turkey and mashed potatoes; amazing, no matter how many times you've had it. Well, while a collaborative album with Miles Davis is enough by itself, Easy Mo also worked extensively with Biggie. Normally, I try to avoid just listing credits but here it's necessary: "Party and Bullshit," "The What," "Warning," "Machine Gun Funk," "Gimmie The Loot," "Ready To Die," and "Going Back to Cali" among like 4,000 others. "Juicy" and "Hypnotize" may be more popular, but the songs Mo produced are the meat. That's the real Biggie and Mo brought out the best in him. Big ain't the only one either. Mo Bee has credits on tracks from Tupac, Das EFX, GZA and RZA and Big Daddy Kane. That's an incredible, astounding resume. I was blown away.
It's important to know his story, but it's even more imperative that you listen to the music. I listed a few songs above, but a list doesn't do his production justice. When I listened to his beats back to back to back to back, I really came to appreciate his music outside of the circumstances. Easy Mo has a trademark sound. The way he blends jazz with hip-hop is remarkable. When I think of hip-hop and jazz I think mellow, chill and laid-back, I don't think Pac and Biggie, but the smooth, airy beats actually help bring out the best in these rugged emcees. The juxtaposition really brings out the best in both the beats and the emcees and helps to create an almost amore bone-chilling, haunting experience. It's like a yin-yang kind of thing; different, but in perfect harmony.
As always though, there's just no substitution for listening. Seriously, listen to how incredible this music is (obviously with an ear on the production):
Still, as big of a fan as I am now and as much respect as I have for him now - no joke, he's up there with 9th Wonder and Just Blaze in my book - I couldn't get over one thing. How had I not heard of him before? Was I the only one? There's no way to know every producer, but this dude has produced some amazing tracks for some amazing artists; how did he escape my many sample searches and producer interviews?
Not to oversimplify, but I really do think Diddy played a large part in Bee getting swept under the rug. Puff is synonymous with Biggie, he was his manager and everyone seems to credit Diddy for "finding" Biggie, but Mo was there from day one. In fact, in this interview with XXL, Bee said, "I’m the first one that he [Biggie] ever went into a real studio with." Easy is an integral part of Ready To Die, he has credits on nearly half the album, and yet his name is rarely brought up in conversations about that classic work. He produced almost as many tracks for that album as Puff and yet it's always "Puff and Big." HOW SWAY?! I can only speculate, but based on what Bee said, I think Diddy really did phase him out of Biggie's story. Take a look at this quote form that same XXL interview.
"I can’t get in that man’s mind. Is it because a long time ago, when “Flava in Ya Ear” Remix came out, I looked on the record and saw “Remix by Sean Puffy Combs, Chucky Thompson and Easy Mo Bee.” I took the record up in the office and I presented it to him and I said, “Yo, what’s this?” He didn’t know what to say. I told him, “You didn’t do it. Chucky sat there and watched. So I just want to know why the credits read like that.” I think it might have been that. Because ever since that, I haven’t really worked over there. I hope that to this day on an animosity level, I hope he’s not holding something like that against me. Because I think we all deserve to get proper credit for the things we do and things we done. And also too, there’s my whole speculation that I always had. Everybody know that I worked with Pac and B.I.G. separately and together...When they go they separate ways and have beef, am I supposed to part and go a separate way with a certain party? No. I’m a businessman and a professional. I’ll work with anybody, anybody that has a check and at the same time where it doesn’t compromise my moral or religious values. Did Puff not like that I worked with Pac?"
Diddy may not be a great rapper, but he's a great businessman. It doesn't surprise me that he would revise the history books to exclude Mo. It's good for Puff to be tied so closely to Biggie and if you have someone else in the picture, it might be hard to get a group of people to, say walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for some cheesecake. Now, he mentions "Flava In Ya Ear" but that is just the first in a long line of slights against Mo. How about the Notorious movie where he was paid to score the film, yet the project "moved on" without him (see the interview above). How about "Dead Wrong"?
The effort, off Biggie's posthumous album Born Again, features Eminem as well as an unreleased Biggie verse, lifted from a version that was originally produced by Easy Mo Be. However, Mo never received any sort of credit nor did they even clear it with him. Puff and Bad Boy simply lifted the verse and excluded Mo in the process, which may be technically legit, but feels a lot like a personal slight. If you ask me, the original, produced by Easy Mo, is much better; there's something so intriguing about the way Biggie is so powerful yet seems to really glide. It's cool how the production can be so jazzy and slick but still have enough power to hold Biggie up.
Four years later, the only song Pac and Biggie recorded together, "Running From Tha Police," was reworked by Eminem (again...) and placed on the Tupac: Resurrection soundtrack. You know it as "Runnin (Dying To Live)." The original though, the one from '95, was produced by...you guessed it...Easy Mo Bee. Again, Mo's name was left off the credits. It doesn't seem right that someone who was so close to Biggie, someone who helped give you the content you are now reworking, could get so completely wiped away. He deserves some credit. At the very least they could call them remixes so it didn't seem like these songs were completely original productions. It may not be illegal, it may not be "wrong," but it feels shady to so blatantly exclude someone from two songs and a movie. We should celebrate the fact that he's one of the only people who worked with both artists and yet he goes uncredited. I don't know what role, if any Puff had in the "Running" rework, but regardless, one of the only people who can say they worked with both, and even got them together, deserves some love. He should be celebrated for being a bridge between two legends who are so often pitted against each other as rivals, not pushed into the margins.
Okay, let's take the tin foil hat off. While it's crazy that he's essentially been blacklisted, really it's not Diddy's fault I don't know him. He makes for a great scapegoat, but it's not like he prevented me from listening to Ready To Die and checking the credits. It's not like Diddy stopped me from recognizing Mo Bee won a Grammy with Alicia Keys. I'm looking for a cop out. An excuse for my ignorance. I don't really have a reason why Easy Mo Bee is criminally underrated, I guess it's just the life of a producer, but it has to end. This guy is a legend. I'm not throwing out that term casually either, this man is truly legendary. He has a resume that would impress any hip-hop fan plus a Miles Davis kicker. It's incredible the way he fused gritty, raw (New York) rap with jazz. He's not just overlooked by causal fans either. I don't speak for every rap nerd, but as a producer-obsessed blogger, I have a good handle on who is behind the board, and yet he still escaped me.
There's not just one reason why he's been slept on like Rumplestiltskin on a Lean binge. All we can do is appreciate it now. From Miles to Biggie to Pac to Kane we appreciate you Mo, even if so many others don't. You deserve it.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]