Longevity is desired in any career-field, but in the world of music, standing the test of time is imperative to an artist gaining success, sustaining respect and getting their just due as a pivotal figure within the fabric of culture. Rapper Craig Mack, who passed away yesterday (March 12.) in Walterboro, South Carolina due to complication from heart failure, may not have had the most extensive list of hit singles and album releases, but his contributions to the birth of Bad Boy Records, which would become one of the most legendary and enduring brands in music, have proven to be among the more pivotal in hip-hop history.
Despite being the first artist to release an album on Bad Boy Records, Craig Mack’s entrance into the rap game came years earlier, when the New Jersey native was making noise as a teenager under the name MC EZ in his hometown, Brentwood, Long Island. One-third of the trio MC EZ & Troup – which included rapper Teddy Lee and DJ/Producer Diamond J – the group would record a demo that would earn them a deal with Sleeping Bag Records, which was also home to fellow Brentwood reps EPMD and considered one of the hottest record labels in rap at the time.
Releasing their debut single “Get Retarded” in 1988, MC EZ & Troup would ultimately lose their record deal with Sleeping Bag, leaving Craig Mack without a musical home. However, opportunity would strike to further learn the ways of the music industry when Mack was invited to tour with EPMD as a roadie, an experience he would use to soak up game before making his second attempt to get into the rap game, hooking up with Alvin Toney, an industry insider with the connects to help take Craig Mack’s career to the next level.
After getting passed on by a list of labels that included EastWest and Def Jam, in 1993, Toney introduce Craig Mack to Sean “Puffy” Combs, who was an executive at Uptown/MCA Records at the time and enlisted Mack to appear on the remix to Mary J. Blige’s 1993 single “You Don’t Have To Worry.” The accompanying video was the rising prospect’s introduction to the national stage.
When Sean “Puffy” Combs was relieved of his position at Uptown Records and launched his new label, Bad Boy Records, Craig Mack was tapped as one of its two flagship artists, joining a roster that also included The Notorious B.I.G.. Craig Mack began work on his debut album, Project: Funk da World. In the summer of 1994, Craig Mack would put the world on notice that Bad Boy was coming to shake things up with the single “Flava in Ya Ear,” Project: Funk da World‘s lead-single and the label’s first official release.
Produced by Easy Mo Bee and originally intended for Flava Unit rapper Apache, “Flava in Ya Ear” would become one of the biggest rap hits of 1994, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning platinum certification. The song put Bad Boy on the national map seemingly overnight. Showcasing Craig Mack’s abstract flow and off-kilter wordplay, “Flava in Ya Ear” set the stage for Project: Funk da World, which arrived on September 20, 1993, one week after the release of The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut, Ready to Die.
Project: Funk da World would feature production by Easy Mo Bee, Rashad Smith and Craig Mack himself and include the singles “Get Down,” which would peak at No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Making Moves With Puff,” Puff Daddy’s first credited guest feature and another of the album’s more popular cuts.
However, while Project: Funk da World would net Craig Mack a gold plaque and the original “Flava in Ya Ear” would be nominated for a Grammy and win Rap Single of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards, the definitive moment in his career can be traced back to the song’s remix, which does not appear on his debut album.
Boasting a cast of star talent that included label-mate The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and Rampage, “Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)” set the streets ablaze, instantly becoming one of the most ubiquitous rap songs of the moment and one of the best posse-cuts of all-time.
Accompanied by a black-and-white music video directed by Hype Williams, “Flava in Ya Ear” was invaluable in establishing Bad Boy’s flashy, fly and sleek aesthetic and the raw grit that defined the times, making it more than just a visual, but a mission statement.
With Project: Funk da World considered a commercial success, “Flava in Ya Ear” garnering award nominations, and Mack expanding his brand with appearances on tracks from Blackstreet (“Tonight’s The Night”), Brownstone (“If You Love Me (Remix)) and the soundtracks to high-profile films like Street Fighter (1994) and Dangerous Minds (1995), it would reasonable to think that a sophomore album from Craig Mack would not only be anticipated, but a priority following the first cycle of Bad Boy album releases.
However, that would not be the case, as a rift between him and The Notorious B.I.G., whose album Ready to Die would sell more than two million copies and boast multiple hit singles that would overshadow Craig Mack’s, ultimately played a part in him never releasing another album on Bad Boy Records again.
Although Craig Mack released the follow-up to Project: Funk da World, Operation: Get Down, on Street Life/Scotti Brothers in 1997, the album failedl to garner a hit single and was deemed a commercial disappointment, all but spelling the end for Craig Mack’s dreams of rap stardom.
Aside from a brief reunion with Bad Boy Records during the early aughts, during which he contributed a verse to the remix of G-Dep’s 2002 single “Special Delivery” and appeared in the music video for “I Need a Girl (Part One),” Craig Mack faded into obscurity again. He was last seen in a 2016 video The Overcomer Ministry uploaded to its YouTube channel, titled “Craig Mack Testimony.”
In the clip, Craig Mack is captured kicking a freestyle denouncing the secular ways of the rap world, making it clear that his spiritual journey has taken him on an alternate path, which was also indicated by his refusal to be a part of the Bad Boy Reunion Tour that took place in 2016.
Unfortunately, that voice clip of him speaking in Diddy’s Apple Music documentary, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story was the last time we heard Mack’s voice in a public forum, but it stands as a reminder to what his art meant to building the foundation that Bad Boy Records still sits on today. His legacy as an oft unsung architect of one of the greatest movements in rap should not be forgotten.
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