A Conversation with Easy Mo Bee

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Photo courtesy of SLAMJamz

Photo courtesy of SLAMJamz

Even if you aren’t familiar with the name “Easy Mo Bee” you’re familiar with his music. Twenty-five years ago Mo Bee’s first placement was on Big Daddy Kane’s classic sophomore album, ‘It’s A Big Daddy Thing’. Moe Bee went on to produce hits for artists like 2Pac, Craig Mack, Lost Boyz, Heavy D, Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, and the Wu-Tang Clan to name a few.

Easy Mo Bee most notably produced the lion’s share of The Notorious B.I.G.’s classic album Ready to Die. Songs like Warning, Gimme the Loot, and The What are embedded in the fabric of Hip-Hop for eternity, and we can thank Easy Mo Bee for that.

At the start of 2015 Easy Mo Bee released an instrumental album titled, “…And Ya Don’t Stop!” on Chuck D’s SLAMJamz record label. The 19-track release showcases Mo Bee’s signature sample-based production with sprinklings of R&B, Jazz, and Dance all guided by that old boom bap.

The Real Hip-Hop chatted with Easy Mo Bee about his new album, And Ya Don’t Stop!, working with the late, great 2Pac and Biggie Smalls, and his legacy and future in the culture of Hip-Hop.

TRHH: These are beats that would obviously sound good with vocals. Why’d you decide to make this an instrumental album?

Easy Mo Bee: I wanted to make a compilation album with featured rappers and singers on top. It was Chuck D and the COO of SlamJamz, Mecca, who suggested that I do just beats because they felt like it was time for people to concentrate on just me. I’ve always played the background and the reason behind a lot of other artists. They wanted people to be able to focus on me and I didn’t disagree with them. I think that needs to happen. It also brings about the subject of how I’ve been here, I haven’t gone anywhere, and as much as people may not want to think so I’m just as relevant, just as active, and on the scene.

TRHH: How did you wind up with SLAMJamz?

Easy Mo Bee: I guess Chuck sent Mecca at me [laughs]. Basically they were like, “Go and get him.” Mecca was the one who initially approached me and then I had the conversation with Chuck. He said, “I just want you to be yourself, just go head and do your thing.” I’m thankful for the union, association, and affiliation with Chuck D from the legendary Public Enemy. That alone should tell you that I have the autonomy and the freedom to be myself over there. I’m not feeling like I’m at some label that wants to change me. It should be obvious with a person like Chuck D that he would want me to be myself. He wanted me to come over for who I am and I appreciate that.

TRHH: When people discuss the greatest producers in rap your name doesn’t come up. How important is it for you to be recognized by fans of Hip-Hop?

Easy Mo Bee: It’s important to be recognized but you gotta remember things like record reviews and top 5 or top 10 producers of all-time lists are all personal opinion – they really are. They have a lot to do with measurements of people’s accomplishments and achievements, but at the same time a lot of those decisions are made via personal opinion. When you understand that kind of thing when it doesn’t just go alone by statistics it doesn’t really bother me as much as it seems like it should. On the other hand that’s the whole purpose of Hip-Hop. Back in the 80s it was all about showing out and being fresh, if it’s okay for me to use that term [laughs]. Hip-Hop is about style. The culture is about style. If I had to describe Hip-Hop in one statement I’d have to say for everybody that’s in it that performs Hip-Hop is about, “I’m better than you.” In other words it’s always been a competitive sport. In that light, of course I expect acknowledgment and recognition.

TRHH: On the single ‘Bad Meaning Bad’ you flipped the Bob James record and had some Run-DMC samples sprinkled in. Was this song your mission statement for the album?

Easy Mo Bee: Actually, no. I was just making a track and it was something that just happened. That, “Bad meaning bad, bad meaning good,” from Run-DMC stood out to me because a lot of the DJ’s in Hip-Hop as far as turntablism is concerned go crazy and get loose with that part. That was a key standout thing that I wanted to focus on and put into a beat that I was working on one day. It just so happened with that beat I said, “Okay, now I’m going to use it.” Every DJ in Hip-Hop will tell you that’s like workout and practice material right there. DJ’s go crazy back spinning and playing with that part. It’s very familiar in Hip-Hop. I think it was iconic for me to inject that into the song.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Easy Mo Bee: Bad Meaning Bad is one of my favorites. I’m a lover of soul music so ‘Soul Sister’ is a personal favorite of mine. We have a track on there called ‘Gimme Back’. ‘Throwback’ is a real personal favorite of mine. I love everything on there but you’re asking me if certain ones are going to stand out to me. I like when I stand outside of the box and experiment with different things like ‘Best Friends’. This cat told me yesterday, “Yo, man I kept rewinding that beat over and over and it had me writing!” I have all this boom bap stuff on the album and that was on the one that brought it out of him. I was really happy when he told me that because the album speaks to many different people in many different ways as far as the various styles on it. By me doing that it just shows my agility. I am what I always have been – a chameleon. I fit into different molds at different times, but still there’s always that signature Easy Mo Bee sound. Take for instance Craig Mack’s ‘Flava in Ya Ear’ versus 2Pac’s ‘Str8 Ballin’. They’re vastly different but you can still hear my signature on it.

TRHH: I was going to ask you about Str8 Ballin’. That Thug Life album in general is incredible and that ends it perfectly. Give me the back story on finding that sample and creating the beat.

Easy Mo Bee: 2Pac was here in New York. At the time he was filming Above the Rim at the Rucker Park across the street from Polo Grounds. I had met him at the Budweiser Superfest. He gave me the set location and told me to come by. He said, “On my breaks during filming play me some stuff in the trailer.” I came by and played him a track that I already made and he loved it! That happened to be ‘Temptations’. I always ask the people that I work with, “I’m playing things here that you love but is there anything that you ever wanted flipped?” He said, “Yeah, man! Bootsy, man! Can you flip some Bootsy for me?” He said he wanted something done with ‘What’s A Telephone Bill’ and another one. This was accomplished originally through his vision. It’s something that he always wanted to work with and he asked me could I do anything with it — Str8 Ballin’ was the end result. So many people came up to me and said, “Hey Mo, that’s outside of the box of what you normally do but that joint is bangin’!” Compliments like that and the courage that I have to step outside of myself and do different things is what pushes me further.

TRHH: Another song I wanted to ask you about was ‘Gimme the Loot’. The two voices that B.I.G. did on the record stand out, obviously. What was it like being in the studio and watching B.I.G. do two different voices?

Easy Mo Bee: The two character thing that Biggie had going on was all his idea. That was all his conception. You described it perfectly right, I just stood back and watched him do this [laughs]. As the song was being recorded he would record one character in a certain tone of voice. He would leave the gaps because he already had it written and he know where he wanted to insert them. The on a second track he would come on top and fill in those gaps with the second character with the higher pitched voice. I was like, this dude is creative, man [laughs]. I wouldn’t think of creating any record like that, actually having a conversation with myself, and it’s supposed to be two characters. People back then came to me and were like, “Yo Mo, who is the other dude on the record?” and I said, “That’s him!”

TRHH: Wow. You’re the only producer that I know of that worked with both Pac and Big. Can you give us some insight into how they were in the studio?

Easy Mo Bee: A lot of people have said I was the only one to work with B.I.G. and 2Pac while they were alive and that’s partially true. I’m not sure about any other situations but I know for a fact that Eddie F from The Untouchables, rest in peace to Heavy D – that was his crew, produced a song called ‘Let’s Get It On’ on Motown. This had to be at least ’95. This was during the period that Andre Harrell went over there and was president. The song contained Biggie, 2Pac, Heavy D, and Grand Puba. That is the second instance of Biggie and Pac on a record made together while they were both alive. The song that I did was ‘Runnin’ From the Police’. The title got knocked down to ‘Runnin’’ and it appeared on the Million Man March album titled One Million Strong. It was financed by Ben Chavis of the NAACP. It’s a rare piece of vinyl to get a hold of, too. There is an Eminem remix but there is an Easy Mo Bee original. On the original it had one of The Outlawz and Stretch from the Live Squad. The Eminem remix knocked it down to a Biggie and Pac record but there were other people that were on there.

TRHH: When you were working on Ready to Die did you know that you were creating something classic? Twenty years later I still play it.

Easy Mo Bee: Yeah. I had a feeling but at that time I was kind of new and green to the business and just getting on my way. In 1986 I started toying around with the music with Rapping is Fundamental and then The Genius, which is pre-Wu-Tang, then Big Daddy Kane, then Miles Davis. The Notorious B.I.G. came seconds after Miles Davis and I always worried back then as far as the Will Smith a la Tone Loc a la Young MC a la Vanilla Ice kind of thing. Miles Davis Doo Bop won a Grammy and I was worried about what I called “the Grammy curse”. A Grammy is something that people aspire to, chase, and will flip and do somersaults for now in Hip-Hop. Back then a Grammy was not really glamorized. As a matter of fact Hip-Hop was anti-Grammy so when the Miles Davis project garnered a Grammy I was worried about the Grammy curse and one of the best things that could happen happened.

My manager over at RUSH Francesca Sparrow, rest in peace – she just passed away, called me up and said Andre Harrell and Puffy had an artist that they wanted me to listen to. The chemistry between us just worked. Originally it started out as one or two songs but we just continued. Puffy saw the chemistry so he just kept this thing going and it ended up I recorded half the album with him – 6 songs. I realized the thing that we were doing was great, but at that time I was just happy to get back into Hip-Hop appreciation mode. In other words I didn’t want to lose my street credibility just because I worked with Miles Davis. I’ve always loved music, real music, all kinds of music, but I really love Hip-Hop. If you’re in Hip-Hop it’s so important for you to be a part of it. I mean completely a part of it – accepted and everything. This goes back to the recognition question that you asked earlier. It all worked out fine because after Craig Mack and Biggie that just solidified it all. People were like, “Wow, he went from Miles Davis to Biggie? Yeah, he really is Hip-Hop.”

TRHH: Staying with Miles, he’s a legend, it was his last album, and tell me if I’m wrong but there was a time when he didn’t respect Hip-Hop, right?

Easy Mo Bee: I had heard that. Miles had tackled everything else at that point in his career and his life and it was inevitable that he moved in that direction. I think it’s kind of equal to what they used to say about Hip-Hop in the mid-to-early 80s. Nobody believed in the genre, nobody believed it was going anywhere. As time went on and different artists added to the genre I think they saw that there was some creativity here. There were some cats here that are doing some interesting things with it so they wanted to be down with it. That was obvious as far back as 1984 when Chaka Khan took Melle Mel and put him on ‘I Feel For You’. It just goes on and on and it continued. It’s inevitable that he dabbled in Hip-Hop. At that time Jazz became a very important element in terms of sampling and interpolation in Hip-Hop records. Maybe it’s things like that, that he was seeing that made him say, “You know what, I think I can go this direction and this is a way to reach these young kids.”

TRHH: What was the experience like for you working with him?

Easy Mo Bee: I was so happy, man. I mean here is a Jazz legend. Legend is not even a good enough word, pioneer, that goes back to music making as early as the 50s. And this man wants to work with me? He wants to collaborate with me? He wants to follow me? We would sit down in the beginning and have conversations about the direction and he was like, “Im’ma follow you and do what you do. You do your thing and Im’ma go on top of it.” I was like, “Wow.” He gave me the autonomy to title the records on the album and title the album. I’d turn it in and ask Miles what we were gon’ call it and he said, “I don’t know. You call it whatever you want to. I don’t give a shit. You name it. I don’t care.” I ended up titling every song and giving the album a title. The story of the Doo Bop title came from Rapping is Fundamental, the group I was in. We had a style of mixing Hip-Hop with Doo Wop style singing. We created this term of prefix Doo, suffix Hop or Doo-Hop. When it was time to title the Miles album the wheels were turning in my head and I said, “He comes from a Bebop era of Jazz, let’s do prefix Doo, suffix Bop.” The title came from the song that Rapping is Fundamental, me JB Money, and JR, our performance on the Doo Bop song because we were rapping and singing on there. We had our Doo Hop style on this record with this Bebop guy and that’s when the wheels started turning.

TRHH: A lot of people have left hardware and moved digital audio workstations. What beat making equipment are you currently using?

Easy Mo Bee: I did the current album on the same exact equipment that I did Ready to Die, Do Bop, and Busta Rhymes’ The Coming album. In 2015 I still managed to make those machines sing. It’s the SP-1200, and the Akai rack mount samplers – S900, and S950. There are a lot of other peer producers in the business that are in shock that I’m still using em’. It’s a special reason why I’m still using ‘em, number one is because the analog sound. It just has a chunkier, fatter, more round sound. When I first came into this the idea for my sound was I always wanted it to sound like when you drop a needle to a 45. The way 45s are pressed the grooves are spread apart. The wider the grooves are, the bigger the sound will be. That’s why the old 45s and old 12 inches always sounded the best. I wanted that 45 sound – I always wanted that. The SP-1200 helps me achieve that – it has that knock!

The second reason for continuing to use those machines is because I’m a hands-on dude. I have to have my hands on the machine. It’s totally different from sitting there and pointing and clicking with a mouse. Any Hip-Hop producer will tell you that it’s nothing like having your hands on an SP-1200 or an MPC. That all alludes to a story that the late great Horace Silver’s son told me, his son is a really good friend – his name is G Wise. He said, “Mo Bee, you know what the difference between real instruments and drum machines is? When you play an instrument you put your body into it.” I was like, wow, I never forgot that. With the “put your body into it” theory that he had I feel the same way with the machines. It’s important for me to still have my hands on the machines when I’m standing there and tapping things in. A lot of the things that I do aren’t’ quantized, in other words you have a click. A lot of the things I do are loose feel or high resolution. It’s important for me to have my hands on the machine so I can put my body into it.

TRHH: You’ve literally worked with some of the all-time greats – LL, Big Daddy Kane, Biggie. Is there any emcee that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work with?

Easy Mo Bee: I’d like to work with Jay-Z. I would love to work with Nas. I know this sounds crazy after all these years, I would love to work with Aretha Franklin. I always considered her to be the greatest as far as female R&B singers. She set the path for female R&B history. I don’t know how in 2015 that it could be possible, but before she leaves here I would love to do anything with her. Chaka Khan, too, I feel the same way about her.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with …And You Don’t Stop?

Easy Mo Bee: I hope that it injects a little bit more of inspiration into the culture of Hip-Hop right now. I think that the state of Hip-Hop right is so redundant – I have to say it. Everything is so cookie cutter. A lot of everything sounds the same. Everybody is using the same equipment, the same sounds, it’s so redundant. That’s why with And You Don’t Stop I’m giving people the opportunity to see that I still love real music. I love sampling, but I love the sound of instruments. It’s important to me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s live or it’s sampled, it’s important for me to hear the sound of instruments. They say music soothes the savage beast. When that expression was made they were talking about woodwinds. Guitars, pianos, horns, stuff like that goes through us like a breath of fresh air, man. It gives you hope. It just kind of elevates you. I love digital music, but it’s my responsibility to carry on the tradition of what music always was as we knew it.

I also hope with the album that with all those instrumentals it inspires guys to become more lyrical. I hope that people are riding around in their cars freestyling to the beat. I hope that female and male R&B singers are just singing and writing songs to it. I come from a very soulful perspective and I hope that’s what I can help inject back into the culture. Raise the bar so to speak. We’re so comfortable and laid back right now, it needs to change. I hope it influences a bit more diversity. We don’t have that either. Not many people are feeling like they can step outside of what they see. My album, the way that I’m coming off, the things that I’m doing, and my retro perspective, I hope that it encourages a lot of other people that still love that sound to step forward. Don’t be afraid. Do your stuff. Don’t worry about the way the mold fits, go with your heart. Be yourself, do you. That’s what I hope. With that, then maybe we can have some change.

Purchase: Easy Mo Bee – …And You Don’t Stop!

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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