Bad Boy’s Hitmen Justify Taking Hits From The ‘80s & Making ‘Em Feel So Good (Audio)
Since the earliest days of Bad Boy Records there has was a production team in place known as The Hitmen. Sometimes known as “Puffy’s Hitmen,” the collective included Puff Daddy as a figurehead with a decorated staff that has at times included Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Nashiem Myrick, Sean C & LV, Stevie J, Chucky Thompson, Mario Winans, Carlos “6 July” Broady, and Younglord, among others. In 2015, reports stated that even Kanye West had joined. With a forthcoming documentary film in the works (following Flavor Unit’s doc’ on Dungeon Family founders Organized Noize), numerous Hitmen were distinguished guests of the Combat Jack Show at A3C.
Speaking before a live audience in Atlanta, Georgia last week, D-Dot, Nashiem, Sean, LV, and Younglord opened up about some of the glory days of Bad Boy Records, as well as work they were outsourced to do for Jay Z, Big Pun, LL Cool J, MC Lyte, and others.
D-Dot, responsible for smash hits like The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” and Puff Daddy & The Family’s “All About The Benjamins” spoke about the chemistry on a team that mirrored itself after another New York City institution. “We all had nicknames [inspired by the New York] Yankees. Puff was ‘Reggie Jackson,’ because he was jackin’ all the beats. I was ‘Sparky Lyle,’ ’cause I was sparkin’ [marijuana] all the time,” D-Dot says around the 34:00 mark. “We started believing that we were the Yankees. The were puttin’ up home run hitters, [20-game winning pitchers] in a season—everybody was contributing. To this day, I still don’t know if [we understood we were making] all these hits, but they kept comin’. Stevie [J] would walk in with something. Then other teammates came. The next thing you know, Mario Winans joined [The Hitmen] later on. Then, shit got even crazier ’cause Chucky [Thompson], Stevie, and Mario are musicians. Like, for real musicians—five, six instruments a piece. Then, [we would] watch the three of them battle each other. Like, ‘Okay, we gotta make D-Dot [or Nashiem Myrick’s] beat hot.’ So Mario’s playing drums, Chucky is playing the bass, Stevie’s on the keys—playing at the same time; they didn’t rehearse.” Meanwhile, Nashiem would work with time-tested hardware like the E-mu Systems SP-1200 and Akai’s S950 as D-Dot worked on the Akai MPC pads. “It made for great competition. Nash’ helped me; I helped him. That’s how hits got made.”
Nashiem Myrick, responsible for songs like Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya?” and Puff Daddy & The Family’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” waves off the notion that The Hitmen judged themselves based on radio rotation. “I didn’t care about radio […] Radio wasn’t in my domain. I just wanted to rock the streets, rock people’s minds,” he says. “I worked with Nas, Biggie, and Jay Z—during their prime. I’m one of the only producers to do that. That was my goal.”
Younglord, one of the earliest Hitmen, created Big Pun’s “It’s So Hard” and Black Rob’s “I Dare You,” spoke to the backlash The Hitmen felt. Knowing Puff’ since the Howard University days, he admits, “I saw Puff hated for doing great things, like making hits. I’m like, ‘These [critics] are idiots; who cares?'”
Nashiem echos that sentiment. As Ma$e once rapped, “We take hits from the ’80s, and make ’em sound so crazy,” people criticized a label, its founder, and production team for favoring popular records by The Police, David Bowie, Diana Ross, and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 over digging. While Diggin’ In The Crates producers like Lord Finesse and Buckwild were also close to the label, Myrick says The Hitmen are no different in trade. “A lot of people would criticize The Hitmen. They’d criticize us ’cause of samples. So for a second, everybody stopped sampling for a minute. But then, they went right back to it—right back to [the same thing we were criticized for]. At the end of the day, it’s about the music, the feeling. But [our style] was selling so much, they wanted to change. That’s how our sound was created; Hip-Hop was created by taking an old record, rapping on it, and making it new again. That’s how the foundation of Hip-Hop started, so how could you be mad at what we’re doing?”
D-Dot retraces one particular hit, and admits his creative and commercial compromise. “Puff brought me the Ma$e record ‘Feels So Good.’ I would’ve never did that beat, ever!” Referring to Kool & The Gang’s 1973 hit “Hollywood Swinging,” the Brooklyn, New Yorker (who later became The Mad Rapper) was not impressed. “It was too common. We were trying to look for the [uncommon samples]. I tried to pass it off to Nash’, I tried to pass it off to Stevie. Puff came in the room, ‘Nah Dot, I don’t want nobody else to do this but you.'” Dot says he felt challenged by the Loud Records team, which included Sean C & L.V., who would later move to Bad Boy. “That wasn’t where my head was at; I wanted to make RZA beats [and stuff like Havoc].” “Feels So Good” would go to #5 on the Pop charts. “We had a formula. Once I learned the formula and [the team] learned the formula [we] realized we could do both.”
D-Dot believes, at a deeper look, The Hitmen are not that different than the sounds of RZA, Havoc, or Pete Rock—who produced parts of Biggie’s demo. “What people don’t realize is that we probably had some of the grimiest Hip-Hop records in history, also—along with them joints that popped on top. When you think about ‘Who Shot Ya,’ that shit is one of the hardest records, ever‚ in life. Or [The Notorious B.I.G.’s] ‘Warning,’ shit like that. [Or Ma$e’s] ’24 Hrs. To Live.’” He continues, referring to his large royalty statements, “We probably [made hardcore beats] better than the hits. But when I see that mailman walking across my lawn every three months, I’d be at the door [smiling]. It’d be a manila envelope sticking out his bag and shit. ‘Those are mine; those are mine! I need those. Please. Three of those. Thank you.'”
Nashiem Myrick recalls how Ma$e, as a junior act on the label leading up to his 1997 breakthrough, was passed over for would-be hits. “One day Ma$e comes in the studio, in the MIDI room, and I’m there. It’s early in the morning. He pulls up a Diana Ross record, ‘I’m Coming Out.’ He was like, ‘Yo Nash’, hit that for me. I need that. I want to do that.’ I was like, ‘Nah, that’s not me. Stevie [is] about to come here. Let Stevie do that. I’m out.’ And I was serious, ’cause I knew I couldn’t bless it like Stevie. Stevie comes in, does it. It comes out, sold 2 million.” The resulting song sampling the 1980 hit, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” appeared on Biggie’s diamond-certified Life After Death sophomore. It would be a #1 single, the second on the 2LP following D-Dot’s “Hypnotize.”
Myrick explains how the baby-faced Harlem, New York MC lost out. “It was Ma$e’s record. Ma$e brought it to the table. Nash’ says no. Stevie’s working on it, makin’ it hot. Ma$e was in there [writing]. He wrote the record. Puff comes in the room, ‘Oh shit, this is crazy! I’m giving that to Big. I’ll find you another record.'” Having been in development with Big L, Cam’ron, and Children Of The Corn, Ma$e reportedly left Daddy’s House Studios more than a little upset. “We didn’t see Ma$e for two fuckin’ after that. He was so upset.” Nash’ deduces, “It was whatever was best for the team. He sold 5-7 million records; we made sure we made up for it.” The Hitmen joke how shortly after Stevie J created the “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” beat at Ma$e’s request, the same thing happened with “Money, Power & Respect.” Produced by Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, Jay “Waxx” Garfield, the song (joined by Lil’ Kim and DMX) ended up on The LOX’s 1998 debut of the same name.
In the interview, The Hitmen discuss other hits, their pre-Bad Boy ties to Puff Daddy, and the working relationship several members shared with Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella Records.