Erick Sermon Reveals The Real Reason Craig Mack Did Not Join The Bad Boy Reunion Tour
On March 12, MC Craig Mack died at the age of 47 (earlier reports listed his age as 46). The Bronx-born, Long Island-raised artist who used his real name on records deceased from what coroner’s declared as natural causes at his home in Walterboro, South Carolina. Other sources close to the artist have reported that Mack was battling congestive heart disease at the time of his passing.
Throughout his 30-plus-year music career, Mack is perhaps best known for breakout solo single “Flava In Ya Ear” and its game-changing star-studded remix. The track spent 14 weeks at #1 on the Rap charts in a 1994 summer that would ignite a movement in New York City, and across Rap music. The Easy Mo Bee-produced song was released a month ahead of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” in a “B.I.G. Mack” campaign season that would ultimately launch Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs’ Bad Boy music empire.
While Craig Mack’s legacy is typically attached to Biggie and Diddy, his professional career has roots with another New York musical impresario: Erick Sermon. The EPMD co-founder and Craig Mack reportedly have a relationship that dates back to 1985, when the Green-Eyed Bandit’s first battle opponent was his Brentwood, Long Island neighbor. Speaking with Billboard following the news of Craig’s passing, Sermon described the two teens’ 1980s roots. EPMD brought Mack, as MC EZ along with partner Troop on an early tour.
As Sermon and Parrish Smith were planning to expand their brand into the Hit Squad roster, Craig Mack was high on the pair’s list to produce. However, E and P’s personal problems affected Mack’s future. “I never really got a chance to work with Craig Mack because EPMD broke up. You see, Craig Mack’s plan was to go home, sign with our label that we were under in Sleeping Bag Records, and he had this first song called ‘Get Retarded.’” In the last 18 years, Sermon and Mack did get that opportunity.
DJ Scratch, who was deeply involved in EPMD’s music and touring at that time, remembers it the same way. “If I had to describe him with one word I would say ‘innocent.’ He was so innocent, a dope MC, a hell of a beat maker and [a] cool, great dude,” wrote the accomplished producer and turntablist on Instagram. “Craig was Hit Squad before K-Solo, Redman, and Das EFX were discovered. Unfortunately, Craig never got the opportunity to get his chance with the Hit Squad because EPMD broke up. Everyone’s careers were in jeopardy, and Craig was back on his own again.”
During this time, Puff Daddy was building a roster for his own record company. In addition to Biggie, whom Puff took with him upon exiting his Uptown Records executive post, he was seeking talent for Bad Boy Records. The New York Times and others have reported that Craig Mack impressed Combs during a chance meeting outside New York City’s Club Mecca. According to the EPMD faction, their affiliate and record promoter Alvin Toney delivered Mack to Puff Daddy. In any event, it worked and quickly took shape. Puffy pulled strings; Craig appeared shotgun in Puff’s Lexus in the video remix to Mary J. Blige’s “You Don’t Have To Worry.” Craig was makin’ (calculated) moves with Puff’ en route to his own upcoming platform. He would be the first rapper to release a single at Bad Boy.
Craig Mack embodied Puffy’s pop-tent circus in the best balance of mic skills, charisma, and style. It is palpable in the videos. With Biggie and Combs, Mack fit the brand of custom hockey jerseys and kinetic rhyme deliveries. As Common joke-jabbed that same year, Craig Mack was no sex symbol. However, he embodied a clever-but-hardcore rhyme style at a time when ONYX, Redman, and Wu-Tang Clan were making waves. In step, Bad Boy packaged a lifestyle of underdog ambition, swagger, and New York City nightlife. It was all about confidence and flavor—two things Craig Mack brandished.
Despite a platinum single, a gold album, and a series of music video looks from Project: Funk Da World, Craig Mack’s Bad Boy stay was short. At 1994’s close, Biggie appeared to be the front-runner within the roster. As The Times‘ Jon Caramanica writes, “The long shadow of the Notorious B.I.G. proved difficult to escape.” Like T La Rock with Def Jam or The D.O.C. at Death Row, one of the movement fire-starters was quickly the odd man out. By 1995, Craig left the label after an LP, a handful of R&B remix appearances, and soundtrack work. Aside from an awkward interview, it was an unceremonious turning of the page during a windstorm period for Rap.
After Bad Boy, Craig Mack linked with Eric B., who executive produced the Warner Bros.-distributed Operation: Get Down. Given Eric and Suge’s 1996 plans for Death Row East, insider grumblings lingered that Mack was to lead the roster. None of that happened, officially. Operation… includes work from that label’s in-house producer, thanks to late Tupac-hit-maker Johnny J. The Fat Boys’ Prince Markie Dee also provided beats, with “Flava”-saving non-album Mo Bee remix video. The 1997 LP was less than tepid at a time when labels moved the machine. Video single “Jockin’ My Style” portrays a rapper sneaking into a biters’ mansion party after his swagger has been jacked. Craig apparently felt stripped and locked out.
By the 2000s, Craig Mack had reportedly relocated to the south. He became an active member of Overcomer Ministry in Walterboro that The Washington Post‘s Tyler Huckabee calls “a hyper-conservative religious outfit.” On his debut, Mack ministered in the form of songs like single “When God Comes.” Sermon says he found the 2000s church community while tuning into AM radio stations during a drive in a “troubled time” in his life. DJ Scratch says the calling was good, “At that moment is when he was most happy, regardless if no one understood his life changing decision.” Away from album-making, Craig Mack was not entirely distanced from the industry, or Bad Boy. Mack appeared alongside Puffy, Ghostface Killah, and Keith Murray in G.Dep’s “Special Delivery (Remix)” video. Explicitly, the “Flava remix” homage sent a message to the industry about the label and its breakout star. Bad Boys could still move together, even if the last six years had been silent. At a time when Ma$e and Shyne left the label in controversial haste, Mack would cameo a year later in Diddy’s “I Need A Girl Pt. 1” video. He had made appearances on Biggie’s posthumous #1 Born Again, and did a skit on Black Rob’s second LP. Mack always appeared within some reach of his old glory grounds.
“Craig wasn’t in a good place. He was going through stuff and that’s how he got to [South] Carolina in the first place,” Erick Sermon says of Craig Mack’s head-space in recent years. While active in the church, the MC maintained a secular Rap interest in recent years. In 2017 Craig self-released The Mack World Sessions. The recordings, sounding to belong to another time in the artist’s life and career, are raw in multiple ways. Like that video 20 years ago, Craig Mack seemed to be trying to get in where he could fit in, and was struggling. Perhaps that sense of belonging is what Craig found in worship. Having only communicated with Mack over email nearly 15 years ago, it is not for me—or us of us to say.
Last year, Craig Mack was a glaring omission in Diddy’s Bad Boy Worldwide Reunion Tour. Billboard asked the mogul the question he presumably did not want to field. Puffy said he “respected wishes” and “understood where he was coming from,” in regards to Craig’s decline to tour. In other appearances, Puff said he was seeking out his former artist. Erick Sermon now reveals that it was health-related, above ego or hurt feelings. “It was Craig Mack’s health. He couldn’t let nobody know nothing until he called his friends that he went to school with and that he grew up with and that was us,” says Sermon, who is reportedly remixing 10 tracks of Craig Mack vocals.
Additionally, E’s own 2018 “Come Thru” single features the L.I. MC and The Lost Boyz’ Mr. Cheeks:
Yesterday (March 13), Puffy tweeted: “Craig Mack, you were the first artist to release music on Bad Boy and gave us our first hit…You always followed your heart and you had an energy that was out of this world. You believed in me and you believed in Bad Boy. I will never forget what you did for Hip-Hop.”
Both halves of “B.I.G. Mac” ’94 are gone, each having died in the month of March, 21 years apart. Erick Sermon suggests Craig’s final interview, granted to Alvin Toney recently, may offer his definitive story-line. Time shall tell.
A 2016 video appears to having Craig Mack telling his own story, the way he wanted it to be known. Inside his church community, the MC rhymed, “Gave away my cars, turned in all my guns / ’Cause Mack stays with beef like hamburger buns / Sold my home, moved my family, South Carolina / Y’all can stay mad at me / If I stayed in New York, just another tragedy / So God cleaned me up, while y’all were still raggedy / Sore as a cavity, depravity, you’re facing calamity / Your ego on a high like we ain’t got gravity / Your Majesty, please forgive / This world gives you death, but I want to live.”
Craig Mack wanted to live. He had the Rap dream of a guy who watched his friends turn famous in the ’80s, and witness those around him become superstars in the ’90s. From what we know, a lot of the time in between was spent waiting, hoping, and of course, rhyming. Industry politics, public opinion, and setbacks may have deterred Craig, but they did not stop him from using that booming voice to kick the flavor.