For as much as we felt we already knew about The Notorious B.I.G. and the classic double LP, Life After Death, the process of completing the various features we have has been quite eye opening. It’s been an opportunity to look deeper into the lyrics that he truly lived, and the words that have lived posthumously for 20 years now.
In this particular feature, we connect with Nashiem Myrick, who was an intricate part of Bad Boy’s Hitmen, the in-house production team that ultimately crafted a majority of the songs we all knew an loved, not just from Biggie, but from many other artists on the booming roster. Myrick has been lauded for his work through the year, especially the personal touch he added to Life After Death. Having developed a relationship with B.I.G. that began during the “Ready to Die” days, it wasn’t difficult for him to know exactly what the King wanted. Myrick definitely delivered with four of the album’s most revered tracks: “Somebody’s Gotta Die”, “Niggas Bleed”, “My Downfall”, and “What’s Beef”. We talk to Myrick not only about these powerful tracks, but also the legacy that has lived now for two decades, and continues to grow with each passing day. He also gives us a glimpse into what he has going on right now, and what we can be on the lookout for.
U.G. Digital Mag: I’m immensely grateful to you for your time man. As someone who religiously read album credits, I've wanted to connect with you definitely this entire 20 years. This is really awesome to talk so someone I feel was majorly vital for the overall creativity in this project. Clearly we're honoring the legacy of Biggie in Life After Death, but you're responsible for a bulk of the album in terms of production. What was that like at the time, knowing you would contribute, and then what's it like now, looking at how inspirational it's been to so many people?
Nashiem Myrick: Well, you know, it was the hitmen, and we got a chance to do a bulk of the album. Me and B.I.G. were in tune, and we had a connection when it came to music. He liked the stuff that I liked. With Somebody’s Gotta Die, I got that to him well before the album started. We were still working Ready to Die, and I have him the track. It pretty much started the direction of the new album. Not to say that it was the maiden fact for the album, which it is on the album, it’s the first track, but he got into that new vibe at that time when he started to wrote to that song. If you listen to Life After Death, and then you go back to the first album, you can tell his rhyme style changed a little.
U.G. Digital Magazine: Oh it changed a whole lot.
Nashiem Myrick: Right. It got way more intricate and sophisticated. I got a head start before everyone else. I had an opportunity to do way more tracks for him.
U.G. Digital Mag: I felt like there was something in I’m that, while not trying to be like anyone else or prove anything, it’s like he was saying “look, I can roll with the best of ‘em, no matter who It is”. Coming from Cleveland, People here really looked out for Notorious Thugs featuring Bone Thugs, and he clearly switched his entire flow. He did stuff many were scared to do.
Nashiem Myrick: Right, and it’s like, if you wasn’t from the midwest, you wasn’t doing that Bone Thugs n Harmony record. At that time, he surprised everybody, but we knew he had it in him. Him and Jay were just on another level at that time. I can’t explain it, and no one can, but they was just on another level when it came to the rhymes, it was like out of this world.
U.G. Digital Mag: My own interpretation with Life After Death was that you had the most introspective tracks on the album. Not really any of the uptempos, but the more gritty cuts. Was that a conscious move? How would it be determined what you worked on versus what everyone else in the hitmen worked on?
Nashiem Myrick: We all had different styles, and that was the beauty of it. It was never a case of us having to preplan anything. I had linked up with a guy names Carlos Broady a little before the album started. He and I collaborated on those songs, and we had the same ear, and the same style. When it came to the rest of the hitmen, D-Dot, Stevie, Ron Lawrence, you know, we were just different. Even though Ron Lawrence and D-Dot were a team, basically everybody had their own style. When it came to making the album, B.I.G. and Puff pretty much knew what each element; the elements being Me, Carlos, and Stevie, they knew what each one of us individually would bring. That would make a more broader album as far as music was concerned. You gotta understand; we was new at the time. I had a track record from Who Shot Ya, and a couple other joints floating out there like Queen Bitch.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s crazy because a lot of people really don’t know, and I look at how big some names have gotten in production. There’s so many songs you’ve done out there, from Queen Bitch, and Who Shot Ya, and you’ve worked with Mary, Jay-Z, Scarface, and a lot of people don’t recognize. You brought something to the table with B.I.G. that so many people fell in love with. Even looking at the samples you used, You figure the Isley brothers, Al Green, Richard Evans, The Dramatics, Run DMC, you introduced a lot of people to music before that time. Today, many artists don’t know about the predecessors, let alone even having respect for the predecessors. I talked to DMC last week about “My Downfall”, and we talked about the fact that musicians today don’t know those before them.
Nashiem Myrick: I know, and that behooves me because I grew up on music since I was so little, and I was always interested in the credits, even before I was really making music, I always understood it was a process to make these songs. I was reading the sleeves at such an early age that I knew this guys also played in Funkadelic, and Bootsy Collins, or they derived from James Brown’s era. I always put it all together. My father was a big music fan, and he was also a DJ, and had a record collection that would blow your mind. That’s all I did was gain knowledge, and he was into every type of music. If it had soul, he introduced it to me. I don’t understand these kids. You’re not going to last if you don’t know your past. Period! Everything on earth relied on the elements that came before.
U.G. Digital Mag: I appreciate hearing that from you because I was somebody that read the liner notes to see who was involved, where the sample came from, and everything. You speak of Carlos, and that was my introduction to him; reading the liner notes for the album. I remember listening to “Anotha”, and learning ti came from Barbara Mason. Before reading that, I had no clue. It’s good to hear this from you. Also, the people you sample, my son picks it up, even at 10. He knows “Stay With Me” by El Debarge was sampled for One More Chance; He knows Al Green, and so on.
Nashiem Myrick: I had an advantage that these young kids don’t have today. I was born in 1970, so I was born when hip-hop was created. I lived through it, so I don’t really have to go back in time. I didn’t have to do too much history because it was right there for me, and since we as a culture, our music comes from what we have around us. We’re not band players. We actually developed through technology, so we relied on old records that were already done. You have to know your history. I was a guy who always knew the break beats. I collected break beats. Since I grew up around music, I always knew the samples as people were coming out with them. I always knew it, and if I didn’t, I went back into my record collection, or I would read the notes. I used to know, down to the drum loop, what songs were used. Even if they used a snare and a kick, I could name the snare kick when I was young, and it was crazy. I was a buff, and people would be amazed. That’s one thing Puff loved about me when we met. I met Puff when we was at Howard. He was DJ’ing and hosting parties. When he got his job at Uptown, he would call me over for studio setups. I would sit with him and go through break beats all night.
U.G. Digital Mag: It had to be a good feeling in your heart to be involved from the very beginning of Uptown with him.
Nashiem Myrick: Yea, when he got the job interning, I can remember he was still going to Howard. I knew like, I know this guy so somehow we’ll connect. Plus, I was in the group with one of his friends, one of my beats friends, Harve Pierre, and our friend Davie, we had the connection, and he was trying to get into the music business. We already had the record deal. He was promoting parties, and we was always in cahoots with each other.
U.G. Digital Mag: How did you end up being production them?
Nashiem Myrick: Well, the record deal that me, Harve, and Dave had, Sticks and Stones was the name of our group, they dropped us. We was on Pay Day Records, and was managed by Empire management. That’s Group Home and Gangstarr, they was down with them also. They dropped us on my birthday and I’ll never forget. I got the call on my birthday, so from there, Puff had gotten fired from Uptown, and started shopping Bad Boy. He had already asked me to work for him when he was at Uptown, but it was more clerical stuff. I knew that could open doors for me, but I didn’t know nothing about clerical work. When he got his deal at Bad Boy, Mark Pitts was working for him. He invited Harve up there, and Harve was working for him. He didn’t really have a staff at the time. He had a studio in the crib, and needed an intern. I was interning under Poke of the Trackmasters. They were taking care of the studio and I worked under them, but two weeks later, I guess they had a break-up over something, and Puff wanted me to take a bigger part in this. He wanted me to step up, and I said let’s do it. He already knew I wanted to be a producer, and I knew the street essence of the hip-hop game as far as music was concerned. I was already heavy into the samples, and he already knew that from me being a DJ. Gradually it formed.
U.G. Digital Mag: Of all the songs you worked with, you had “Somebody’s Gotta Die”, “What’s Beef”, “Niggas Bleed”, and “My Downfall”. What did those songs specifically do for the album to lend it the credibility it has maintained for 20 years now?
Nashiem Myrick: I think they were the glue for certain moments in the album. You could tell a couple of them were storytelling joints, which B.I.G. was incredible out.
U.G. Digital Mag: Exactly.
Nashiem Myrick: He had to display that. They were the glue. It’s like, you make a dish and you need something to keep the certain ingredients together. Those tracks gave it that grit. That’s where I came in at. It was to hold the album together. having an album with just video joints, there’s no depth involved. You need something to take with you. You need legs to an album to where it keeps with you for a while. If you have all radio joints, it gets exploited on the radio and in the club, and then you’re through with the album. This is so you can have something to take you into the future. They keep the album together and make it do beautiful.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s funny, though, how you speak of the radio tracks. You have “Hypnotize”, ‘Going Back to Cali”, “Mo Money, Mo Problems”, and by far, they took the album to the next level, but when you look at even “My Downfall” specifically, it has carried the album for this time. You had the more introspective joints where you could listen to what he was saying and relate it to your own life. Theycarried the album.
Nashiem Myrick: Yea, and that’s the basis of a classic album. You gotta have a joint that’s not going to be exploited on the radio. it’s just for the album. You have to buy the album to get certain cuts. A lot of times, it can be worthy of a single, but let’s keep it on the album. That’s a trick I guess they learned long ago.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s definitely dope though. When you look at hip-hop today, how has this album aided the evolution of hip-hop?
Nashiem Myrick: Wow, first of all the production on that album is fucking ridiculous. People wasn’t taking the time and effort to put into the production what we were doing, you know, we were taking sample based records but making them so orchestra-like, and bigger than they could be. You go back to like Dre would do it. He would get people to come in and play the parts of the sample and take it into a live form. What we were doing was the same, keeping the sample there, and creating on top of that. We added new material, new tracks, and new instrumentation on top of that sample, making it extraordinary. That’s where it took a shift, as far as I’m concerned as a producer. Hip-Hop took a shift, and if they didn’t learn from Dre that you had to do more with the music, and make it more extraordinary, they saw it with the Hitmen and how we did it on that album, and the Mary album prior to that.
U.G. Digital Mag: I agree. I know for a fact that people were sampled who only cleared the samples because of who you were and what they knew your track record to be.
Nashiem Myrick: Right.
U.G. Digital Mag: I look at “Rise” from Herb Alpert, and I know so many artists were trying to clear that, and nobody could, but he immediately cleared it for the Hitmen and for B.I.G., which was amazing.
Nashiem Myrick: We thought we wasn’t gonna clear it too.
U.G. Digital Mag: Angela Winbush, the joint with her was absolutely amazing.
Nashiem Myrick: And we had her come in and sing.
U.G. Digital Mag: I know. That’s just what I mean. It’s a sample, but she sang on top of it, and killed it. Til’ this day, it’s one of the dopest.
Nashiem Myrick: Took her song, and wrote a version just for that sample.
U.G. Digital Mag: You won’t get that with anyone else man.
Nashiem Myrick: No! Especially not anyone with her credibility.
U.G. Digital Mag: So yea, there’s a lot of people who appreciate that. Where does the legacy go in the years to come? People are still buying?
Nashiem Myrick: It’s going to be there forever because of the untimely death of my man. That’s just going to grow the legacy more because it’s the last offering he had. He didn’t even get to hear the album. He didn’t get to hear “Somebody’s Gotta Die” in it’s latest form. 60% of that song was produced after he had passed.
U.G. Digital Mag: Wow.
Nashiem Myrick: It’s a lot of songs on there like that.
U.G. Digital Mag: I would have thought he had finished it all before, seeing as how it released two weeks after he passed. It speaks volumes in terms of the connection everyone had. Now, going back a little, everybody knows you were behind “Who Shot Ya”. The song made people think so much. Was there ever any though just of any drama that could come from what people thought?
Nashiem Myrick: Not at all. We never thought that. I mean, emcees were going at each other unknown, subliminally, but he wasn’t. I was there during the session as it came out. It was never that. it was all fantasy-based. You never thought about drama. His lyrical skills were so amazing that it would make you believe that. But that never entered our minds. We just thought we had a dope record.
U.G. Digital Mag: I really want people to know the many things you’ve done production-wise. Mary J, Scarface, Nas, Lil’ Kim, Jay-Z, Push T, Mariah Carey, and the list goes on.
Nashiem Myrick: I worked with Mobb Deep. It’s a blessing. it was one point where people didn’t know my name. Then one record, and everybody wanted to work with me. That was cool. I wanted to produce for as many of these great artists as I could. I went from being an in-house producer to being one of the hottest producers in the industry.
U.G. Digital Mag: What is there for everyone to see and follow right now?
Nashiem Myrick: I’m trying to put together a Hitmen album. I have a few artists I’m recording now who I will be putting out. it may take a couple years to get it out there, but I’m still working with artists. You just have to look out for it. I will be promoting it. I’ll be out there.