Before The Notorious B.I.G. exploded onto the rap scene and became the face of Sean (Diddy) Combs’ iconic Bad Boy Entertainment, another rapper thrust the record label into international prominence: Craig Mack.
It was Mack, after all, who released the very first hit in the label’s history with “Flava In Ya Ear,” a timeless 1994 track that set the widespread success of Bad Boy into motion.
But while “Flava In Ya Ear” sold over a million copies, earned a Grammy nomination for best rap solo performance and catapulted the rapper into sudden fame, it wasn’t long before Mack — who died Monday at 46 — became overshadowed by other members of the label.
A star-studded and wildly popular remix to “Flava In Ya Ear” that also dropped in 1994 featured The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Rampage and took the hip hop realm by storm — particularly because it introduced Biggie to the masses.
Craig Mack, New York rapper on Diddy’s Bad Boy label, dead at 46
Less than two months after Mack’s initial hit dropped, Biggie premiered his legendary first album, “Ready to Die,” jumpstarting one of the most celebrated and influential rap careers in history.
Meanwhile, Mack— whose first album, “Project: Funk Da World,” earned Gold status — was focused on continuing his success. He assured in a 1995 interview withThe New York Timesthat he wouldn’t let his newfound popularity transform his life.
“I’m not trying to get new friends now that I’m rhyming, no new posse with 100 brothers and no bodyguards and all stupid like that,” Mack said at the time. “No need for that, ’cause I’m not involving myself in situations that require a bodyguard.”
But Mack’s time with Bad Boy was short, and he ended up leaving the label in 1995 before he released a second album.
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His departure came shortly after he had sat down with Biggie and Combs — then known as Puff Daddy — for a “Yo! MTV Raps” interview, during which Puffy declared Mack’s second album was in the works. That proclamation left Mack looking visibly puzzled, and ultimately never came to fruition.
In that same interview, Combs referred to Mack and Biggie as his “life.”
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“We all need each other to live and breathe,” he said at the time. “That’s the way we treat each other.”
Biggie, meanwhile, referenced Mack in a line in one of his top hits, “Big Poppa,” by rapping, “Now check it, I got more Mack than Craig.”
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In a twist of irony, Mack’s most notable lyric in “Flava In Ya Ear” was a dig at other rappers in which he declares, “You won’t be around next year.” Considering his exit from Bad Boy a year later, the line proved to be strangely prophetic.
Despite Mack’s departure, Bad Boy continued to thrive on the strength of The Notorious B.I.G.’s hit-making excellence. Mack, however, didn’t release his second album, “Operation Get Down,” until 1997. The album didn’t spawn a single and didn’t manage to sell 500,000 units.
Mack teased a reunion with Combs in 2002, saying his abrupt exit from Bad Boy seven years earlier was a thing of the past.
“I don’t regret (leaving the label),” he told MTV at the time. “I’m just glad that I’m with my family. What happened in ’94 and ’95 happened in ’94 and ’95, and it must’ve happened for a reason. So to see everything come back together now, it’s just a good thing and a blessing. Me and Puff both agree, we don’t care what happened in the ’90s. We’re looking at it like this is the new millennium— new things is happening.”
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Mack put out a mixtape, “Operation Why2K?” in 2012, as well as a third and final album in 2017 called “The Mack World Sessions.”
Diddy released a statement Tuesday recalling his former colleague.
“Craig Mack, you were the first artist to release music on Bad Boy and gave us our first hit,” he wrote. “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. You inspired me, and I will continue to try to keep inspiring others. We will always love you.”
Other figures within the hip hop industry, including his “Flava In Ya Ear” remix collaborator LL Cool J, also recalled Mack’s talent and presence.
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“Rest in power Craig,” he tweeted Tuesday. “May the almighty embrace your soul & lift up your family and friends. it was a pleasure to know you & rock with you. You $ tepped away from the game & did it your way.. I always respected that.”
Missy Elliott, meanwhile, fondly reflected on working with Mack on the song “It’s Alright” while she was a member of the group Sista.
“I’m so saddened to get a text about Craig Mack,” she tweeted. “I am grateful to have worked with him on this song on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack & he was so kind funny & Talented … Rest peacefully Craig.”
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