Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Easy Mo Bee: Mo’ Betta Blues

Easy Mo Bee
Easy Mo Bee Easy Mo Bee

“If you have tape, you’d be runnin’ out right now. I love to talk; I didn’t know it was gon’ be like this.”

This is the industry according to Easy Mo Bee: hip hop’s true master.

Born and raised in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy community, Mo Bee (nee Osten Harvey, Jr.) witnessed the early park shows in his own backyard. He’s earned numerous gold and platinum plaques for crafting classics for some of the biggest names in hip hop with his trademark, rugged sound: a bass-heavy fusion combined with booming beats and jazzy overtones.

Mo Bee, born Dec. 8, 1965, knows where he comes from musically; he’s real quick to mention his father’s massive collection of records full of Aretha Franklin; Miles Davis (later one of his collaborators); Count Basie; Billie Holiday and B.B. King helping to fine tune his wealth of production techniques and musical knowledge. Not to mention, a teenage Mo Bee was also a drum corps member and church musician. By 1985, he had established his first three-piece rap outfit, Rapping is Fundamental (R.I.F.). Another R.I.F. member introduced Mo Bee’s music to Big Daddy Kane and before long, Mo Bee contributed two cuts to Kane’s 1989 classic, It’s a Big Daddy Thing.

Now entering into his second decade as a hip hop mastermind, Mo Bee’s incredible discography can match any successful producer in any other genre of music. Check his resume. He produced Miles Davis’ final album, 1992’s Doo-Bop, and earned a Grammy Award the following year for “Best R&B Instrumental Performance.” Before there was a '36 Chambers,' Mo Bee produced the first Genius/GZA album, 'Words from the Genius' (1991); 'The Rza', then known as Prince Rakeem, was also an offspring of Mo Bee’s production with 'Ooh, We Love You Rakeem'. Mo Bee was the first mega-producer to usher in Diddy’s (then known by Puff Daddy’s) new Bad Boy Entertainment label: going into the studio with then unknown artists, The Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack., before any other producer. Those early sessions produced for B.I.G. 'Party and Bullshit' and over 60 percent of his 1994 classic 'Ready to Die': for Mack comes 'Flava In ‘Ya Ear' and 'Get Down.'

Mo Bee has also collaborated with 2Pac; LL Cool J; Lost Boyz; Queen Latifah; Alicia Keys; 3rd Bass; Heavy D. and the Boyz; Busta Rhymes; Cormega; Kindred the Family Soul; Shaquille ‘O Neal; Lady of Rage; Kurupt; Goodie MOB; The Temptations (he remixed 'Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me' for Motown Remixed); Afu Ra; Mos Def and Blaq Poet among countless others. On the other hand, Mo Bee has also seen the downside and grimy nature of the recording industry – death for two of the most prolific hip hop artists in history; being eluded from sessions and major projects (Life After Death sessions and scoring the music for “Notorious” biopic for example) and faced being blacklisted by label executives and egotistical gatekeepers. Still, Easy Mo Bee keeps it movin’ and remains raw as ever.

Mo Bee still gets requests to work with innovative artists, such as Cee-Lo (who he is currently in talks with to put together some major heat). He has his own record label, Easy Mo Records, and has even branched off into doing another major deal – a full-fledged marketing company, recording label and branding service, BlackBox.

This particular Friday, July 17, 2009, Mo Bee, dressed comfortably in a blue and tan Indigo Red velour sweatsuit and white Adidas constantly text messaging on his Razor, is at Atlanta’s Swagg House Studios. Located in the eclectic Castleberry Hill district, Mo Bee is here to launch the BlackBox venture. The studio – full of bright flashing lights on a soundstage draped in red fabric in the rear; loveseats and couches on wooden floors beneath a DJ booth; a stocked bar above the soundstage with a pool table close by and 2Pac videos playing on the large plasma monitors – is fit for a legend. Of course, the recording booth and consoles are where Mo Bee feels close to home. Before long, his reserved deep voice and laid-back demeanor turns into a history lesson in music production and hip hop culture; Mo Bee becomes reflective; extroverted; chatty and insightful at the same time. He speaks candidly about his name; his orientation into hip hop; his collaborations; his favourite artists and music; his motivation and his plans for the future.

…on how he got his name

“Back when the Treacherous Three was like one of the biggest groups at the time, the lead rapper was Kool Moe Dee. Everybody know about Kool Moe Dee. At that time, he was like the most innovative cat; that might be unbelievable to this day. But at that time, the thing about Kool Moe Dee: when every other rapper rapped, it was zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga/a-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga-zigga. That same straight rhythm gets boring; Kool Moe Dee was the one that I noticed back then who came in and innovated and injected brand new rhythms in rap. He just made the words move different; he was just one of the most creative rappers at the time. I just loved it; I loved it so much I wanted his name. I said I’m gon’ spin it. He had ‘Kool;’ I took the adjective ‘Easy.’ I said I would drop the ‘e’ and use ‘Mo.’ He had ‘Dee;’ I used ‘Bee.’ That’s how we put it; shout out to you, respect Kool Moe Dee! Shout out to you: love from the heart!”

…on how he developed his knack for music and production

“That comes from my father; he was the one that played all of the music ‘round the house. That’s where I got the education of jazz; soul; the blues; the R&B and stuff like that. If it wasn’t for my father, I wouldn’t be making music. He introduced that love to me. A lot of love that I have for music and a lot of these people that he was playing – a lot of them was alive and a lot of them wasn’t. It just makes you feel like you’re sitting next to; it’s kinda sorta like how we feel about the recent death of Michael Jackson. The death of Michael Jackson, even though I’ve been doing it for a long time, it just makes me wanna put out more. It’s just being surrounded by greatness. Even if it’s just being around music or the way he [Easy’s father] was playing records, that was my original education: all of that. I took all of that from the years and then up to now from what I learned and put it into the music.”

…on his flexibility as a producer for hip hop and R&B acts

“They like my sounds; you can hear what’s going on in the technique of what I’m doing whether I’m droppin’ the beats ‘cause I sample. No doubt – I’ll sample ‘til the day I die. I come up with original stuff from sampling; but it’s the technique of what I do. In the end result when you hear the beats I hear, it’s all hip hop. You hear hip hop goin’ on, and I think that’s one thing that keeps people attracted to this day. I get requests; it’s a blessing. I’ve been doin’ it just a lil’, when I say, just a lil’ over 20 years: sat down with some people about Cee-Lo for one of his new records. Big shout to Goodie MOB, too! They were on my Now or Never compilation at the top of the millennium.”

…on some of his collaborations - Queen Latifah, 'Elements I’m Among' (1996) off the Sunset Park soundtrack

“How you pick that? You know what, tho! You listen to that beat, and I really, really worked on that. There’s a sample on there; I’m not even supposed to quote it right now. I really worked on that to get it the way that it was and the way that it came out. Some work was put into that track. I established this relationship with Flavour Unit with Shakim…Compere and Latifah; they’re basically Flavour Unit and all of the staff they got over there. We always would cross paths, and I told her I always wanted to work with her. That soundtrack came up, and it was just perfect. And we ended up doin’ that song. I was glad to get on that soundtrack; I was sittin’ up there with some killa-assed songs, too! What was on there? ‘Motherless Child’ [Ghostface Killah]. That was a nice soundtrack!”

The Notorious B.I.G., ‘Warning' (1994) off Ready to Die
“[‘Warning’] was for [Big Daddy] Kane. I made it for him; he didn’t want it. B.I.G. jumped all over it. As soon as he heard it, he was like, ‘Yo, Mo! We gotta go in the studio right now.’ On cassette, I have the original demo. It was a rough cut; sometimes, I just like listenin’ to that one more than the finished product. It’s just the rawness of his voice. He had an all-out attack in his voice and his style when he went into the studio to do it. The first time somebody doin’ a record or a demo, they doin’ a record, but they not really thinkin’ about, ‘Yeah, OK! The final product is gon’ come to me.’ [I] wish you get to hear what I hear. That’s miles away locked in a vault.”

Alicia Keys, 'If I Were Your Woman/Walk on By' (2003) off The Diary of Alicia Keys

“How you got that record is at the time, I had a manager named Kevin Davis. [Nee-Nee], who works at MBK, Alicia’s management, is somebody who is an old friend of his: some kind of way ended up wantin’ 2 put us together. When I had the original meeting with Alicia, she sat down and she was like, ‘Yo, I love your stuff: all that stuff you did wit Biggie.’ She was like what I consider on a R&B/pop level; she was at that time as far as I’m concerned ‘a mini-Mariah’ (laughs).

I’m like, ‘You tellin’ me that?’ She started quotin’ all of this stuff I did; she’s like, ‘I love your stuff.’ She started quotin’ Biggie. ‘What I wanna do wit’ you. What I wanna do wit’ you – I want you to re-flip that for me. I don’t want to take anything from that record ‘cause that record is that record. The [Isaac Hayes] “Walk on By” sample: I want you to flip that again.’ So what happened was we went into the studio, and usually I go home and do the track and come back wit it ready.

NO! With her, it’s a whole creative process, and that’s how she wanted it: right there on the spot from scratch. I did the beat, and it’s a real interesting process to that beat if you listen. We used time-stretching. [Time-stretching] is usually used on voices, but we took it and took the process across the sample. [Time-stretching] is changing without affecting the pitch; I know that sounds crazy, like if you took a turntable and turn it as fast as you could, what would happen? (makes reverse noises) Well with time-stretching, you can increase speed without affecting pitch, so basically what we did with time-stretching is we took ‘Walk on By’ and made it travel and move to the tune of ‘If I Were Your Woman’ [Gladys Knight].

When y’all hear the records, y’all don’t get all of that. Y’all don’t know what it takes to go through and make that beat but just on the fly in the studio, it was my idea. Stuff like that, I usually do it by hand: choppin’ and pitchin’ high and low. I got the idea ‘cause we were right in the studio and got all of that equipment there and all of that access. I was like, ‘Can we run time-stretching on the sample?’ Engineer was like, (in nasal voice) ‘Oh yeah; we can do anything you want.’ (laughs) So that’s how we got that. Then, you had from Tony!Toni!Tone!, Dwayne Wiggins. That’s my boy! We gelled like heavily in the studio together. Me; her and him in the studio together doin’ that record. He’s amazing on guitar, too!
It was real cool workin’ wit her in the studio. You know, as a producer when you meet a lot of people or working wit different people, you’re meetin’ up wit different personalities. And she was so down-to-earth, man! When you’re workin’ wit all of these different people, you actually when you think about it ain’t no two people you work wit are the same. She was so down-to-earth; she had her ‘Timbs on wit the strings untied. She walk in the studio one day; I’m in there early. She gets there like, ‘Mo Bee, what up? Sup?’ (holding his hands up) And it made me feel comfortable. I’m thinkin’ she gon’ show up wit all of the pretty shoes. Nah, she came in wit the laid-back, ghetto attitude, and we made good music.”

Lost Boyz, “Jeeps, Lex Coupes, Bimaz & Benz” (1995) from Legal Drug Money

“Nobody can say that right, and you didn’t say it right either. Officially, we’ll get it right – it’s ‘The Jeeps, Lex Coupes, Bimaz, & the Benz.’ Glad you wanna talk about that; a matta fact, that track was supposed to go to Craig Mack, but he passed on it. We had already done ‘Flava in Ya Ear,’ and I think we had already gotten ‘Get Down’ done, too! So I was just tryin’ to come up wit some other records behind the ones that we already had – that had the same type of sound. Everybody knows on the second single, you kinda expect the same thing you got from the first. So I just kinda made that for him, and he was like, ‘Nah!’ I did it wit the [Lost Boyz], and of course, just like Big Daddy Kane did with ‘Warning.’ Did I just say that (puts his hand over his mouth)? They comin’ at me sayin’, ‘No, you didn’t play that to me.’ And I would say, ‘Yes, I did. You don’t remember?’”

T.C. Ellis featuring Prince and George Clinton, “Unreleased Remixed Track” (circa 1990)

“Prince had Paisley Park then with Warner Bros. in the ‘90s, and he had a rapper signed to the label named T.C. Ellis. But George Clinton and Prince was also on the record, so what I had did was (I know Warner Bros. was mad at me). (laughs) I can say this after all of this time. Don’t get mad, Prince! You’re rapper: he wasn’t all that! Straight up, man! Umma tell you – T.C. Ellis, wherever you was at – you needed some work!

I did the joint, you know what I mean? What I was doin’ was a remix. I did one mix with him, the rapper, on it. It was a whole bunch of Prince and Clinton background vocals. I did one with him: the rapper. And I did one mix with him off. It was his record, and I turned it in like that. I guess they were like, ‘What is he doin’ (laughs)? This is T.C.’s record, and he took him off.’ But the record that I came up with when I took him off, it’s a banger! The Prince and George Clinton joint: one day, that might see the light of day. Prince, will you let me put that out (looking out the corner of his eyes)? I didn’t want to pass that up ‘cause I might forget to talk about it. Let me make that clear that I didn’t work with Prince; I did a remix for a rapper that he had on his Paisley Park label, but Prince and George Clinton’s vocals are all on the record.”

Wu-Tang Clan

“I’m the unofficial member of Wu-Tang. You didn’t know that (laughs)? Before there was a Wu-Tang, this all happened from Big Daddy Kane. If you listen to ‘Set it Off,’ Melquan is on there. Kane is on this record at the end sendin’ shoutouts. Melquan is one of the shoutouts. Those two kids right there was somewhere around or doin’ something. This tall dude, Melquan, walked up to me and was like, ‘You Easy Mo Bee, right? Yeah, yeah: I got this new artist I want you to work wit, and his name is the Genius.’ He was like, ‘I want to do some records wit you; you just did some stuff wit Kane.’ So I’m doin’ records wit this dude, and I don’t know nothin’ bout him, who he is or nothin.’ So I meet Genius, and he started comin’ over to my house; I was still livin’ in the projects: LB [Lafayette Gardens], and he was always bringin’ people wit him later on that I was findin’ out, ‘These are some real dudes!’

I asked Rae’kwon many years later about a couple of years ago; I was like, ‘You remember when y’all first used to come over to my crib in the projects?’ I was like, ‘Every time y’all come, the Genius came, and he brought somebody else wit him.’ He was like, ‘I ain’t really remember. Yeah, son! You don’t remember that? I remember ya pops and everything wit the harmonica playin’ the gospel music and everything.’ I was like, ‘Yo, he was really at my crib. That’s my father.’

Back to the story. It wasn’t really a Wu-Tang yet. The concept was there. The Genius told me; he came to the crib and told me, ‘Yo G – we got this concept; we gon’ take hip hop and mix it together wit the martial arts (wit the kung-fu).’ I was like, ‘OK, alright.’ It didn’t seem like somethin’ I could picture. I was like whatever; kept makin’ the beats and doin’ stuff wit ‘em. We doin’ the song; they kept doin’ their thing and everything. It was like ’93 or somethin’ like that, and True Master, a member of Wu-Tang also, came to the crib one day finally wit the record wit the orange and yellow label. It was a 12” called ‘Protect Ya Neck.’ I’ll never forget it; he came to the crib. He said, ‘Yo G – we did it!’ Those were his exact words.

They put their first record together. They put it out; they got some independent distribution. And that’s what started Wu-Tang Clan. I played an instrumental/intricate part in the pre-production leading up to that. Their song and beats that I did with them that much later ended up on the [36 Chambers] album like ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ was done at my house in the projects first. I have the cassette demo when he came over to the house that night and he was, ‘OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH’ (like Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s trademark howling vocals). When he left, my mom was like, ‘Who is that?’ (laughs)

Long story short, I played an early part in the formation of Wu-Tang, and Rza – I heard them say it before, you know? ‘Easy Mo, he is an unofficial member of Wu-Tang. He was there from the beginning.’ I got a lotta love for them; I ended up doing a track on their last album after all this time called ‘Take it Back.’

…on contemporary music and what he listens to

“I like a lot of it, and I don’t like a lot of it. I think right now we at a stagnant point. I think we need to elevate. We need to do more. We need to try more. I think things like Michael Jackson dying – I think it needs to inspire us to try and make music as good as that. I know it means something to me. That’s how I’m feelin’ nowadays, for real. I’m movin’ on and doin’ my best to forget about it, but when I hear Michael Jackson records from the old Jackson Five stuff to the recent years, it leaves a bad feeling in my stomach. It’s hard realising that Michael Jackson is gone, but that music is still good. Just makes me wanna make good music whether it’s R&B or hip hop.

I’m listenin’ to – I’m a funny cat, man! Y’all don’t know every side of it. I be drivin’ around playing disco (laughs). I grew up on all of that: disco; dance music; much later house music and reggae. Like I told you, my father played jazz; soul and R&B. I love all of it. Right now if it’s something I’m listenin’ to – Jadakiss had a cool album. Basically, it’s not really a lot right now that I’m real excited about – like a dry period. It’s a really dry period. My problem is too much stuff and too many people sound alike. It’s like a recycling period if you ask me. That’s why I said I think we need to elevate and try something new. And do some different things. And prove your rap skills. Do some better beats. Yeah, I said it!”

…on what it takes to be a great producer; beatmaker or songwriter

“Do some research on the person. If you gon’ work with somebody and you gon’ get the best outta that; that session, that experience – you might already know ‘em or you might not know that much of ‘em (Am I answering that question?). If you gon’ work with somebody, even if you know them well, just do research on ‘em so when you work with them and catering to them, apply it specifically to the purpose that you’re there for. Like with Miles Davis before I worked with him, I knew a lil’ bit about him; I ain’t gon’ say I knew every album and his whole. It’s just before working with him, I’m listening to Sketches of Spain (1960); the album that my father used to play, Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall (1961) and his more recent stuff like Tutu (1986). I got a lil’ bit of education on him. I listened to all kinds of other things, too, when they recorded like the engineers they worked with; what type of reverbs and what type of effects they like to use when they’re in the studio – things like that. Just to be prepared; just to be prepared.”

...on being labeled or considered a legend; a pioneer; an icon or trailblazer

“A lot of people tell me that like, ‘Come on! Do you know what you did?’ (laughs) I totally understand everything that I did; but I gotta keep doin’ more. It don’t just stop right there. You’re great when you’ve done as much as people like Curtis Mayfield or Quincy Jones, who put together two of the greatest records with the man we talked about earlier. No matter how much you did, you still gotta do more and more. It’s about continuing to accomplish.
The “legend” and “pioneer” thing and all of that: that’s cool and everything – you gotta keep doin’ it. You can’t never ever get comfortable or get up on a high chair. And get comfortable: ‘Yeah, I did it.” And I don’t feel like that regardless of all of the so-called great things that I did. I still want to do more; I want to knock that out of the box. That’s what I want to do. I want you to forget about Biggie; Craig Mack and this that. I want to do some brand new incredible stuff: not to insult that when I say forget it. I just want to just continue. It’s like when Quincy Jones did Back on the Block (1989): everything he already did from Off the Wall (1979); The Brothers Johnson; Patti Austin and James Ingram – he just continued to do it. You gotta continue to try and outdo yourself.”

…on staying motivated in the music industry

“My general love for music – in what we do, there is the creative side and then there’s the business side. The creative side is the fun side when you get to make music and be in the studio. Nobody would expect Miles Davis to act like that (acts out cutting himself in the chest with a piece of glass). That’s when you get to have your fun. The business side is like a whole ‘nother thing; it takes the fun out of it. That’s contracts; meetings; lawyers and accountants. That’s a lot of things.
Aside from that, what nobody could ever take from me is the love that was instilled inside of me and the things that I remember from the records that my father played around the house. When I was little, things like when I used to come home from school; throw the books down and go to the turntables. It’s stuff like that; it don’t ever leave. I don’t have books to throw down when I come home from school, but I’m still on them turntables. I’m still doin’ that. It’s still fun to me!”

…on his latest venture and upcoming projects

“I gotta make sure to make this clear. The newest…venture…right now…is BlackBox, OK! BlackBox is a partnership between me and my partner, Damon Jackson. This is somebody that I actually grew up with his wife; his wife lived on my floor. We grew up together on the floor. He came on the floor, and I used to always see him. As time passed on, I didn’t know the skills that he had in marketing or basically anything for that matter: management and entertainment and things like that. And “Cat” was always tellin’ me, ‘You need to take the time and sit with him. He wants to talk with you.’ So we finally took the time, and he convinced me. He was like, ‘Yo, dog! I might not be one of them big cats you be around and all of that, man. But umma make you trust in me.’

He just started doin’ things, you know. I was pleased with the outcome, and we got a partnership. That partnership is BlackBox Records; that’s the whole reason why I’m down here. I just wanted to make that clear ‘cause that’s the real whole reason why I’m down here. There might be a whole lotta different things that I’m involved in, but that is the reason why I’m here. Ms Quick – that’s an affiliation I have with Platinum Ice Records. An artist from North Carolina: an artist named J. Dot – I’m still in affiliation with them. I produce stuff for ‘em whenever their music drops. I’m there for ‘em.”

…on what he wants hip hop heads and music fans to say about him in the future

“That dude was rugged. His music wasn’t really too much of a follower; he did it his way.”

…on what to keep in mind about music

“To all of the young producers; artists or anybody like that comin’ into this, I suggest you do what makes my man here the best at his job (points at me) and me too even in what I do is one word – RESEARCH. If you gonna be a developer in New York, you need to know Donald Trump. If you in music; if you a producer, you owe it to yourself to know who Norman Whitfield is; Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes – in hip hop: Teddy Riley; “Hurby Luv Bug” Azor; Howie Tee; Marley Marl and Afrika Bambaataa. You owe it to yourself – if you call yourself hip hop, you owe it to yourself to know who these people are ‘cause me studying who they were and takin’ that and interpreting that into my own way of doin’ it is what I feel like made me a better me. You got a whole game before you; don’t ignore it. It ain’t all about just you are as a result of everything that came before you. Straight up! Marley Marl was the one that made me wanna do it.”
Words Christopher Daniel

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