Prodigy: “We made that in Hav’s crib, in Queensbridge. We’d make the beats in Hav’s crib [but lay vocals in the studio]. Or sometimes, we’d make the beat in the crib, write half of the song in the crib, then go to the studio and finish it. That was one of the ones where Hav ain’t really like the beat. He was about to erase that shit. There’s a lot of joints like that, where he was about to trash them and we had to change his mind. I was out somewhere on the block chilling probably, I came in the crib, and Hav had the beat playing.
“I was like, ‘Damn. What the fuck is this?’ He’s like, ‘It’s some bullshit, I’m about to fucking scratch this shit and do another one.’ I was like ‘Nah, don’t scratch that nigga, hold up. Let niggas hear this.’ And I called niggas over like, ‘Yo, listen to this fucking beat this nigga just made.’ And everybody was like, ‘Yo, that shit is crazy.’ Then we both just started writing rhymes to it and it came out good. We knocked that out all in one day. So, I had to save that one.
“Hav’s pops was a DJ, so Hav had a lot of records from the ‘70s and the ‘80s. We both had a good record collection. Hav was already listening to records before I met him. He was trying to sample on a cassette player, hit record, pause, record, and pause, and making the beats like that. When he met me, we bought the equipment. That’s when he started to really get into making beats. I actually showed him how to sample, how to do this, and how to sequence the shit. Once he got the hang of it he just went in and started going crazy."
Havoc: “I was just making beats in my crib in the projects. We had already put out ‘Shook Ones’ and our confidence was up. At that time, I was into sampling a lot of jazz records so I found this loop. I put it together. I tried to make it sound as crispy as I could when we were in the studio recording it.
“I remember my cousin Ferg being in the studio. He was from Brooklyn, he was running the streets wild, and he was like 16 at the time, so I said, ‘Yo, go in the booth and just go ad-lib behind the chorus.’ And he was just like, ‘Yeah, thug life we still living it.’ And this is way before Tupac [started saying ‘Thug Life’] and I don’t know if he felt like he came with that first. But this is from the heart, when we did that we didn’t know nothing about no Tupac. My little cousin went back there [and did the hook] and the shit was dope. He wasn’t an actual rapper at that time. I know he used to write his little rhymes, but that’s not actually why I put him in the booth—I put him in there to get that raw, unbiased energy.
“[I rhymed about Timbs and army certified suits because] that was our thing. We were just straight hood. It wasn’t no pretty boy shit. It was like, ‘Yo, let’s throw on our Timbs.’ It didn’t get more harder than that. We weren’t the kind of muthafuckas that was in the mirror for like a half an hour, nah. Nine times out of ten, we wearing the same pants for the week. We had our Timbs with our 40s on the block. It wasn’t a gimmick. That’s what we was wearing.”
Matty C a.k.a. Matt Life (Executive Producer and A&R for Loud Records): “The original version of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ had James Brown going ‘Gotta get over before we get under!’ during the chorus and that had to come out. What the publishers wanted for that little sample wasn’t worth it. That was my first time dealing with those issues and helping the group make those calls about what was worth keeping.”
Schott Free (Executive Producer and A&R for Loud Records):“I remember leaving the office and going to the studio with Havoc. He was smoking a thousand cigarettes while chopping away at something and he had had the drums up for a minute. I remember he caught that one piano piece lovely. The whole crew was like, ‘Oooo.’ He came with the rhyme and format and everything like that.
“Then Tip gets a hold of it. Tip leaves the loop just like it is—the same way that Havoc caught it—but then just infiltrates it entirely on the drum situation. It intensifies the entire record. If you ever hear the original, it’s ill, it’s gloomy, it’s street, but it’s nowhere as huge as Tip made it when he just changed up the drums. He just implemented that over the loop that Hav had and then just added so much on top of it.”