Disturbingly, Pac took his last breath the same night EMI Records had thrown a grand party in New York City celebrating the platinum success of D’Angelo’s groundbreaking Brown Sugar. Indeed, what began as a joyful night of music and style (the event was co-sponsored by Giorgio Armani, with everyone dressed fashionably) turned somber when word spread though the crowd.

Women started crying, men shook their heads and everyone seemed somewhat confused. Walking over to the bar for another flute of champagne, I bumped into my friend Tracii, who worked for Payday Records. Tracii was with Tricky, a new artist from England whose debut Maxinquaye was released five months before Brown Sugar. A month before the D’Angelo party, Payday had released Tricky Presents: Grassroots, which was recorded at DJ Premier’s sonic sanctuary, D&D Studios.

Tricky passed me a thick spliff the moment we were introduced. Dressed in a stylish suit, Tricky was dark as an eclipse with a croaky voice and bloodshot eyes. The first time I’d heard his ominous voice, he was exhaling a mouth full of blunt smoke on the title track of Massive Attack’s 1991 masterpiece Blue Lines.

 

“Most of my songs are all done on weed,” Tricky told me.

 

“So you’re the guy who makes that suicide music,” my girlfriend Lesley blurted and Tricky laughed as though her comment was funniest thing he’d ever heard. Contrary to his seriously scary persona on disc, Tricky was a cool dude.

Raised in a Bristol council estate (housing projects), Tricky was as first influenced by reggae and rock. “I was about fourteen when I first smoked weed with a kid named Leroy,” Tricky recalled in 1997. “We smoked some with hash and when it was time to walk home, that was the first time I truly understood the meaning of the word paranoid.”

It was also during this period that Tricky was turned on to American hip-hop. “There was a guy called Bugsy, a half-caste dread who was the cousin of my girlfriend,” Tricky explained. “We used to go buy weed from him and he always had these tapes and Slick Rick’s ‘La Di Da Di’ was on one of those tapes. We were sitting around smoking weed and when I heard that, it was over man. Then, I heard (Eric B. and Rakim’s) ‘Check Out My Melody’ and nearly wet myself. Slick Rick and Rakim changed my life.”

Afterwards, Tricky saw the classic hip-hop film Wild Style and knew that music was going to be his life. Along with his then-collaborators Nellie Hooper and future members of Massive Attack and Portishead, they formed a sonic collective known as the Wild Bunch while still teenagers. A few years later, the so-called trip-hop artists made some of the most beautifully melodic, angst ridden, neo-dub, futuristic pop and postmodern hip-hop on the planet.

While Tricky’s vocal co-star Martina Tobley-Bird had a hauntingly charming voice, Tricky’s murmured vocals and poetics had the ugly beauty of an abandoned factory with broken windows, covered in rust. Like Premier, Muggs, and RZA, he created spliff symphonies for a new generation of angst-ridden listeners. Yet, unlike other weeded producers, who reputations for being the slowest beat makers in the business, Tricky knocked-out tracks quickly.

 

While in Canada the day before, a reporter asked Tricky. “I wonder what your music would sound like if you didn’t smoke weed?” Standing next to him, I thought about the question in relation to other talented artists who I had smoked blunts with over the years.

 

In addition, he did many remixes and contributed songs to moody soundtracks including Strange Days and The Crow: City of Angels. By the time we hooked-up for an interview in 1997, Tricky had already released three albums and one EP.

“Most of my songs are all done on weed,” Tricky told me as we sat upstairs at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit. Within the hour, he would be heading to the stage as the DJ spun the muted vocals of Snoop Dogg’s “Freestyle Conversation,” the same song he used to open every show. With a plastic bag full of buds next to him, Tricky built yet another blunt.

While in Canada the day before, a reporter asked Tricky. “I wonder what your music would sound like if you didn’t smoke weed?” Standing next to him, I thought about the question in relation to other talented artists who I had smoked blunts with over the years.

Indeed, it was a query that would’ve been perfect if directed at either Cypress Hill, Sleepy Brown, Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G., D’Angelo, DJ Premier, Method Man or, the only one I’d never passed a blunt to, Tupac Shukur. More than likely, they would’ve had a similar answer.

“So do I,” Tricky replied, having just finished a spliff in the aptly named green room. “So do I.”

PAGE 3 of 3