Trackmasters Tell All: The Stories Behind Their Classic Records (Part 1)

Mary J. Blige "Be Happy" (1994)

Album: My Life
Label: MCA

Tone: “Poke was laughing at me. He had the sample of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘You're So Good To Me” in the house. Remember, hip-hop R&B had existed. But no one had taken [real] R&B to make an R&B record. So he had this Curtis Mayfield going, and it’s like instruments all over the place. I’m like, ‘Where the fuck is she supposed to sing?’ Because you can’t break it down into the drums.”

Poke: “Tone kept asking, ‘Where we gonna drop it?’”

Tone:“And he’s like, ‘No, she’s going to sing over all of this.’ I’m like, ‘This shit doesn’t make any sense.’ We couldn’t really add any instruments to it because it was just done. I said, ‘That’s never going to work, you’re out of your mind.’ But then Poke obviously took it and played it for Puff.”

 

We had a secret how to take out drums out of instrumentals. So now it’s just the music, all we got to do is put our smack on it. And that’s what we did—we’d put our smack on the record and go. - Poke

 

Poke: “Then Tone and I started running with that whole thing of being like the DJ at the block party. The DJ plays instrumentals and people rhyme. So that was the whole notion, like this is a DJ playing a record. Let’s put our big drums under this.

“We had a secret how to take out drums out of instrumentals. So now it’s just the music, all we got to do is put our smack on it. And that’s what we did—we’d put our smack on the record and go. One of our partners had an idea of how to formulate that.

“It was a long process at the time for us because we were used to trying to make records really fast. So it’s almost like a process to make the record, in order to do that. We were like, ‘That shit take too damn long, I’m not doing that.’ But when it worked and it gave you the ability to drop the drums out of that shit, that’s all we did. Like, ‘Fuck that—I don’t care how long it takes.’”

Tone: “That formula made all of our hits.”

Poke: “Every record.”

Tone: “Every hit that we had we used this one little formula. See, because it was hard to sample a record like Sam Cooke’s ‘Good Times.’ How do you put a drum on top of a beat that already had a drum? We found a way to basically take out the kick and snare.

“Today, it’s easy to do it. But back then, we found a way to isolate the kick and isolate the snare and keep all the music and then add our own kicks and snares. We called it The Fadies.

“Basically, what we were doing was fading kicks and snares inside of the samples. I can play a sample for you and there would be no drums in it whatsoever because we broke the sample up into 100 pieces. You could take anything you didn’t want out. It was ridiculous.”

Poke: “It took a long time. It was tedious.”

Tone: “But we got good at it.”

Poke: “When all of the other producers under us found out the formula that we were doing, we all started doing it. It was like, ‘We can’t tell nobody this secret. This shit is crazy.’”

Tone: “We kept it a secret until just now.”

 

Every hit we had used this one little formula...we found a way to isolate the kick and isolate the snare and keep all the music and then add our own kicks and snares. We called it The Fadies. Basically, what we were doing was fading kicks and snares inside of the samples. I can play a sample for you and there would be no drums in it whatsoever because we broke the sample up into 100 pieces. We kept it a secret until just now. - Tone

 

Poke: “It’s crazy because it just broadens your library of records because now you can use everything. It doesn’t matter what record it is. So now you can go crazy. And all our producers, let’s just say their production went [to the next level] after they learned that. They were just doing records like, Forget this!”

Tone: “No sample was off limits.”

Poke: “Everything could be used. It’s almost like somebody giving you all the instrumentals in the world and took all the drums out. All producers want that. And it’s like, ‘I can get all that?’”

Tone: “If you think, everything in the ‘90s that was sample driven, it was basically coming from Bad Boy, So So Def, and the Trackmasters in the ‘90s. Everyone was basically racing to get the next hot sample.”

Poke: “It’s funny because when we had that formula we came up with a list of records, like, ‘We are going to use all of these records.’ Tone and I just went and made all of those records and started dishing them out. Everyone was going crazy. We were selling four or five records a week, like hotcakes. It was nothing.”

Tone: “It was interesting because it was also the era that we grew up in. We grew up listening to that music. So a lot of it was current knowledge. People looking for records from the disco or R&B era. We’re like, ‘Oh OK, you can use this.’ The library was right there. I didn’t have to go search for anything because it’s what we grew up in.”

Poke: “Even if you’re using a sample from say an ‘80s disco record and you’re bringing it to the ‘90s, you change the sound of it because now the drums are different, the swing is different, everything is different. You can hear the sample in there, like, ‘Yeah, this shit sound real familiar but it doesn’t feel like a disco record anymore. It feels like a hip-hop record.’”

Tone: “It’s the best of both worlds. You’ve got the new sound, the new snare, the punch, but then you’ve got that sound that you can’t recreate. That old, vinyl ‘80s feel.”

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