Trackmasters may have dominated the urban airwaves in the '90s and early 2000s, but you won't hear too much of their new music on the radio anymore. Sure, Poke and Tone are still active in the game and are currently working with LL Cool J on his new album, but they aren't simultaneously locking out every single major studio in New York City like they used to.
"We’re not being inspired to make music because of the playing field and the course that music has taken," says Poke. "A lot of people may look at it as ‘hating.’ And yes, I'm a hater—I'm hating wack music. I'm not the only one saying it because there are plenty of people who feel the same way."
That might make them sound bitter, but they have no reason to be. Today, they sit comfortably as two of the all time great rap producers. They went on an incredible run and made some of the biggest and best hits the genre has ever seem. Many of those songs were highlighted in part one of our epic conversation with the duo, where they talked about the early parts of their career and how they came up in the game. But we also talked about their years on top producing smash hits for Will Smith, helping Foxy Brown become a star, and nurturing a young 50 Cent.
Trackmasters also spoke about their years as executives at Columbia Records and how a petty snub involving Paul McCartney signaled the end of their tenure. They opened up about the disaster that was Jay-Z and R. Kelly's Best of Both Worlds album too, revealing how the duo's tour was doomed from the start and what really happened at the infamous NYC concert where R. Kelly claimed he "feared for his life."
Read on for the stories behind the making of several rap classics, straight from the source.
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
Foxy Brown f/ Jay-Z "I'll Be" (1996)
Foxy Brown f/ Blackstreet "Get Me Home" (1996)
Album: Ill Na Na
Label: Def Jam
Poke: “That’s a good story. We came up with the idea to use the sample. We needed somebody hot on the record so we chose Blackstreet.”
Tone: “This is obviously prior to her album coming out, so they were really into Fox. We always tried to make event records, tried to make the record so it’s a pin in time so everybody is like, ‘Yo that time was crazy.’”
Poke:“We went down to Virginia to get the vocals from Blackstreet in Teddy Riley’s studio. He knocked the vocals out no problem, it was one day vocals. But when we were ready to mix and finish it, Teddy Riley put a veto on it. He said ‘No, it can’t come out cause it doesn’t sound right.’ [By that he meant,] sound right to him.
If you walk into the studio and we play a track on the big speakers it’s hot because it’s loud. But if you turn it down, it’s not that great. What we do is we mix. We get truer sound with little beat up speakers. When you listen to those speakers, that’s basically what [regular fans] have in their car. - Tone
“So we had to go back down to Virginia to mix the record over with Teddy Riley. If you listen to the record, it actually sounds like a Teddy Riley record because it’s his mix, his high hat. He didn’t change any of the sounds but he just mixed it, it was in his element.
“We played a backseat to him when he was mixing. The only thing I wouldn’t allow him to do was the drops cause I was like, the mutes on the records is something I always did. But he had an old beat up board and I couldn’t do it on his board so I had to tell him where I wanted the drops. But that was a great experience.
“I remember the feeling of being in the studio with Teddy. He mixes on big speakers, not small speakers. We put it on small speakers to get the true sound. His true sound came from his speakers uptop. I thought that was interesting.”
Tone: “That’s why a lot of records sound horrible. If you walk into the studio and we play a track on the big speakers it’s hot because it’s fucking loud. But if you turn it down and allow yourself to hear everything that’s going on, it’s not that great.
“What we do is we mix. We party to the big speakers but we get true sound with the small speakers. And we get even truer sound with the little beat up speakers. So when you listen to those speakers, that’s basically what [regular fans] have in their car and that’s what we listen to for the end result.
“After a while, over the years of producing, I stopped changing the system in my car. I used to put these big ass speakers in but I stopped doing that. I just use the factory system. When I get my CD, I just put it in the factory system so I can hear exactly what the customers gonna hear.”
The Firm f/ Dawn Robinson of En Vogue "Firm Biz" (1997)
Album: The Album
Tone: “I never looked at that album as a failure. I always looked at that project as innovative. It was the first of its kind. No ones ever put a rapper from this label, this label, and this label and said lets make a record. I'm not pointing blame but I'm gonna be honest with you, The Firm flopping had a lot to do with the players.
“You had Nas, AZ, Foxy, and Nature. There was something between Nas and Foxy because Foxy was rolling with Jay-Z so it was a tug of war. Then you had Nature who was the new artist we were trying to break. He wanted to be bigger, faster. He wanted to be hot overnight.
There was something between Nas and Foxy because Foxy was rolling with Jay-Z so it was a tug of war. Then you had Nature who was the new artist we were trying to break, he wanted to be hot overnight. - Tone
“Then you had AZ who was looked at as Nas’s right hand man but didn’t have the success that Nas had. And you had Nas, and ultimately it was a Nas album. So it was just a lot of little things going on.
“The reason it failed was because they tried to apply music business equations to a street album. We made the album and the hottest records were the street records, so we should have lead with a street record. But at the time radio was the thing so you had to get a record on radio and ‘Firm Biz’ was our attempt at radio.
“We never should have made that record. We should have just let it be a street record and it would have been ridiculous, it would have been hot on the streets to this day. If you take that one record off the album, it’s a street album. It was just our attempt to get out there. And what happened was it was everything wrong with the music biz.”
Poke: “We should have lead with ‘Phone Tap,’ that’s still hot. If we would have lead with that the perception would have been very different.”
If you take out ‘Firm Biz,’ that album is joint after joint. The presentation was just wrong. - Poke
Tone:“We went with everything wrong with the music business. We went with a radio record, we went with the most expensive video director there is, and the most expensive video ever made. After that it was like, ‘Fuck that we ain’t spending no more money on this project.’ That’s kinda what did it for that album.
"And the label you’re on dictated how the streets felt about you back then. So the group shouldn’t have been on Aftermath because it was all New York rappers. So we did everything wrong.
“I don’t care what Jay-Z says, I don’t consider the album a flop. I don’t even know who did an album like that afterwards. The album has made its mark in the industry, you can always reference The Firm album in terms of what to do and what not to do. That’s a good album to me.
Poke: “If you take out ‘Firm Biz,’ that album is joint after joint. The presentation was just wrong.”
Jay-Z f/ Sauce Money "Face Off" (1997)
Album: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam
Poke: “They had the Nas battle thing going on.”
Tone:“Jay and Steve Stoute had a relationship after they found out that they were related somewhere in their family bloodline. We were always trying to figure out how to work with Jay-Z.
Jay was in the office with Stoute and they were playing Madden. The bet between Jay and Stoute was that Trackmasters had to do a record for him if he won. Jay won the bet and we went in to do ‘Face Off.’ - Tone
"The two artists who we always had a problem working with were Jay and Lil’ Kim cause we were Nas and Foxy producers and it’s just the way the industry was cut. Jay had always wanted a record from us and one day so we just said let’s do something.
“Jay was in the office with Stoute and they were playing Madden. The bet between Jay and Stoute was that Trackmasters had to do a record for him if he won. Jay won the bet and we went in to do ‘Face Off.’
“Jay came in, we put up the Soul Makossa record, the sample, he had Sauce Money in there, and they went in together. It was hot. It was simple, nothing major. It was a one off. We weren’t gonna be in the studio for 2 weeks. It was just one session, he came, he spit, and it was over. It was never a friendship.”
Poke: “We were loyal to Nas at that time. It was like, ‘Aight were gonna give you a joint but we ain’t just going in with you like that.’ But we were always friends with Jay, he used to live in the building as Tone [at 560 State Street].”
Will Smith f/ Coko of SWV "Men in Black" (1997)
Album: Men In Black: The Album, Big Willie Style
Tone: “Will had hooked up with Steve Stoute and Tommy Mottola. We were making pop hits at the time and they basically wanted us to work with him. We didn’t want it. We looked at it like, ‘What is Will Smith?’ His last hit was ‘Summertime,’ When they asked us to do it we got on the phone with Will and had a conversation.”
Poke:“When Will walked in the door he had some tight, white fucking pants and a choker on. He was coming from some event and he was like, ‘Yo, listen I'm corny and I know I'm [dressed very] tight right now. I know I'm corny, but whatever you need me to do to make me cool, I'm in.’”
When Will Smith walked in the door he had some tight, white pants and a choker on. He was like, ‘Yo, listen I'm corny and I know I'm [dressed very] tight right now. I know I'm corny, but whatever you need me to do to make me cool, I'm in.’ - Poke
Tone: “We spoke about the record, and it being for a soundtrack, they paid a lot of money. So we did the record. I didn’t understand it until I saw the movie. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on like, ‘What is this guy talking about?’ Even after he told us what the video was gonna be like. When you look at the music video, it’s the movie. You have the aliens dancing in the video. Back then, no one used that kind of technology in a music video.”
Poke: “Homegirl from SWV didn’t even want to be in the video. She was like, ‘Will Smith? Fuck outta here.’ She sang the record but she was like I'm not doing this video. That was the worst mistake of her life.”
Tone: “We understood what the record was supposed to be, but we didn’t know that it would be as big as it was going to be. We did the record but I think the best thing to come out of it was the friendship with Will. We really hit it off.”
Tone: “We got along so well that right after that song, we started talking about doing Big Willie Style.”
Will Smith "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" (1998)
Album: Big Willie Style
Poke: “Monster hit. That was bigger than ‘Men in Black.’”
Tone: "We did that album in 2 weeks.”
Poke: “I was at home we were trying to find records. So I call Will and I say, ‘I'm on my way I got it.’ He's like okay. So we get there, put the record on, and I started to do this dance move. Me and Will were doing [the ‘Getting Jiggy With It’ dance].
“I said, ‘Yo we gonna do it like this! You’re gonna do this in the video and we’re gonna call it ‘Getting jiggy.’ It’s gonna be jigged out, we’re gonna get jiggy with it.’ And Will was like, ‘Yeah! We’re gonna get jiggy with it! This shit is hot. Let’s do it,’ and he went in the booth.
The whole thing comes from a Brooklyn term, people would say, ‘Ni**as is jigged out.’ That’s what it is, so we got jiggy. That’s the premise of that record. That’s how we came up with the whole thing, just doing the dance. - Poke
“The whole thing comes from a Brooklyn term, people would say, ‘Niggas is jigged out.’ That’s what it is, so we got jiggy. That’s the premise of that record. That’s how we came up with the whole thing, just doing the dance.
“When you're making these records, you don’t think about that it’s gonna be this big of a thing. You're just making another record. It took a lot of conversations, planning, and back and forth of, ‘Which song is the single on this record?’ As we kept playing it, it took a week before we decided that this is the record that we're gonna go with.
“When it was at radio, we were having a slight problem because ‘Men and Black’ was still on fire. So if you're trying to get another record playing then you're battling against yourself, we were undercutting ourselves.
“And they were having issues and at black radio where ‘Getting Jiggy With It’ wasn’t working. It was like, ‘Nah, this ain’t gonna work.’ But ‘Men In Black’ was already Top 40. We were already eight million records sold with the Men in Black soundtrack when ‘Getting Jiggy With It’ came in. When it reached Top 40 radio, that’s when it started snapping and started moving up and everyone was like ‘Wow.’
“I remember someone coming to me and saying, ‘You know what’s going on with your record?’ and I was like, ‘Fuck you talking about?’ They were like, ‘Yo, this record is gone! You don’t even understand what’s happening right now.’ We had a certain amount of spins for one audience and this and that.
“Next thing you know, by the Christmas time the Men in Black album and the Big Willie Style were doing like 250,000 each. per week. It was crazy. It was like, ‘Get the fuck outta here. Who is this guy? What’s going on?’”
Will Smith "Miami" (1998)
Album: Big Willie Style
Tone: “‘Miami’ is funny because we were almost finished with the damn record and we wanted a Spanish girl to say ‘Bienvenidos a Miami’ which means ‘Welcome to Miami’ in Spanish.
“We were at the Hit Factory so we went downstairs, right outside the studio, and I'm standing outside basically asking girls, ‘Do you want to be on a song?’ I was just asking Spanish girls and they thought I was crazy. Finally, I found one. They knew who Will Smith was and they came upstairs.”
Poke:“They didn’t believe that Will Smith was there.”
We wanted a Spanish girl to say ‘Bienvenidos a Miami.’ We were at the Hit Factory so we went downstairs, right outside the studio. I'm standing outside asking girls, ‘Do you want to be on a song?’ - Tone
Tone: “That whole album was an eye-opening experience because we didn’t realize how irresponsible the music business was. Say we got a session that starts at six o’clock. In the music business that means eight or even nine o’clock.
“But Will wanted to work one to six or seven o’clock and that was it. He would be in studio waiting for us at 1 o’clock. When 7 o'clock hit he was like, ‘Okay, guys I'm out.’ So it was kinda tough because it was like we’re not gonna get any work done [but we made it work].
“That was a fun album to make. When it was lunch time it was lunch time. He would stop like, ‘I gotta eat lunch.’ And we are big, we ate like kings with Will. I think that was the eye opener to how Hollywood operates and how the music biz operates. But it was a great time we had a good time with Will.”
Becoming Executives At Columbia
Tone: “We had a joint venture at Sony where we were putting out Allure, Kid Capri, 50 Cent, and some other artists. And we had just finished putting out their biggest record of the year, Will Smith’s album.
"Basically, the success of the Men In Black soundtrack, the success with Nas, and the Will Smith album got us the job. Will put it over the top because they didn’t think they could sell any records with him.”
Poke: “It was also cause our venture was so big they wanted to tie the venture in with everything that they were already doing. So that’s how we got in the door. At that point they were like, ‘We gotta get these guys in the building. We need these guys in here!’
“We had a conversation right before Christmas where we went up to Tommy Motolla’s office. Tommy was like, ‘Yo, this is what we want to do next year with you guys. How do you guys feel about running black music at Columbia?’ That’s when the real lessons began, prior to that we just knew how to make great records.”
The music industry back then never understood rap. Columbia never understood that you don’t need a radio record for Nas to sell records. Even later on with Wu-Tang, they tried to get these slick records for Wu-Tang. - Tone
Tone: “I almost wish I hadn’t learned that lesson because it makes you look at music differently. To go from sitting on a drum pad making beats and then you know fucking bullshit bureaucracy that’s about to happen with your record when it gets to the building its like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ It makes you make records differently.
“The music industry back then never understood rap. Columbia never understood that you don’t need a radio record for Nas to sell records. Even later on with Wu-Tang, you don’t need a radio record to sell records. They tried to get these slick records for Wu-Tang.”
Poke: “Hip-hop stars are equivalent to rock stars. With a rock record, there is no radio rock record. It’s just a rock record. There's no, ‘We’re gonna make a radio rock record.’ No, they make their hard shit and it goes to radio. Period. End of story.
“Hip-hop you got different levels of hip-hop records. You have your hard ass hip-hop records, you have your R&B hip-hop records, and you have your pop hip-hop records. Rock, there's no pop rock or any of that. It’s just rock! That’s where they twisted us out. They should have just let us do hip-hop, if it plays radio then it plays radio, if it doesn’t then it doesn’t fucking play radio.”
Tone: “Columbia never expected Nas to sell almost 500,000 the first week with I Am... which had ‘Hate Me Now’ on it. We had a lot of street records out there. ‘Hate Me Now’ for all intents and purposes was a street record, it had a lot of controversy behind it but it was a street record. The building didn’t understand at that time why are we shipping this many records.”
Poke: “When we got in the Columbia building that was when we was at the level where it was like, ‘Holy shit.’ When we became executives at Columbia, that fucked us up completely. That twisted our whole game out. First of all, they play at a totally different level of the game. Period. They don’t deal in small numbers, everything is big.
“The way we were thinking is, ‘We got an artist who can sell 300,000 right here. This artist is banging.’ But they don’t want that. They’re like fuck that. They deal in, ‘We’re gonna go in, we’re gonna sell 10,000,000 that’s it. Every time. If we don’t think that we’re doing this then we’re not doing it.’”
The way we were thinking is, ‘We got an artist who can sell 300,000 right here. This artist is banging.’ But they deal in, ‘We’re gonna go in, we’re gonna sell 10,000,000. That’s it. Every time. If we don’t think that we’re doing that then we’re not doing it.’ - Poke
Tone: “Now a days maybe they’ll take an artist that can sell 300,000. But back then, forget about it. It’s not really their fault because the budgets they were giving out at the time were astronomical. Guys coming in getting a million dollars for singing. Videos back there were 500 grand, that was the budget. So you couldn’t blame them for saying no.
“We couldn’t sell both records because unfortunately with the rap acts they gave you one shot. It’s like, ‘We’re gonna spend this $120,000 on promotion and if it don’t go, you’re gone.’ So you couldn’t blame them for wanting their money back. If they just treated rap the way the treated rock records where it’s a slow grind and they grow it, there would be a lot more rappers still rapping.”
Poke: “You know what they did that was foul? They would do that with their rock records.”
Tone: “Yeah that’s what I was saying, the slow grind.”
Poke: “They would slow grind them to death.”
Tone: “And they never gave rappers tour support. It’s not something that they gave us.”
Poke: “When we came in the building we asked for all of that shit.”
Tone: “And they were looking at us like, ‘What the fuck?’”
Poke: “We need vans, we need street teams. They were like, ‘What? We’re not doing that!’ It was like what the fuck you mean you’re not doing that? How are we supposed to get all this shit accomplished? We need them hot in the streets so we need that.
"A year later, we started with four vans now we’ve only got two because they’re using two vans for their rock acts. They got the street team working for their rock acts now. That’s when our eyes opened and we saw everything. Its like, ‘Ohhh shit.’
"When we thought about it it’s like, ‘We’re outside the building giving you all these records and that’s how you were handling our records the whole time? We didn’t know this?’ Why the fuck are we on here?’ They treat the music like products that they don’t give a fuck about or do give a fuck about and that’s it. There's no in between.”
Tone: “And that’s only because they never really understood it. A lot of the rappers back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they created their own fan base. Labels didn’t have anything to do with it. Not the big labels, maybe the smaller labels like the Selects, Profiles, and Delicious understood that.
“But when you started moving into the majors, they never understood which is one of the reasons that they started buying up all the smaller labels because those guys understood it. So if you were signed directly to Columbia, Epic or any other majors you were fucked. You had to be on the little subsidiaries who understood how to break rap artists.”
R. Kelly f/ Tone "Did You Ever Think" (1998)
Discovering 50 Cent
Tone: “We were working on our group Black with Nas and Slick Rick up in this little studio called Bearsville in upstate New York. We used to go up there just to get out of the city. It’s surrounded by nothing but trees so all you can do is work. The studio is actually inside of a barn and we used to bring artists up there just to keep them focused.”
“We were up there working and [former senior executive vice president of Sony] Cory Rooney had dropped off a cassette tape of a kid from his neighborhood named 50 Cent. He said, ‘When you guys get a second, just listen to it see what you think.’ So we put it in and it was all bullshit except for one song, a song called ‘The Hit.’ He had so much swag on this record, it was ridiculous. I couldn’t stop playing it. I was like, ‘Get this kid up here.’
He always used to start with this little melody thing and we would say, ‘Yo that’s the hook! What are you doing!’ And he would be like, ‘Really that’s the hook?’ ‘Yes! Put that in the hook, double it, do this, and do that.’ And he’d be, ‘Alright cool.’ That’s how he developed his whole singing, it was from that. - Poke
“So we got him, he drove up to Bearsville, and we had a long conversation. We really thought we could develop this guy into an artist just based on that one song. He was doing shit where he was sounding like Bone Thugs on one record and we were like, ‘You don’t wanna do none of that. You wanna sound like this guy right here, you wanna be this record right here.’ He said okay and we were up in Bearsville for maybe two more weeks.”
Poke: “We did maybe 80 records with him. He did so many that we ran out of beats. He rapped on every beat we had, it didn’t matter what it was. He was a beast, he didn’t stop. To the point where he was rhyming and all we had was drums, and he just went in.”
Tone: “He just rapped and rapped and rapped. He rapped on everything. Just lot of it bullshit, some of it was good but he was just learning and developing. We knew we had a monster on our hands.”
Poke: “He always used to start with this little melody thing and we would say, ‘Yo that’s the hook! What are you doing!’ And he would be like, ‘Really that’s the hook?’ ‘Yes! Put that in the hook, double it, do this, and do that.’ And he’d be, ‘Alright cool.’ That’s how he developed his whole singing shit, it was from that.”
50 Cent f/ The Madd Rapper "How To Rob" (1999)
Album: In Too Deep Soundtrack
Poke: “‘How to Rob’ was our street record to lead up to the single that we were about to put out with him and Destiny’s Child. It was just a street single.”
Tone: “That came about because he had another song where he made a reference to robbing someone and we said why don’t you make a whole record out of that. We did it in one night, we came back and were like this is fucking crazy.
"We had the Mad Rapper signed to Columbia at that time and adding him was a good way to make it a fun song that wasn’t so serious. It was too serious and there were rhymes that we had to take out.”
I seen Jay-Z in a club one night. We were friends by this point and he said ‘Yo whatsup with your man?’ I said, ‘Aww leave him alone. He's just playing around.’ He's like, ‘Naaah I’ll give him half a bar.’ And that’s what happened at Summer Jam. - Tone
Poke: “We took some people out of the record, like we took out the Mariah Carey disses. He did it much iller [than the final version] but it was like, ‘Nah, we can’t do that.’”
Tone: “I seen Jay-Z in a club one night. We were friends by this point and he said ‘Yo whatsup with your man?’ I said, ‘Aww leave him alone. He's just playing around.’ He's like, ‘Naaah I’ll give him half a bar.’ And that’s what happened at Summer Jam.”
Poke: “He knew that 50 was an artist of ours so he said, ‘I gotta say something.’ A lot of people took offence to that record. We told him to diss Trackmasters on the song because we didn’t want people to think that he's just going at people, we wanted them to think that he's having fun so he's even robbing his own dudes.”
Tone: “It was his dream of fucking an R&B bitch except it didn’t go over as smooth.”
Poke: “It was an immediate shock at radio because when they played it on Hot 97 it was over, everybody was talking about this record. It immediately got him noticed and that’s what we were looking for, attention.”
50 Cent "Ghetto Qu'ran (Forgive Me)" (2000)
Album: Power of the Dollar
Tone: “Since I’m not from Queens, some of the stuff that he was talking about on that song was educational for me. I didn’t even know some of the stuff that took place. He was managed at the time by a Queens gangster [Ed. Note—At the time, 50 Cent was managed by Chaz "Slim" Williams] who kinda said it was okay [from him to say that stuff].
A couple of [street] guys were like, ‘We were cool with it but if he's not running with [Slim], we’re not cool with it anymore.’ So we actually pulled the record off the album so he would stay out of trouble. - Tone
“Soon after [50 and his manager fell out], we pulled the record off the album because he was no longer managed by him. A couple of [street] guys were like, ‘We were cool with it but if he's not running with [Slim], we’re not cool with it anymore.’ So we actually pulled the record off the album so he would stay out of trouble because we didn’t want no drama. Years later, it got out because shit just leaks.”
Poke: “Labels had this whole thing about risks. There are labels that take risks because they are edgy, i.e. Interscope. Jimmy Iovine has no problem with risks, he wants the drama, he’s gonna embellish this fucking drama and sell records. Columbia was so corporate and so niche, the whole Sony family is very much like that.
“So when 50 got shot, we were like this shit is ridiculous. An artist gets shot, we know how big this artist could be, and you guys want to drop him? But by then, we were really on our last leg of even being at Columbia. We were just like, ‘Yo, this shit is stupid.’
"Then they started coming and telling us shit like, ‘Yo we should drop Wyclef.’ We’re like ‘What?!?!’ Prior to that, they just dropped Alicia Keys. We were like, ‘You people are fucking ridiculous.’”
Destiny's Child "Independent Women" (2000)
Album: Survivor, Charlie's Angels Soundtrack
Poke: “Columbia had the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack and they needed a record for the soundtrack. They started off as a regular version. They came in and were like, ‘Fix the fucking record.’ So it was like ‘Independent Women Part 2’ is the real version.
“Beyoncé was in Hawaii doing a show with Destiny’s Child. Columbia didn’t want her to write the record, they were like, ‘No, she can’t write the record. We need someone to write it because she wrote the original.’
Columbia didn’t want Beyoncé to write the record, they were like, ‘No, she can’t write the record. We need someone to write it.’ We get on the phone and we’re like, ‘They don’t want you to write the record. But we know what you're capable so go ahead and write the record.' - Poke
“Me, Beyoncé, and [former senior executive vice president of Sony] Cory Rooney get on the phone and we’re like, ‘We're gonna tell you the lowdown, they don’t want you to write the record. But we know what you're capable so go ahead and write the record. Here’s the track, just knock it out.’
“We sent her the track, she knocked it out, Donny Ienner and them complained like, ‘The record is linear. It’s not a hit. It doesn’t sound good.’ Blah blah blah. Then the record goes to radio and blows the fuck up.
“So they were complaining about the record thinking it wasn’t a hit and they were dead wrong. It wound up breaking all types of records, it had the biggest audience ever at radio, it was ridiculous.
“The only record that came after that that was bigger was 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club.’ At the time, the biggest radio record ever was TLC ‘Scrubs.’ Then the Destiny’s Child came in and blew that shit over the top. It was like, ‘Holy shit.’”
Paul McCartney and The Last Days at Columbia
Poke: “The last leg of our shit at Columbia was when we brought Paul McCartney into the building. He wanted us to do a remix album with him for the Beatles. The president of Columbia at the time [Donnie Ienner] was mad because Paul McCartney was coming to our office and we didn’t invite Paul McCartney to his office. They got mad and were giving us shit.
“At the time he had the number one record and we had the number one album. So Paul McCartney was like, ‘I like the music and work these guys do. Let’s put together a meeting and see about doing a collaboration on the Beatles remix album.’ That’s what the meeting was about. The meeting went really good and the whole building was buzzing.”
The president of Columbia at the time [Donnie Ienner] was mad because Paul McCartney was coming to our office and we didn’t invite Paul McCartney to his office. - Poke
Tone: “They were like offended. Paul McCartney was in the office with Poke and Tone and the higher ups didn’t have the opportunity to say, ‘Hey Paul McCartney.’”
Poke: “They got upset and it was really bad when my attorney called me and was like, ‘Yo what the fuck is going on over there?’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘Did you have Paul McCartney in your office?’ I’m like yeah. And he was like, ‘We gotta talk. Finish your meeting and call me back.’ He started telling me Donny Ienner was beefing that Paul McCartney was with us.”
Tone: “That was just part of the Bureaucracy, we didn’t see it as a big problem.”
Poke: “It’s a meeting, we have meetings every day. All day long.”
Tone: “I mean, no disrespect to Paul, but I wasn’t even in awe. I just wasn’t. We’re from two different worlds I like the Beatles music, I’d sample your shit, like that type of thing. But these are old white guys who grew up on that shit.”
Poke:“The whole building was buzzing. Like all the fucking security was like, ‘Oh my God!’ It was like Michael Jackson stepped in the fucking building. It was bigger than that. It was like what the fuck is wrong with you people?”
We left with Destiny Child's 'Independent Woman' being the number one record on the charts. So even if they wanted us out the building, it was a hard pill to swallow. - Poke
Tone: “And we were sitting there talking like three producers, just having a conversation. That was pretty much the last straw. After that we were like this is bullshit.”
Poke: “We left with Destiny Child's 'Independent Woman' being the number one record on the charts. So even if they wanted us out the building, it was a hard pill to swallow because it was like kicking Jordan off the Bulls. Like how do you do that. It was like, y'all are fucking crazy. So that’s the bullshit that happened.”
Tone: “We left on a super high note. It was like, ‘Fuck yall, we’ve given you guys over a billion dollars worth of records and you treated us like this because Paul McCartney is in the building? That’s fucking stupid.’ That’s ridiculous. Beyond petty. It’s that corporate bullshit, that Mitt Romney shit. Get out of here. You guys are petty, we’re all adults. We’re all successful and you’re doing bullshit.”
Mya f/ Jay-Z "Best of Me Pt. 2" (2000)
Album: Backstage: A Hard Knock Life
Label: Def Jam/Desert Storm
Tone: “Another good record and another good story. Steve Stoute was head of black music over at Interscope and at the time we were still his guys. He wanted a remix so we went in and knocked the remix out. I remember Mya couldn’t cut the vocals properly and it took forever. When it was done, we wanted Jay-Z on it.
“So Jay came to the studio that night at The Hit Factory. He got it right away he understood what it was but he didn’t like Mya’s vibe in the room. He looked at her like she was a spoiled brat because she was. He looked at her like, ‘I'm about to rap on your record, you're about to have a hit, and I don’t think you really appreciate it.’
Jay-Z didn’t like Mya’s vibe in the room. He looked at her like she was a spoiled brat because she was. He looked at her like, ‘I'm about to rap on your record, you're about to have a hit, and I don’t think you really appreciate it.’ So he didn’t do the record. - Tone
“She was like this new artist on Interscope, she didn’t even really understand what was going on. So he didn’t do the record when he got there. Once again, he gave a preview of what it was gonna sound like, but he didn’t do the record because he didn’t feel like it.
“So he left and we had to tell Mya like, ‘Yo Mya, Jay wants to do the record but he feels like you’re not even giving him any love, like no thank you or none of that.’ But that’s just her personality. So we went to L.A. for some music awards were around that time and we had one more shot at getting Jay to come to the studio.
“And obviously Jay came in and Mya was more cordial towards Jay. He laid the rhyme down, Steve asked for a shoutout, and that’s basically it. That’s a good record and Jay-Z charged her through the nose for it.”
2Pac f/ R.L. "Until the End of Time" (2001)
R. Kelly "Fiesta" (2001)
Tone: “When we did ‘Fiesta,’ we actually we had split our duties. I would fly down to Chicago work with R. Kelly.”
Poke:“Meanwhile, I was handling Will Smith. It got to the point where it was so much work. The way that we produce, our best efforts are when we make complete albums. It was so many albums back to back, plus we were handling everything at Columbia, so we had to be at the office, be at the studio, and make sure that all these other side projects are getting done.
We used to have every studio in the city locked down. On a night, we would have six major studios locked down. - Tone
“We couldn’t be in the same place at the same time all the time so we would be like, ‘Okay, Tone, get on a plane and go handle R. Kelly because that’s a big deal. And we gotta make sure that Will is taken care of so I’ll go handle that. Oh, Nas is in the studio?’ We used to have 10 sessions running at the same time and we were running back and forth in the city.”
Tone: “We used to have every studio in the city locked down. On a night, we would have six major studios locked down.”
Poke: “Not only all the studios, but all the engineers.”
Tone: “Hit Factory would be locked, Sony would be locked, Right Track would be locked. Those three would definitely be locked, and the rooms inside.
“For ‘Fiesta,’ we went down to Chicago. When the track came on, R. Kelly’s first thing was like, ‘Ohh it’s a party.’ He just started saying the word fiesta, it was the first thing that came to his mind. So he said, it was just like a party. We sat, we wrote the record that night, he vocaled it, but ‘Fiesta’ didn’t take a life of its own till the remix. The remix is a whole another story.”
R. Kelly f/ Jay-Z & Boo & Gotti "Fiesta (Remix)" (2001)
Tone: “We did the remix to the track and we wanted to get Jay-Z on the record. Jay-Z was really hard [to get on a record]. You had to really have a smash to get Jay on a record.
"Jay and Steve Stoute were really cool at the time and we told him, ‘We want to get you on this record’ and he said, ‘Alright, I'm thinking about it.’ Rob was a spoiled brat, he's like, ‘Just get such and such on the record,’ and then it’s supposed to be done. Meanwhile, Jay was not that type of guy.
Rob doesn’t show up for a while and Jay gets aggravated, and he's like, ‘I'm out.’ He gives us a preview of what his verse is gonna sound like. He starts going in and me and Steve Stoute are like, ‘This is gonna be crazy!’ But then Jay left. - Tone
“Eventually, he wanted Jay-Z on the record, they had know each other. So they flew down and Jay gets to the studio and R Kelly isn’t there, obviously because he does his thing [where he disappears for hours].
"Jay is in the studio and the beat comes on and he's instantly like, ‘Oh my God! This is a monster.’ In the studio, Jay will have a conversation with you and be talking but he's writing the rhymes [in his head]. I'm on the boards, I was next to him, and I'm like, ‘Yo let’s just put it down.’ He's looking at me like, ‘Where’s Rob?’ He was like he's not gonna do nothing until Rob gets there.
"So Rob doesn’t show up for a while and Jay gets aggravated, and he's like, ‘I'm out. I'm leaving. I gotta go.’ We’re in Chicago and we’re like, ‘Where the fuck are you going?’ But Jay’s tight and he was finished. So, he gives us a preview of what its gonna sound like. He starts spitting the rhymes like, ‘After the show it’s the after party.’ He starts going all the way in and me and Steve Stoute are like, ‘Oh my God! This is gonna be crazy!’
"But Jay leaves the studio and he's got a flight because he's going home. So we had to convince Jay to stay one more night, we made up some excuse. I don’t even know why Rob didn’t show up.
We partied in the studio to ‘Fiesta’ till the next morning. We had girls and liquor and we were just getting it in the studio. Just that one record, on repeat. Like, ‘Rewinnnd!!!!’ That’s how we knew it was a hit. - Tone
“Rob showed up later for Jay looking for Jay. Jay had moved his flight to the next morning because he was supposed to fly right back out that night. When Jay comes back to the studio, has a conversation with Rob, and they talk like, ‘Yo, where were you at?’ Then Jay goes in and he puts the famous rhyme down. [Laughter.] But the real story to that record is after we got the vocals up.”
Poke: “Oh this is good.”
Tone: “We partied in the studio to ‘Fiesta’ till the next morning. We played it on loop. We had girls and liquor and we were just getting it in the studio. Just that one record, on repeat. It be like, ‘Rewinnnd!!!!’ That’s how we knew that shit was a hit. We knew what it was from the moment Jay put it down. That lead to the Best of Both Worlds album.”
Jay-Z "Jigga That Nigga" (2001)
Jay-Z & R. Kelly The Best of Both Worlds (2002)
Poke: “Everything that could have went wrong with that album did.”
Tone: “Listen, just so you know, everything went wrong in the 12th hour. We were done with the album, we were talking about shooting the video.”
Poke: “Listen, if he didn’t catch a charge, they woulda done the tour and the video, and that record woulda sold 10 million records. Hands down.”
Tone: “That album came about because I lied. I told Jay that Rob wanted to make an album and I told Rob that Jay wanted to make an album. They were fans of each other. Working with both of them, I knew how they felt about each other. So I said it to each of them and then just played the dumb middle guy. Then they spoke on the phone and they wanted to do it. All I had to do at that point was get tracks.
“They made the entire album without ever being in studio together. They were in studio one time together between both albums and that was for press. Other than that, it was me out in Chicago.
Rob was going on a cruise. He was going to be gone. I was like, ‘You can’t be gone. I gotta finish this record.’ Rob sat in the studio the night before he left on his cruise and put lyrics and choruses on like nine records. - Tone
"Rob was going on a cruise to like Africa or some crazy shit. He was going to be gone. I was like, ‘You can’t be gone. I gotta finish this record.’ We only had like three records done with both of their vocals. Rob sat in the studio the night before he left on his cruise and put lyrics and choruses on like nine records.
“I took those songs, went back to New York, and went to Jay’s studio. Jay was like, ‘Let’s go.’ I played him the songs and one by one he did his rhymes for every one of those songs. That was it. He was like, ‘This is easy’ because he only had to put one verse or sometimes two. But they never stepped in the studio together.
“Later on, we were getting ready to shoot a video. I went to the studio with Jay and he told me, ‘Yo, your boy...’ I was like, ‘Who are you talking about?’ And he was like, ‘Your boy...it’s not gonna happen.’ I was like, ‘What’s not gonna happen?’
“Then he starts going into the story [about the sex tape]. At that time, it didn’t even hit the media yet. Jay got a heads-up call early. He said, ‘There's a tape with your boy.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’
“Basically, someone gave Jay a heads-up that this tape was out there and that someone was about to leak it. Jay turned to me and said, ‘Yo, I can’t be attached to that.’ He didn’t know nothing about it, he didn’t know the girl. But he just said, ‘If that tape exists, I can’t have that.’
Someone gave Jay a heads-up that this tape was out there and that someone was about to leak it. Jay turned to me and said, ‘Yo, I can’t be attached to that.’ He didn’t know nothing about it, he didn’t know the girl. But he just said, ‘If that tape exists, I can’t have that.’ - Tone
“I couldn’t believe he got the call beforehand. He got a call like, ‘This is about to go down.’ Jay had someone in Chicago that was going to verify the tape for him because he didn’t see it himself. He was just like, ‘Go verify it for me.’ Like, is it real? And he got the call back and he was like, ‘Told you.’ There's no music video for that or Unfinished Business but both sold a million.
“The weird thing was that they were fans of each other. They admired each other from afar, but they came from two different worlds and they didn’t understand each other. Jay is the true definition of a New York guy and R. Kelly is the true definition of a Chicago guy. [Kanye is from Chicago] but is Kanye truly a Chicago guy? I see him being more someone who is very New York-ish in the style of music he listens to and his swagger.
“Jay and R. Kelly are two totally different people and they just couldn’t coexist. In his defense, Jay was actually okay because New York guys can adapt even if you’re a little weird. R.Kelly, he just couldn’t adapt. It just didn’t work. It was ugly.”
The Best of Both Worlds Tour and The Infamous Madison Square Garden Incident
Tone: “[The relationship between Jay-Z and R. Kelly] fell apart on tour. But it fell apart before [the infamous mase incident at MSG], that’s just when everyone got wind of it. It was doomed from opening night in Chicago.
"In fact, it was doomed before opening night when Jay would go to rehearsals and R. Kelly wouldn’t be there. They didn’t rehearse together at all for the tour. The very first time they stepped on stage side by side and looked at each other was opening night. It was the stupidest shit ever.
This is when I was like this is over: R. Kelly and Jay both come down and R. Kelly [puts out his hand] to Jay to give him a pound and Jay just gives him this look [and walks past him]. And R. Kelly was like….he didn’t say another word to him. That was it it was over. - Tone
“Me and John Manilli were like, ‘This is gonna be a disaster.’ They had these two busses that came on stage, but they had never stepped foot on the bus. They didn’t know how the trick was gonna work. It was like, ‘So what do I do? I step on the bus then what?’ They didn’t know how to get off the bus. It was just a clusterfuck. The whole first part of the tour was them rehearsing.
“The first night of the tour, R. Kelly shows up one hour and a half late for opening night. Opening night! There's not enough time in the arena, the guys are like, ‘You’re not gonna get the show off.’
“The people are going crazy and Jay is in his dressing room. He’s getting dressed in his all white outfit. He calls me into his dressing room [while looking in his mirror and adjusting his hat] and he goes, ‘I don’t know why I let you talk me into this shit.’ I just left I walked out. He was so mad.
“The defining moment of the tour was when Jay got the call that R. Kelly was there. R. Kelly is coming off his bus—he didn’t even go to the dressing room—and he's coming down the stairs that lead to the stage. Jay-Z is [on the other side] coming out of his dressing room that leads to the stage. So they were coming together at the same time.
There was a night when they were in Detroit and the sound was messed up. R. Kelly jumps off the stage, runs to the sound booth, and punches the guy in the face. During the show! It was f***ed up. There was nothing I could do but watch. - Tone
“This is when I was like this is over: R. Kelly and Jay both come down and R. Kelly [puts out his hand] to Jay to give him a pound and Jay just gives him this look [and walks past him]. And R. Kelly was like….he didn’t say another word to him. That was it it was over.
“The show was fucked up in Chicago because Jay ripped it. R. Kelly felt like the show was sabotaged, he felt like the lighting guy kept him in the dark and all the light was on Jay. It was this whole thing so Jay was like, ‘Okay, let’s just change all the people. Who do you want to work with?’ R. Kelly changed the entire crew to his people.
“Two nights after that, R. Kelly is complaining again. Jay is like, ‘What are you complaining about now? You hired him!’ It was just like that type of thing, they didn’t get along the entire tour. The only time R. Kelly was in good spirits was when they got to the Midwest and Jay-Z’s shit was just not hot over there and R. Kelly was.
“There was a night when they were in Detroit and the sound was fucked up. R. Kelly jumps off the stage, runs to the sound booth, and punches the guy in the face. During the show! It was fucked up. There was nothing I could do but watch.
“The entire [MSG incident] was premeditated by R. Kelly to sabotage the New York City show. The Chicago show was [was in R. Kelly’s hometown] and it was fucked up for R. Kelly. So I think R. Kelly just stayed on the tour until it got to [Jay-Z’s hometown] New York.
R. Kelly had plans [ruining the MSG show] all along. [I don’t know it for a fact] but I know it in my heart. He was just going along with the tour to mess it up in NYC. The snubbing and the fact that the show in Chicago wasn’t a good show. It was R. Kelly being embarrassed in his hometown so I think that he planned it all along. - Tone
“Nothing happened [at the MSG show]. Zero happened there. I did Jay’s sound for the show, I did his music so I was the que guy. They come out, they do their thing, and Jay comes on and destroys NYC the way he's gonna destroy NYC.
“We’d been doing this so long that there's a que. R. Kelly wasn’t where he was supposed to be. I told everybody backstage, ‘It’s over, it’s over!’ I didn’t even think he was coming on stage because he wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
“The stage was dark and the lights came on, that’s when he came on stage and was like, ‘Somebody in the audience brandished a gun. I fear for my life. I can’t continue this show. I'm sorry.’ And that was the end of it. But no one brandished a gun. Nothing went wrong.
“He had plans on doing that all along. [I don’t know it for a fact] but I know it in my heart. He was just going along with the tour to fuck it up in NYC. The snubbing and the fact that the show in Chicago was just fucked up, it wasn’t a good show. It was R. Kelly being embarrassed in his hometown so I think that he planned it all along.”