Diddy and the Return of the Bad Boy Sound

Diddy is getting the band back together.

Not Da Band, but the band — the Bad Boy Family. Diddy, Faith Evans, Lil’ Kim, Mase, Total, 112, Mario Winans and hopefully a hologram of Biggie Smalls. On May 20th, they’ll be performing at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

It got me thinking about Puffy, his Hitmen crew, and all the producers associated with Bad Boy in the 90s’. The Bad Boy sound, the polished samples, the little shaker and hi hats, doesn’t get enough credit. I think it’s because Bad Boy Records, despite its success, eventually became a traveling circus.

But let’s take the producer Easy Mo Bee, for example. Him sampling a hair dryer on Craig Mack’s “Flava In Your Ear” — how many producers would think to do that today? Zero.

These days, technology allows producers to sample whole entire songs, and yet they often struggle to make something as memorable as one created with 12 seconds of sampling time.

Granted, in the mid to late 90's Puff got lazy. He had his producers merely loop things, songs that were already classics. It made them instantly recognizable.

Take hits from the 80's? Yeah, yeah. But do it sound so crazy? Yeah, yeah.” — Diddy

This was interesting at first, but then he just started jacking every classic record in sight. The formula was easy to criticize because it appeared so simple, so artless. Yet in hindsight, it was rather brilliant.

Take “I’ll Be Missing You.” When it came out in 1997, most younger people, myself included, weren’t really up on the original. Despite how popular “Every Breath You Take Actually Was,” I was a rap fan; it’s not like I sat around listening to Police albums from 1983.

Looking back, there was something in the simplicity of it all. Looping parts of the original, reworking it with the heavier drums, changing around the arrangement — very unique. It was as much a tribute to the original as it was a tribute to Biggie.

It was also forward-thinking in that it put the final product, the song itself, first. Yes, it may have been cheesy, but it was ahead of its time in that it concerned itself primarily with the audience, the listener; not on critics and rap insiders.

“Mo Money, Mo Problems” is another example. Also a straight-forward beat-jack. And yet still, it features a sheen that sampled beats at that time lacked. The drums, percussion — all laid under the sample, beefing it up. Bad Boy songs, they just sounded so large, so massive, so big.

Listening to Bad Boy records today, that thickness — fatness, you might call it — is really noticeable. The beats are chunky and warm, possibly due to being recorded on analog tape. They really fill up your speakers.

Lastly, I think that, again, there was something particularly revolutionary about using loops in very obvious ways. They appear so simple, yet beneath the surface, a lot of work was done to make them pop. There is an art to being simple.

Think about it: no matter how many ways “Walk On By” has been flipped by other producers, Moe Bee’s 2-bar loop on “Warning” is always going to be the most classic usage. It simple and direct. It sets the mood, gives space to the rapper and grooves along — it’s perfect.

Speaking of which, remember hip-hop beats with actual snare drums? What happened to those?

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.