Craig Mack ~ Project: Funk Da World (1994)

Posted on March 31, 2013

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As rap has evolved over the last thirty-plus years, the job requirements of the emcee have changed many times. In the early stages of the Old School, an emcee’s crowd-controlling abilities were of utmost importance. When the Old School gave way to the Golden Era, the emcee’s job description changed a bit; and lyrical complexity, impromptu rhyme creation (“Freestyling”), and laying rhymes to tape in recording sessions – or “Rapping” – began to take precedence. In the mid 1990’s, as the Golden Era ended, two additional components became prerequisites for emcees; Flow: synching one’s vocal cadence with an instrumental; and Flavor: the use of vocal inflections and flow variation to move listeners. From the end of the Golden Era through the early millennium, both flow and flavor have been thrust to the forefront of rap lyricism, with many artists using rhythmic phrasing to build fan bases and establish themselves. Young rappers utilizing flow and flavor owe a debt to a handful of forefathers, who introduced these techniques in the 90’s, and taught those that followed how to use them properly. Among these pioneers was a gruff-voiced emcee from Long Island, New York; who stepped off Strong Isle in 1994, and practically wrote the rule book on the term “flavor”. He was the King of Yes Y’all, better known as Craig Mack.

Repping the L.I. hamlet of Brentwood, Craig Mack found his bearings as a twenty-something in 1994. But Mack’s rap career actually started in the late 1980’s, when the 17-year-old Mack was known as MC EZ, and followed fellow Brentwood natives EPMD to the Manhattan offices of Fresh Records / Sleeping Bag Records; signing with the street label in 1988, and dropping a banging single (“Get Retarded”) that same year. Before the 80’s closed, Fresh / Sleeping Bag was a not-so-distant memory; forced to sell off its assets, and ultimately closing its doors. The label’s shuttering put MC EZ in limbo; and the young gun rhymed, staved off homelessness, and hustled for his next shot at stardom. In 1992, a former labelmate (EPMD’s Parrish Smith) threw Mack a lifeline; offering him a roadie gig on the group’s 1992-93 tour. On the tour circuit, Mack impressed EPMD associate Alvin Toney with his rhyming skills; and when the tour ended, Toney signed Mack as a management client. In 1993, Toney introduced Craig to then-Uptown Records exec Sean “Puffy” Combs outside a Manhattan nightclub, and after impressing Puffy with his freestyle abilities, Mack was offered both a cameo on Uptown artist Mary J. Blige’s next single, and a recording contract with Bad Boy Entertainment, an Uptown offshoot founded by Combs. When Puffy left Uptown in the summer of ’93, he took Mack with him; and after securing distribution for Bad Boy through Arista Records, Combs dispatched Mack to the studio to record his first album. In September of 1994, Craig Mack gave the rap world an overdose of flavor: an eleven-track heat rock called Project: Funk Da World.

Project: Funk Da World is a fairly straightforward album. From start to finish, Craig Mack is in his natural element; captivating with a boundless array of flows, and rocking the set over stellar soul-clap tracks. Beat-wise, Craig Mack himself produces or co-produces five of the album’s 11 songs; starting with the opener “Project: Funk Da World”, a cloak-and-dagger number where Mack accesses a mainframe computer, and uses its massive power to help him turn out the spot, with a sampling assist from Bohannon, whose classic “Save Their Souls” supplies this song’s bounce. Brooklyn producer Easy Mo Bee laces five of this album’s cuts as well; and just as he did on another Bad Boy release – The Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die – Mo Bee packs heat like an oven door with his beats. The first of Mo Bee’s contributions (“Get Down”) could move every life form in the Milky Way; due to the galactic trunk rattle Mo lays beneath a loop of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Superman Lover”. After Easy Mo Bee lays the canvas, Craig Mack lives up to this song’s title; bopping across the track with flair, and moving in perfect sync with the instrumental as he rhymes. Rashad Smith produces “Making Moves With Puff”, a shadowy thumper with Puffy Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy) on ad-libs, and Craig strutting atop Smith’s track, and mashing for cream alongside his sponsor. “That Y’all”, co-produced by Craig and studio engineer Lenny “Ace” Marrow, has a jawbreaker kick similar to EPMD’s early 90’s sound, and it finds Mack sporting a harmonic flow, and tumbling his lines over the groove like dice. “Flava In Ya Ear”, the album’s first single and biggest hit, is a banger for the ages, and one where Craig Mack (artist) and Easy Mo Bee (producer) are both in rare form. On this cut, Mo Bee’s spacey street hop groove warbles in your subconscious, and Craig Mack melts into Mo’s track; matching every dip and dive of the beat with his flow, filling the backdrop with slick ad-libs, and crafting one of rap’s most timeless songs along the way. And, speaking of flavor, “Funk Wit Da Style” has a Rum and Coke taste to it; thanks to Craig and Ace Marrow’s sampling of The Emotions’ “Blind Alley”, which Mack wanders across Drunken Master-style; freaking a disorienting flow akin to Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

For the remainder of Project: Funk Da World, Craig Mack continues his flavor assault, with a brief pause for social commentary near the album’s conclusion. Easy Mo Bee rides shotgun with Craig for Act II, and Mo pulls a few more gemstones from his beat stock. “Judgement Day” finds Mack dishing out lyrical dirt naps to rival emcees; and while Craig is as flavorful as ever, he’s rivaled by Mo Bee’s instrumental, a dark tundra track that cascades from ear to ear. Craig Mack produces “Real Raw”, a divine rumbler with scratched Commodores breaks, earthquake drums (from the Skull Snaps), and a clever loop of the theme from the serial Days of Our Lives. Not surprisingly, Craig matches the instrumental perfectly; stomping over the track like Colossor, crushing opponents mercilessly, and teaching a college course on beat riding. On “Mainline”, Mo Bee mans the mix board again, and concocts a jungle funk track that can blow a speaker or two; while the Mack Man gets in his B-Boy stance, and condenses the energy of a live performance into four minutes of fury. Mo Bee’s beat duty continues on “When God Comes”, a doom alarm set to heavy drum clangs, and the bass line from The Beatles’ “Come Together”, where Craig Mack delivers words of warning to a wayward generation, and advises MC’s promoting negativity to change their ways, or face the wrath of the Almighty. And the finale “Welcome To 1994” (produced by Craig Mack) is thicker than swamp sludge; with the drums of Joe Tex’s “Papa Was Too” paired with alternating samples and a Salt-N-Pepa vocal break, a combo Mack uses to give one last bludgeoning with his microphone.

In his career’s infancy, when he called himself MC EZ, Craig Mack’s momentum stopped before it really started; and after six years of toiling, he hoped his fortunes would be better the second time around with Bad Boy Records. Fortune smiled upon, and then betrayed, Craig Mack while at Bad Boy; as Project: Funk Da World was certified gold for half a million units sold, and yielded both gold (“Get Down”) and platinum (“Flava In Ya Ear”) singles. But, unfortunately, both success and contentment proved elusive for Craig, even with a high profile and impressive sales figures. Initially, Bad Boy marketed Craig and his labelmate The Notorious BIG with equal fervor; packaging their songs together in a promo campaign dubbed The Big Mack, and releasing their albums within one week of each other in September 1994. But, despite their label affiliation and promotional pairings, animus existed between The Notorious BIG, a nihilistic street emcee, and Craig Mack, an Old School throwback devoted to positive vibes. When Notorious BIG’s debut Ready to Die blew like a pipe bomb in 1994-95, Bad Boy’s marketing muscle was aimed at pushing Big’s album, and Craig Mack felt his music was neglected by Puff Daddy and his staff. But these issues were minor compared to drama stemming from that most familiar scourge: money. Allegedly, Mack lost the publishing rights for his work to Puffy, and received scant royalties from his record sales. By July of 1996, Mack had tired of wrangling with Puffy and Co.; and at his request, Craig was released from his Bad Boy Records contract. In short order, Mack signed with Streetlife Records, a street imprint connected with Scotti Bros. Records, and the following year he released his second album Operation: Get Down. Sadly, Craig’s sophomore set fell on deaf ears at retail; his pact with Streetlife ended soon thereafter; and he vanished from the rap scene. In later years, Craig would pop up periodically on the records of other artists, but to date, he has yet to record another album. Nonetheless, Craig Mack is a standard bearer for 90s Hip Hop, and in 2003, Craig received the ultimate tribute from rap legend Kool Moe Dee: an inclusion in Moe Dee’s book There’s a God on the Mic, a chronicling of rap’s 50 Greatest Emcees. It’s anyone’s guess if Craig Mack will ever take center stage again; but with Project: Funk Da World, he etched his name in Hip Hop lore, and his accomplishments will never be forgotten. Keep the flavor, Craig.

To listen to Project: Funk Da World, click here.

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