Sunday, January 22, 2023

Why Easy Mo Bee Was Initially “Scared” About Biggie’s “Back to Cali”: “Is That Healthy Right Now?”

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The Notorious BIG was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but the rapper had an affinity for California and the West Coast. He maintained a friendship with Tupac Shakur for years and loved being in Los Angeles, even after Shakur’s death in 1996, when Biggie wasn’t welcome on the West Coast. Despite this, he decided to record the song “Going Back to Cali” — something that worried the song’s producer, Easy Mo Bee.

“Going Back to Cali” was released on The Notorious BIG’s second (and final) album life after deathreleased just two weeks after Biggie’s death in Los Angeles in March 1997. In a 2003 interview with XXL, Easy Mo Bee, who co-produced “Going Back to Cali” along with much of Biggie’s debut album Ready to diethought about how he turned a sample into an iconic track.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with Zapp’s ‘More Bounce To The Ounce’. I wanted LA’s attention. There was a lot of tension, east coast/west coast. My manager at the time was from LA. He said: “Look, in LA, at the block parties and house parties, when ‘More Bounce’ was on, that was the joint that drove everyone crazy. It was always the LA anthem. “You have these East Coast/West Coast tension bulls, and I might have felt that through music or a beat, anything that aligns or harmonizes everyone,” Mo recalled .

“I was alone in the car listening to the radio. I think I heard 98.7 Kiss and I think they threw it [‘More Bounce’] carry on like an old joint,” he continued. “I only drive zones in the car like I’ve never heard before. I was talking to myself in my head, like, ‘You never did anything with it. The reason you have never used it is because too many people have already used it.’ But everyone had basically looped it. No one has ever chopped up the record like it was [James Brown’s] “Funky President.” So I had the idea to move the drums like they usually do on the record, but have the bass line do something completely different.”

Biggie put his verses down on “Going Back to Cali” and returned the song to Easy Mo Bee. When he heard what Biggie was rapping, he was surprised and worried at the same time.

“When they handed me back the finished song, they were like, ‘Yo, don’t you hear that? Big destroyed your s***. When I heard, “I’m going, going/Back, back/To Cali, Cali,” I said, “Awww s***, man! What are you all doing?'” recalled Mo. “I was like, ‘Are we starting trouble here?’ Because back then you could have gone two different ways: ‘I’m going back to Cali’. You could take it like, “I’m going back to run shit,” or you could take it like he put it on the record, for the women and the weed. Basically, when you listen to the record, it’s not negative in any way. But just the title… I won’t go ahead, it scared me a bit. I was like, ‘Yo, is that healthy now?’”

The East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud raged in the mid-1990s and only intensified after the untimely death of Tupac Shakur in September 1996. Biggie, who released a song about California, was taken by many westerners as a mark of disrespect for coastal hip hop fans.

“Everybody was always scared that if we were going to go to California and we were going to have problems, and we were very aware of that, but we tried to make it positive,” Biggie’s friend and record executive Sean “Diddy” Combs said honestly. “That just wanted to say we’re coming back to have a good time. He said he loved Cali. Just because he had a problem with one person didn’t mean he didn’t want to say he didn’t like all of California.”

Unfortunately, Biggie would not live to see the release of Going Back to Cali.

In March 1997, Biggie was in Los Angeles for the Soul Train Music Awards and attended an after-party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA’s Miracle Mile neighborhood. He was shot while leaving the event in the early hours of March 9, 1997.

life after death hit shelves on March 25, 1997. The singles “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the album has since been certified 11x platinum.

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