Craig Mack, the rapper who had the very first hit on P. Diddy’s iconic hip-hop label Bad Boy Records, died on Monday. He was 46.
According to the New York Daily News, the rapper died of heart failure at his Walterboro, South Carolina home. His death was confirmed by the rapper’s former producer Alvin Toney.
Mack is best known for the indelible classic “Flava in Ya Ear,” – a top 10 hit in 1994 that sold over a million copies – and its subsequent remix featuring Notorious B.I.G, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Rampage. “Craig is hip-hop’s George Clinton, because his stuff is really off the wall,” Diddy once told The New York Times. “He does what’s from his heart, which is where it starts for him. But his energy comes from somewhere else.”
It was fitting that Mack helped make Bad Boy Records synonymous with New York hip-hop – he was born in Queens in 1971. In a 1995 profile in The New York Times, Mack said he was hooked on rap by his cousins at age nine and began to write his own lyrics at age 12. “I knew I wanted to be like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C.,” Mack recalled.
He became friendly with members of another famous New York rap group, EPMD, and accompanied them on tour. He did odd jobs for the group and did not perform, but Mack still remembered the experience as a valuable one. “All the time I was getting an education learning about the studio and the road,” he explained.
He eventually met Diddy – who was at that time looking to set up Bad Boy after being fired from Uptown Records – outside the club Mecca in Manhattan. Mack freestyled for Diddy and earned a record contract.
After breaking through with “Flava in Ya Ear” and its accompanying gold-certified album Project: Funk da World, Mack struggled to replicate his initial success. He left Bad Boy Records and released Operation: Get Down in 1997 but did not score a hit from the album. Mack later appeared in the video for Diddy’s hit “I Need a Girl Part 1,” but his solo career never regained momentum.
Mack eventually became a minister in South Carolina and appeared to renounce his former life as a rapper in a video posted in 2012.
Alvin Toney, who helped produce Project: Funk da World, told the NY Daily News he was working on a documentary about Mack. “Nobody got to understand his story,” Toney said. “I wanted the world to know the talent he had. It was something I wanted people to enjoy, but it was cut short because he was very religious and wanted to go to church.”
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Craig Mack – “Flava in Ya Ear”
Craig Mack – “Jockin My Style”