Exclusive: The beatmaker behind the last track on Biggie's last official album explains the song's two versions and reveals that Big didn't speak about his then beef with Tupac.
There are several names that immediately leap to mind when thinking of the people who surrounded The Notorious B.I.G. during his rise to become the “King of New York” in the mid-1990s: Sean “Diddy” Combs, Faith Evans, Lil' Kim, Lil' Cease. But one name that even die-hard Biggie fans may not recognize as someone involved in the success Big enjoyed in the latter years of his life is Jiv Pos.
The producer’s name (which is short for Jean Is Very Positive) can be found in the credits to Life After Death (as well as additional ‘90s releases from Akinyele and Group Home). Jiv is also a sample-slicing deejay with over two decades of experience, dating back to his introduction to former production partner, and The Notorious B.I.G.’s road deejay and current Hot 97 radio personality, DJ Enuff. Currently, in addition to making mixtapes (like the recently released Brooklyn Finest Pt. 3 via Coast 2 Coast Mixtapes), Jiv is staying very active alongside his new musical partner Mr. Speed as trackmaster tag team Man Meets Machine (M3) (who together crafted “The Corner” for Capone-N-Noreaga’s The War Report 2, the more recent street smash for Shawn Pen, “Brooklyn, Yeah No Doubt,” and brand new material for the forthcoming album from Jiv’s fellow Brooklyn native – and current European sensation – Tah Mac).
As the Hip Hop community remembers the life and tragic death of The Notorious B.I.G. with the 15th anniversary of Big Poppa’s passing, Jiv joined HipHopDX in reminiscing over his fallen comrade. The creative mind behind the track to one of Biggie’s final recordings offered some remarkable insight into the creative process of one of Hip Hop’s most iconic artists (including witnessing firsthand Big’s then rarely seen pen-free writing style). Jiv spoke in-depth about his spooky session with B.I.G. for “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You),” as well as the subsequent remixing of the track that led to two versions of the song surfacing. One of the unfortunately overlooked contributors to Big’s discography concluded his conversation with DX by sharing a story of how Biggie was never rattled from his Don Corleone coolness, whether recording a song with a sly shot at then rival Tupac Shakur or even when standing face-to-face with one of his detractors.
HipHopDX: The first most obvious question I have for you is was it eerie at all in the studio with Big while recording a song called “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” shortly after Tupac had been gunned down in Las Vegas?
Jiv Pos: Yeah, I ain’t gonna lie, it was kinda bugged. Especially because I had no prep time to even ease into the fact of what the topic or the title of it was gonna be, because I didn’t know what he was gonna do up until the point when he got up on the mic.
We was in the studio, we laid the track, and I’m still there thinking like, “What is he gonna do? What is he gonna spit?” And so he goes in the booth and he starts spittin’, and then he did the hook and he starts singing “You’re nobody.” I was like, “Wow.” I just felt it right then and there: this was definitely gonna be something classic.
DX: I always thought the line, “As I leave my competition respirator style” was a reference to Tupac. Do you recall if Big discussed what happened to ‘Pac and the ominous cloud hanging over him after ‘Pac’s murder?
Jiv Pos: Nah, man. For real, the times I was around him I never heard him speak on any of that. The times that I was with him – I used to go to his crib and work on beats over there, or in the studio with the couple projects that I did for him – he was just focused. He was focused on what we were doing right then and there. I never heard him go into any rants or any tirades [about Tupac] or get into that. It was all about the music and what we were doing at that time.
DX: Do you have any other recollections of that particular session, that “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” session?
Jiv Pos: Yeah, like, even before we got to the studio Big was always playing that track. He used to call it “The Few Track,” because if you remember the original track had the guitar in it that goes “few.”
So, up until we got the phone call that day, I didn’t even know we was gonna go in there and lace it. So he calls us that day and we had to be there that night. And it was a mess because that track almost didn’t even make it. A lot of people don’t know that track almost didn’t make it on the album for so many reasons. The first reason being that back then I was just a reckless producer; I’d sample anything and I wasn’t writing down where I was getting the samples from. So when Big picked that, Enuff called me, he was like, “Yo, they want ‘The Few Track,’ you got the sample information? We can’t go to the studio without the sample information.” And I tore my basement apart looking for that. [Laughs] I’m talking about I had over a hundred crates of records and I’m just tearing that place apart trying to find that [Billy Preston] record. But I did.
So when we got there I’m there all sweaty. I’m just happy to be there like, “Oh my God, we’re about to do it.” And Big just sat there – there’s a lot of dudes, [Junior] M.A.F.I.A., everybody’s in there, a lot of noise going on – and he just stayed focused. He was just sitting there, chillin’, smoking, vibin’ for like two, three hours. And then all of a sudden, no pen, no pad, no nothing, he just gets up and goes “Mic me up” and goes into the booth. And this is what really bugged me out: I think it took him just two takes and the verse was done. I was like, “This guy’s a machine.” I thought he had like an Intel chip in his brain or something. At that point I was like, “It’s so official right now: I’m amongst Hip Hop royalty. This is crazy!”
And then for him to have the creativity to start singing that over that track, and he made it work! Yeah, that was crazy.
DX: Let’s clarify the production of that track, because it sounds like you did most of it but I know Puff and Stevie J. are also credited on the track, as is Enuff. So who actually produced that track?
Jiv Pos: Actually, well, my hands – I did the track. Okay, but it is still DJ Enuff and Jiv Pos because me and Enuff was a company, so whatever comes out of our company both of our names would be attached to it. But to answer your question, I did that track in 1995, 1996 in Brooklyn on an MPC3000 - on Albany Avenue. I did that track.
So Big got the original track, and the vibe that was set was from the original track: the tone, his cadence, his bounce, his rhythm, his everything. The mood was set by that original track. And then so he laced his verses, did the hook and everything, and we thought the session was done. We get a phone call a couple days later and Diddy told E like, “Yo, I just did a little something to the track to enhance it.” So we’re thinking maybe he added a cymbal crash, maybe he talked on it, or added a bassline, which was no problem. But come to find out after we hear it, Stevie J. went in there and put all this other stuff on there. And I’m not saying it was wack, but to me it killed the essence a little bit. Because, that guitar part that I put in there was so mesmerizing, and that guitar part was the magnet that pulled the M.A.F.I.A. and Big into that track. And it was killed; it was dead once they did that.
That [Billy Preston] sample wasn’t even a straight loop, it was a chop. It was like three or four different chops I did, because it was like a little part here, then he’d say a word, then another part here, so I chopped and made that loop. I took the kick and snare and hi-hat from a Barry White joint, chopped it up and there you have it. Just raw, Brooklyn, New York Hip Hop. And that’s what Big wanted. That’s what he got.
DX: Did you do any other productions for Big …?
Jiv Pos: Yeah, before that was “The Get Money Remix” [for him and Junior M.A.F.I.A.]. You can even study that track also, ‘cause a lot of dudes was buggin’ when I did that track, when me and Enuff did that track. When I do a beat, even if I loop it I’m still trying to enhance it. ‘Cause that beat was Dennis Edwards’ “Don’t Look Any Further.” So we took that loop but there’s some drum parts in there and so we chopped - I chopped the drums out and I put it on a separate track so that way when we went to the studio the kicks could punch through, the snare could pop and the hi-hats could sizzle a little bit more, just to bring it more to life. Because back then, a lot of dudes were just taking the loop, as it was, looping it and just trying to EQ the hell out of the loop. But I’m like, “Yo, the drums still have to come through a little bit more than the sample.” ‘Cause it’s still Hip Hop. And I’m always trying to bring down the speakers in clubs. That was my thing. [Laughs] I’m trying to bust speakers in the club.
So, if people listen to that, when Big goes “Is Brooklyn in the house? Without a doubt,” then I broke it down and you hear the drums by itself and then the bassline comes back in. And people was hittin’ us up like, “Yo! Do you have some like unreleased instrumental or do you know Dennis Edwards? Where’d you get that version from? How did the drums breakdown like that?” And me and E was just giggling, we always laughed about that. It was just being meticulous, being very detailed about your art. We broke it down and we built all our tracks up like that.
And also … that Pepsi commercial that’s bubbling on YouTube, I did that beat. That’s mine: the unreleased Biggie Pepsi commercial.
DX: Now, you mentioned that you spent time with Big at this crib in New Jersey, and I understand you also filled in for Enuff sometimes as Biggie’s road deejay, so do you have any additional recollections of your time around Big you can share?
Jiv Pos: Junior M.A.F.I.A. and Big had shows together, [so] we were just around him all the time. … I remember we was out in Amsterdam and I was on the tour bus, and there were some other acts on the tour bus. They was in the back and I’m sitting in the front. I’m like half-asleep, it was a long day, so I’m sitting in the front and these dudes in the back was like talking shit about B.I. They didn’t even know I was there, so I popped my head up, I looked at ‘em and I walked off the bus. And, you know, we younger back then, we just a little bit more crazy. I didn’t care if we was in Australia, Brooklyn or Amsterdam, these dudes had to apologize. So, I went and I think I saw Trife [of Junior M.A.F.I.A.] … and I told him what happened and then we went and got Big. Then the whole crew just came. We went back on the bus, and I stepped up to dude and I was like, “Yo dude, man, you need to show some respect and apologize to the man.” He was like, “What you talkin’ about?” Some bad words, the f-bomb started flying, and I started telling him, “Yo, you need to show some respect and apologize.”
Big played it cool. He was just like on some real mellow, Godfather [vibe]. So he was like, “Yo dog, we don’t want no problems, [but] I’m telling you right now one time, I just want an apology and it’s done with.” And dude apologized. Dudes turned around, walked off the bus and it was back to the fun. So he knew what he had at stake as a professional. He knew that smacking some dude in Europe was not gonna be beneficial to his situation. So he was definitely squared away, I think a very level-headed dude when it came to things like that.
Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of history, a lot of stuff that went down, a lot of good stuff. I feel really blessed to have been around who I consider the greatest of all time. Even at the smallest level that’s still a piece of the puzzle. The plaques don’t lie, I was there and I contributed. And I feel very honored to have been a part of that.
Follow Jiv Pos on Twitter @JivPos