Interview: Chucky Thompson Talks Creating Faith Evans’ Debut “Faith” and the History Behind the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” (Part 2)
In part 2 of this interview with Chucky Thompson, we discuss the creation of Faith Evans’ debut album “Faith”, working with Faith throughout her career including her most recent “Something About Faith” album, the story behind the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa”, a record he produced that he had no idea would blow up, being selective as a producer, and what he’s currently working on.
YKIGS: I want to talk to you now about another album you had a huge impact on making it a success and that was Faith Evans’ debut album. Talk about working on that album.
CT: When I first met her, she was working with Usher, she was doing a lot of vocal production. They would call her “Faye.” I was listening to what was happening with Usher and I was like “Yo! Them backgrounds is crazy, who is helping him with that?” And they were like “Faye” but she works for Al B. Sure. So, I did a record for Usher called “Think of You” and she came in and wrote, Donell Jones wrote. I actually made that record before I met Puff as well. When I sent it up there, I had no idea what was gonna happen to it. He just had writer sessions or whatever, next thing I know they pressed play and here comes “Think of You.” I’m hearing the hook and hearing all these different things and I was like “Yo, I gotta get with the girl Faith.” Then, they brought her to work with Mary on the “My Life” album. I was constantly running into her, she was funny, she had humor all day *Laughs*. She is a Jersey girl so we started to bond on some different levels. One day I’m in there playing the piano and I’m playing some stuff that I made up when I was sixteen. I was into Jazz a lot back then and I wasn’t really into R&B at that time. I was just playing some stuff in the piano, she just ran in the room like “Yo! That’s crazy! I want you to do my whole album” *Laughs*. I was like “All right cool, you signed to somebody?” Next thing I know, Puff signs her. So then she was like “I told you I wanted to do with you my whole album!” *Laughs* and I was like “All right, let’s figure it out.” At that time, he had signed Total. He had explained to me what Total was but I was trying to come up with some ideas for them. I came up with the music for “You Used to Love Me” but I did that for Total! *Laughs*. I didn’t know, because he had said they were some around the way girls and I was like “Ok, let me put them on some swag real quick” *Laughs* and I came up with that. Next thing I know, Faith was upstairs and Puff runs downstairs and was like “Yo, she just wrote the craziest hook in the world, like it’s backwards!” It was real slow and different; it was funny the way she did it. Then we were like “Yo, this is crazy, she needs to do that.” She finished that, and that was the first song. I’m just trying to give you a couple of stories with each record. I passed by the studio, I had a flight to catch; my flight was like at six and I stopped by the studio around two. I was just going to hang out and I’ve got my bags packed and I know what time the cab is coming, then I got this phone call from Puff. He was telling me that Faith told him about the song I played on the piano *Laughs*. “Which song did you play for her on the piano? Whatever it is, I don’t care. You need to do that record before you leave.” And I’m like “Yo, I just came to sit and leave!” and he was like “Nah, I got a studio upstairs; you gotta do it before you leave. She is driving me nuts, I need it done.” Now I’m mad, you know what I’m saying? You just messed my whole flow up. I go upstairs, got all the equipment up there; I’m talking to the Engineers like “Listen, what time do I need to be on the cab to be on the flight out here?” *Laughs*. I go upstairs, and I just start throwing stuff together, I had to hurry up, and I was pissed. I did it; I didn’t have the whole song finished; I just had this one part. I had to come up with a new part just to make it all sound like a song before my cab was ready to leave. *Laughs* I make it; they get me in the cab and I’m gone. Faith called me later on that night, she was like “Yo, call my phone back, I put it on my answering machine already, I want you to hear the hook!” *Laughs*. It was “Soon as I Get Home,” and I never touched that song another day *Laughs*. That was it. I just had to let you know, it was crazy back then *Laughs*. That’s the talent we had around us; I could do that and leave, she could go in there finish it and it sounded the way it did. I never touched that record again. From those two records, she came to DC; her and BIG I guessed figured out what they were doing with their relationship, she was going through a rough patch. It was a situation where she wasn’t really liking him at first, they got married, he went on tour, now she is in love, *Laughs* then she is hurt. She is now going through all this feelings and that’s where the other song came, “You Don’t Understand.” It was one of those songs, we were into R. Kelly at that time. R. Kelly’s whole vibe was crazy at the time, we were looking into him and it started rubbing off and I was kinda emulating certain things. When you got talent like Faith, she catches on and she can take it somewhere else. There was one time when people were comparing her with Mary. The thing that makes them different is that Mary knows the old school, she knows quiet Storm; you can sit with her and she’ll tell you every classic song on the radio. Faith knows nothing about classic, but she knows all the gospel records, so her vocal background is gospel. I did the albums back to back with two different personalities. I was able to separate the two but yet it was coming from the same camp.
YKIGS: As you continued to work with Faith over the years, you also had a big contribution to the album she put out last year “Something About Faith.” What was it like working with her on that album?
CT: Faith is like family man. That’s the crazy thing; we were working on songs before she even had a notion to do an album, I would always just called her like “Yo, listen to this beat right here.” I know you’re a mom, and you got the soccer ball and everybody in the van but take this song right here and listen to it *Laughs*. I would always stay connected to her in that kind of way. When she actually came with the idea to do the record, I knew that she was doing it on her own. Everything was out of her pocket and that kind of situation. We did some undisclosed things on the business, because that’s family to me and I just wanted to see her good. It was fast pace and we ended up wrapping and doing a lot of stuff quick. I say that to say that I really didn’t get to put the love on the records like I wanted to. A lot of stuff got finished without my ears on it. Faith is Faith, she knows what she wants so I just kinda let her team wrap up but that’s not my final ear on it. It was a fast paced situation, we were just trying to get it out and get it done. That girl is just a walking ball of talent, she has so much respect in the industry; it’s crazy with her.
YKIGS: Let me take it back again. What do you remember most about the work you did with the Notorious B.I.G. on this debut album “Ready to Die”?
CT: *Laughs* B.I.G. man, to me that’s my heart right there man. Our first encounter *Laughs*, he just recognized that I was from DC immediately and him being from Brooklyn, it was like ok, DC and Brooklyn have always had a connection. The lifestyle we live here is so similar to what’s happened in Brooklyn. The part that I thought that made me really, really want to work with him is the fact that most New Yorkers rep New York and that’s it, they’re just about what’s happening in New York. When I met him, it was more than that to me with him. He was that big player! *Laughs* He understood west coast and what was happening on the west coast. Me coming from DC, our hip hop scene didn’t really take form until the west coast rap and stuff started happening. We used to listen to rap here, but it was always more or less that thing with DC and New York, we were always rivals. Even the whole drug situation, that put us at odds with each other, but the culture was coming down here and our culture was going up there, but we didn’t really connect until that west coast situation. So when I met B.I.G. he understood that west coast element and I just felt like at the time I was listening to what Puff was working on for him with the record and it just felt like it was one sided. Like ok you have New York, you have Wu-Tang and then you have B.I.G. So we were listening to Snoop’s album while we were making “Ready to Die” and I was watching a lot of black exploitation movies so I was on another page, we were on a movie vibe at Bad Boy at the time, coming from a lot of different places. From me to just sit with B.I.G. and talk to him and get a feel for him and what his understanding was, it opened the door for a record like “Big Poppa”. It was a situation where I was experimenting again and I said “You know what, he’s more than New York to me, but I’m going to test his ass!” *Laughs* You know because Ice Cube was big at that time as well, and if you look at “It Was a Good Day”, and then you look at “Big Poppa”, it was on the same wavelength, and I did that for a reason. So I felt like we had the Isley Brothers record, and I wanted to keep it cool but at the same time throw this player sh*t in there and see what he does. So I left the studio, and came in the next morning, and Nashiem had a big smile on his face and said “This n***a B.I.G. put the craziest hook in the world down last night on that record!” He took the bait and put it right on some player stuff, it was right on that page. This is one of the records that was to change to happen with “Ready to Die” at the time, at the time it was more of a New York based record until they brought me in the cypher. *Laughs* I actually took the record back home and played it for a couple of people that I respect back here because DC still had their underground hip hop so I was connected with the ones that got the hip hop down here; and I just played it for them. B.I.G. was a new artist and the whole situation was new, so I played the record and nobody said anything! So I asked them if they liked it and they said “N***a that joint is freakin silly right there!” *Laughs* That was my first example of watching a record go platinum because it started off slow and next thing I know I’m watching Martin and he’s talking about “Big Poppa” and it just spread all over the country. That was my idea, to tap into who B.I.G. was outside of him being just a New York rapper signed to Bad Boy. To me he was already on some iconic stuff and he wasn’t even out yet!
YKIGS: You just mentioned you watched that record turn into a platinum record from the start. Is there a song where on the other hand that you thought was crazy and was going to blow up but then just really didn’t do anything? Can you think of one like that?
CT: All the ones that I didn’t think were going to blow up were the ones that blew up! *Laughs* Like with “Bonnie & Shyne”, the story behind that one is I was starting my own production company and I was walking in New York and I ran into Harve Pierre. He asked me to come by the studio for just one day to do some tracks for some of the new artists over on Bad Boy. So I’m just like “whatever,” and I’m already in there on some “whatever man”, so I wasn’t really too motivated. When I got there it was a stack of records on the floor, and I try to do things to keep it interesting because I don’t like to have it turn into work, so I decided to grab the first record I saw and I didn’t care what it was, I was going to flip it! *Laughs* I just grabbed this one record, it was a Grace Jones record, and I just flipped it and tried to twist it into something that was different. The next thing I know, Shyne had found out I left some records in there and he immediately snatched them up and called me telling me he loved it. When they sent me a copy of the record when it was done I played it back to back, I knew it was going to be something but I didn’t know it was going to be on the radio all day long, like that was going to be one of the records that defined him and New York. New York was kinda going through a phase at the time, so that record kinda saved New York a little bit. The same thing with “One Mic” for Nas, same situation.
YKIGS: It seems like you’ve had so much success throughout your career, but from my point of view and looking at your discography it seems you’ve been a little selective in who you want to work with. How do you choose who you want to work with and who you want to produce for?
CT: A lot of the people I’ve worked with were just relationships. Certain people I just respect, like Ice Cube I respected and couldn’t wait to work with him, Nas I respected and couldn’t wait to work with him, same thing with Mariah Carrey. Then there are a couple of people in there that are just talented and good people, like Leelah James and different people like that. So it all depends on the vibe once I meet them. Everybody that I’ve sat down with, I can’t say that I’ve come up with something for. I sat down with Chrisette Michele before and she was tired and moving around and it just didn’t click that night; I understood that she was busy and there was a lot going on with her. So we just couldn’t connect just on that alone. It all depends on if I have a vibe with them or if I respect them; I feel like it has to be something in there where you respect them for it to be able to turn into something that’s crazy.
YKIGS: What are you currently working on?
CT: I’m actually working with Leona Lewis on some things, I’m also doing something with Young Money. I’m actually getting ready to get started with Mystikal which is crazy. Faith Evans and Rick Ross, I’m about to get ready to do a situation with each of them. Shareefa, who was signed to DTP. As far as my corporate situation is concerned, I’m doing something with Guitar Centers. I’m the first producers that they endorsed, so that’s going to be big, there’s a lot of things falling under that umbrella.
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
CT: To all of the new producers or guys that’s thinking about getting into this game, keep it as musical as possible for the next generation. I’m a fan of everything, I just don’t like too much of the saturated stuff. Remember the rules of hip hop, no biting! *Laughs* Just step out on your own and don’t be scared to just do something different.