Interview: Chucky Thompson Takes Us Back to His Days With Diddy’s “Hitmen” and Producing Mary J. Blige’s Classic “My Life” Album (Part 1)
In part 1 of this two part interview series with super producer Chucky Thompson, we discuss how he originally joined Puffy Daddy and the Hitmen production team, the chemistry of the team, his first major placement as a producer, helping to create Mary J. Blige’s classic “My Life” album, and his favorite song he worked with Mary on.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. We appreciate it.
Chucky Thompson: Nah, this is real you know. Ya’ll doing real things.
YKIGS: We’ve always supported your production through the years and we have a lot of respect for producers like you so we want to show us much support as we can.
CT: That’s what’s up man, I appreciate it too.
YKIGS: I want to take it back to the beginning. Can you give me the history on how you originally became part of “The Hitmen” and how you linked up with Bad Boy?
CT: It started out as a Management Contract, I was actually just submitting tracks to a friend of mine. Puff had a guy working for him that knew a friend of mine that I used to work with down in Baltimore actually. It was one of those situations, let me just break this down to you because it’s crazy, it was one of those situations where we used to get together and drink beer, stuff like that. Every time we had a couple of beers, he would be like “YO! I got a cousin on the music business!” and we would be like “Man…you ain’t got no damn cousin in the music business!” *Laughs* but he actually did. His cousin worked alongside of Puff. I ended up sending music to Puff right around the time he got fired from Uptown. We sent a CD to Puff; he heard the music and immediately got in touch with me. That’s how that got started. So that was my in, and that’s how it got started.
YKIGS: What was the chemistry like between “The Hitmen” as a group?
CT: To be real with you, when I first got up there from DC, there were a couple of guys that were scattered around. Puff was trying to make this production thing happen but there wasn’t really a “Hitmen” situation. It was just some producers under the label who could do the work. What happened with me, coming from DC, I’ve always liked to collaborate with different people. With me playing all these different instruments, they didn’t have anyone up there that played a lot of different instruments. It was either you played keyboards, or you just were a straight hip-hop producer/sampler but I was all of those things. There were a lot of different rooms, after I had met everybody; say I finished my work here in Studio A, I would then slide over to Studio B and just vibe. As I was in there, I saw different people working, and I would learn some guitar or whatever was going on in there at the time. So, it just started with me just bouncing around from room to room. With me doing that, the word started moving around and credits started coming; me working with Easy Mo Bee, Rashad. Nashiem at the time wasn’t really a producer, he was a studio manager. I kinda talked him into coming in because we were working together all the time. He was assisting me, and he used to tell me about producers from his neighborhood that was getting on, and I told him “Don’t worry about them, you need to be doing stuff over here!” Then he started to come up with loops and things like that and I would play instruments on it. It was one of those things were one thing kinda kicked into another. It created a vibe where we all started coming in on everybody’s songs. That’s how it started.
YKIGS: What was your first major placement as a producer?
CT: Before I got to Bad Boy, it was The Born Jamericans, I had met them here in DC. I was doing a lot of production for just the Howard students and different people in the area. They came through my basement at the time and I actually helped them get a deal with Delicious Vinyl. That was my first placement, it was a song called “Boom Shack A-Tack.” My first placement with Bad Boy, I was only contracted to do a song and a half for Mary, that was just a song and an interlude. “I Wanna Be With You” was the song. The producers that were part of the first album came back with these ridiculous prices and it was a situation where I was basically asked if I would work with her. So I said “Hell yea!”, *Laughs*It was an opportunity that was crazy.
YKIGS: This is the “My Life” album we are speaking about?
YKIGS: So you mentioned you were only contracted to do a song and a half. When you were then asked to contribute a lot more, what were you looking to accomplish with the album? What direction were you looking to go in with the sound?
CT: I’ll be real, to keep the pressure off of myself, I’ve just got small goals. My goal with that album was basically for everybody to feel like it was an “Ok” album. Because a space was opened up that far for me that early, I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t put so much pressure on me where it wasn’t relative to where she was in her career, and it was something that could take her to the next level. I was offended by a lot of the comments that were made about her first album and that’s what drew me to Puff. I had two contracts, a contract from Hiriam Hicks, and a contract from Puff. Hiriam could deliver me TLC but he could not deliver me Mary. That was my calling, the Mary J. Blige “What’s the 411” album. Pretty much I had a lot of the production for the “My Life” album done when I met Puff, these were ideas that I just kinda creating and coming up with. As the opportunity presented itself, I would play more songs just to see if they would like them. I developed a relationship with Mary as well. It was one of those things where he could deliver me Mary and I felt that was where my production and my talents were leading me at the time. Ima be real, God was in the room. *Laughs* They talk about luck, opportunity meets preparation and that’s exactly what it was for me to be able to work with Mary, and for her to be the type of artist that she was, and for Puff at that time to be where he was in his career. It was like three entities kinda vibin at the same time and we all understood each other. The more that I worked with Mary; the more I realized that she was like my sister almost. She was the one out of her family that had a lot of talent; I was the one that had crazy talent in my family, so we connected on that level. Like I said, I was offended with a lot of the comments that were made about her first album. I wanted to change that, I wanted people to understand that she was and is one of the greatest talents out here. She may be young and she may be from the hood and all of that but don’t get it twisted with her talent and how far she can go. I guess with that “My Life” album I just wanted to get that point across that she could really sing and that it was not about how she was dressed or anything like that. That was just one part of marketing for her but it has nothing to do with her talent. That was the goal I had set, I just wanted people to feel it was an “Ok” album and I wanted people to walk away understanding that she was more than just rapper/girl singing.
YKIGS: Well, the album is now considered a classic and many consider it her best album. It’s definitely more than a just “Ok” album *Laughs*. It came out really special.
CT: I guess three million people at that time felt it was “Ok” *Laughs*. But trust me, I wasn’t really thinking about the biggest record in the world, I just wanted it to be a record that people would respect coming from her with her next look, so I guess I did.
YKIGS: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve produced for Mary over the years?
CT: A favorite song from her, it would be “My Life.” To be real, that is one of my favorite records from her because I was actually experimenting. I was already working on that record and when I first signed with Puff, we were working out of his house in Scarsdale, NY. Like I said, as time went on, I would just play certain things. He was in the house, I was there, I think BIG was there, and I just played it. He was like “Yo, I was just thinking about that song!” *Laughs* my thing is, when you coming from DC, I was coming from a Go-go thing, live music, that’s my background. At the time, I used to be at all those Go-gos back in my era, I’m talking about High School. When I did the Roy Ayers record, I was acting like I was Roy Ayers *Laughs*. I was on my own page with it, I was experimenting. I played it for Puff and he loved it, he played it for Mary and she loved it, it just came together. We just left her alone with the lyrics and I didn’t know she was going to write something like that; it just blew out minds the next day when we listened to it. She was on a whole other page and that what was needed at the time. That’s how that record came to life; it was one of those experiments that actually worked.
Stay tuned for part two where we discuss his production on Faith Evan’s “Faith” album, his production on her latest “Something About Faith” album, the work he did on the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready to Die” album, a song he produced he thought would flop but blew up, and how he selects who he wants to work with.