Writing about “Operation: Get Down” is an emotional roller coaster. It’s not just because Craig Mack passed away just over four years ago at only 46 years old (Rest In Power God). It’s more deeply personal to me because I rode hard for Craig Mack in the 1990’s. I felt that he and Christopher Wallace were the one-two combo that landed knockout blows for a fledgling Bad Boy Records, yet as the fame of Biggie Smalls and Puff Daddy rose, the man who put mad “Flava In Ya Ear” got left in the dust. I felt that Mr. Mack was given a raw deal by the very people who should have looked out for him, and even after his passing that disdain for Sean Combs hasn’t waned.
“What I Need,” the lead single from “Operation: Get Down,” seemed initially to confirm that Mack would be just fine on his own. Unfortunately this was actually the first sign of many problems with Mack’s sophomore effort. The original version of the single was produced by Demarie Sheki, and it’s “fine.” It sounds like some generic Zapp/Roger Troutman/vocoder rap, nothing that would light the world on fire, while the remix (and I still don’t know who laced it) sounded more like the heights of “Project: Funk Da World.” While even that album failed to truly capture Mack’s charisma properly, it nevertheless produced one memorable song after another on the charts and in your home stereo. The album version of “What I Need” does neither and should have been replaced before the CD/LP shipped.
At least everybody involved got it right on the second try for “Jockin’ My Style.” Ty Fyffe laced up a strong boom bap backdrop for Mack, the perfect instrumental backing for a man who growls, shouts, and echoes himself on every bar. It’s not a Mack track without him going “HA!” and “BOYYYY!” periodically, and without the right soundscape it could sound silly, but when you’re so busy nodding your head to the beat you don’t find it the least bit strange. In fact it seems only apt for Mr. Mack to claim that other rappers are jocking his style, because there were no shortage of emcees who copied his vocal interjections when trying to become Bad Boy clones.
This is where I’m gonna get straight up mad for a minute, and it has nothing to do with Craig Mack whatsoever. I’m casting an evil eye on Scotti Brothers Records, who seemingly had neither the financial resources nor marketing muscle to push Mack properly. Neither of the two singles discussed were able to chart, and despite a plethora of potential hits like “Rap Hangover” (a re-imagining of “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross), they didn’t even try for a third. The same label that went out of their way to court the disaffected rapper after Bad Boy sat on his career and didn’t do a damn thing became the next label to do THE EXACT SAME. Why put the ink to the paper on the contract if you’re not even going to try?
In fact even though I might be more fond of “Project: Funk Da World” due to its chart topping hits, one can argue “Operation: Get Down” is the more consistent and even keel album of the two. This isn’t a haphazard effort made simply to cash in on Mack’s prior fame. “Sit Back & Relax” was a sure shot crossover track thanks to Al West and Mark Morales, but that chance to advance never materialized. They also freaked the bouncy track “Rock Da Party” and I unapologetically love listening to it. “Drugs, Guns and Thugs” is a hidden gem of storytelling, with Mack narrating one tale of woe after another from people sucked into the glamour of the criminal life. If you’re old enough to remember the “Spoonin’ Rap” from Spoonie Gee, then the old school inspired “Style” will instantly hold a special place in your heart.
“I even use my real name – Mack” quips the emcee, and why wouldn’t he? Like Keith Murray and Omar Credle, Craig Mack had a name born to rap. “Style like this you can’t find everywhere” says Mr. Mack, and he’s not lying. “Fly rhyme sayer, I’ve been this way since a child.” I think that hits the nail on the head though. Even though Mack was a very capable emcee, he in many respects became a victim of “Flava In Ya Ear” and its remix. If ever a rapper got pigeonholed into one and only one style, Craig Mack was the one. People didn’t want to hear his wordplay, listen to his stories, or check out the way he’d use his vocal chords like a musical instrument. They just wanted the “HA!! BOYEEEE” rapper to make funny noises they could imitate. Seriously it pisses me off that Craig Mack got played like that.
Long before Soulja Boy was similarly pigeonholed for saying “YOUUUUUU,” Craig Mack beat him to the punch with a Johnny J produced track. Like so much of “Operation: Get Down,” the song languishes unfairly in obscurity thanks to an inept record label and a fickle public who had already moved on from the Mack. I understand that some will argue his aggressive delivery works against him, but to buy that argument the same would have to be true for Busta Rhymes, Sticky Fingaz or DMX. Clearly that’s not the reason Craig Mack’s second album flopped. It went nowhere because nobody tried to make it go anywhere. Scotti Brothers? Thanks for nothing.