Mixtape Memories with DJ Craig G (Summer ’95 Edition)

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Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

In the summer of 1995, I was going into my senior year at White Plains High School. I had a four-door Honda Civic DX, and a camp job that kept gas in my tank (and chronic in my sock). And the soundtrack to my summer was DJ Craig G’s Sneekin’ Up On That Ass II.

Back in ’95, DJ Craig G—who is now known as the #1 hip-hop DJ in Connecticut holding down a prominent afternoon slot on 93.7 FM in Hartford—was among the elite mixtape DJs in New York City. Along with peers like DJ S&S, DJ Clue, DJ Doo Wop, Tony Touch, and DJ Ron G, Craig kept the streets fed with phat tapes that were always jam-packed with exclusive flavor. And it wasn’t just hip-hop. Craig G came correct with the R&B, reggae, and slow jam tapes, too.

Sneekin’ Up On That Ass II—the follow-up to the classic first volume from the summer of ‘94 that boasted Ready To Die exclusives months before Biggie’s debut dropped, plus mad other instant classics by everyone from Redman to Snoop Dogg to O.C.—continued the tradition with never-before-heard B.I.G. joints, and so much more. He had a comeback gem by Rakim, Bad Boy remixes featuring hot artists of the moment like Keith Murray, Smif-N-Wessun and the already legendary LL Cool J, all the hot joints off The Infamous… and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… , plus new shit by everyone from Das EFX to Special Ed. It was one of those tapes you let rock ‘til it popped—and then you’d take it apart, fix it, and let it rock some more.

For our latest Mixtape Memories feature, we linked up with Craig G and asked him to take us back to the summer of ‘95 to revisit what the mixtape game was like when he released Sneekin’ Up On That Ass II. Craig talks about his partnership with DJ S&S, his in-house recording techniques, his memories of having the original version of Biggie’s “Dead Wrong” before any other DJ, his experience working at the Music Factory in Brooklyn, and so much more. Let’s rewind twenty years back with one of Uptown’s illest mixtape DJs ever.

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Partnership with DJ S&S/Competition With Other Mixtape DJs

DJ Craig G: “Myself and DJ S&S [pictured above] came from the same cloth, basically. He would record all his classic mixtapes in my house. We shared the same equipment in the mid-’90s. Whatever he didn’t put out, that’s when I would make a mixtape. We were basically getting the same songs. I would help him and he would help me. If it was my time to make a mixtape, I would take the songs that he didn’t have on his tape and put them on mine.

“We didn’t clash heads. If he was making a hip-hop tape, then I would go and make an R&B tape, or a reggae or slow jam tape—which did well. Those were called the Fuc Tapes. That was so there wasn’t in-house competition. So when we went to the tape store, we didn’t have the same songs on our tapes. S would get his sales on his hip-hop tapes, and I would get my sales on whatever I was doing, just to stay away from his lane. If I got a song and I wasn’t making a hip-hop mixtape that week, I would give it to him. And vice versa.

“We had our competition, but they were all our friends. Doo Wop, Ron G, Buckwild, Chubby Chub, Clue, Kid Capri, Brucie B. All these are my brothers. Lazy K in Jersey, Juice. All these people are my family. It was a friendly competition to see who could put out tapes the fastest and get it on the streets first. Somebody like Clue would get two, three new songs, and sandwich it with other songs to make a hot tape. Because everyone wanted the first five hot songs on a mixtape, that’s just how it was.

“Me and S&S, we wanted to have a whole complete mixtape, and have our shit go from beginning to the end, all hotness. We know how the mixtape game was, so we wanted the hottest three, four, or five records right in the beginning. But you had to make the rest of the 90-minute tape hot too, so you had to balance some of them songs.

“People always wanted to know, ‘Why is S always shouting out Craig?’ It’s because I’m the first person he sees when he’s making his tapes. So he always shouted me out first, and I was always that DJ that was right with him. So it worked hand in hand. We had a friendship that turned into a business relationship, and we shined off of it. It got us to travel and see the world, just off the mixtapes. Out of apartment 5B.”

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Recording Setup in ’95

“It was always two 1200s. The mixer was probably a Gemini or an old school Rane mixer. And basically, when we got those exclusives, everything was given to us on DAT or cassette. CDs wasn’t poppin’ like that yet. So we had to transfer the music that was on DAT to a cassette, because on the cassette decks you could press play and pause right on the spot. If you ever hear on the mixtapes, ‘Bass drop’ or, ‘Drop that,’ it was like boom—you hit that pause button and the song was right there. And it sounds like you’re playing it off of vinyl. As we advanced later on, it started with the CDs, and that made things easier. There was always a lot of tapes and DAT tapes and CDs all over the place.

“One thing is we always made sure our mixtape had a flow. You didn’t want to go from the fastest record to a slow record then back to the fastest. So we tried to have a flow with it, like a party. Maybe that’s because we’re from Uptown, and Uptown DJs are about partying.”

Sneekin’ Up On That Ass II/“The Long-Awaited Tape…”

“Part 1 [in 1994] did so well out of town and locally in the tri-state, but you wanted to let it breathe. Back then, there was only a handful of DJs making mixtapes. So the fans, they waited and waited. Of course, they spent money on other DJs in between, but I probably put out about five or six other mixtapes before it came out—reggae, slow jams, old school. But the fans were like, ‘We want hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop.’ And also, I didn’t want to clash with S.

“Then, you gotta watch what’s being played. If Doo Wop and Clue and Ron got hot mixtapes on the streets and you got the same songs, you didn’t want to play them. You didn’t want to have the same songs.”

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Summer of ‘95 in NYC

“This happened to be a good time for DJs. ‘92-’96, definitely. Biggie—God rest his soul—he had New York in a frenzy. Anything Bad Boy had New York in a frenzy. Then we got introduced to Jay Z, and the rest is history. I happened to come up in a great era. And I can still play these records to this day, and I can still call a lot of these guys my friends. When they come up to Connecticut, they show me love.

“‘One More Chance (Remix)’ was definitely the song of the summer. And ‘Who Shot Ya’ before that. Man, New York was holding they nuts when those songs was coming on. [Laughs.]”

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Getting Exclusives

“In the mixtape game, it’s all about relationships. You gotta have that relationship with a producer, or a fellow DJ, and of course an A&R or promotion director at the record label. Back then, DJs were at the record labels all the time. We were up there 24/7 looking for that exclusive. And they know we was in the mixtape game, so they know what we was gonna do with it.

“I was very good friends with Clark Kent, and I think Clark gave me that Rakim song because he produced that. And he produced the ‘Players Anthem (Remix),’ so I think he gave me that off the strength of our relationship, like, ‘Blast it, blast it.’ Eventually I became the DJ for Ma$e, so I always had a great relationship with Bad Boy. Def Jam, Loud Records, all of them. The knew I was coming with a tape, and they’d be like, ‘I’m gonna hold this for Craig.’ And they’d tell me, ‘You’re the only one that got this,’ which I knew was a bunch of bullshit. [Laughs.]

“But I had those relationships. Funkmaster Flex had the Flip Squad at the time, and I had that relationship. I was in The Tunnel, and DJing at clubs downtown on the regular. So I always had nice industry relationships.”

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“Dead Wrong” Original Version

“You know what, I don’t think I realized what I had until years later. You never realize what you got until down the line. I just thought it was another B.I.G. song. I still play these records to this day, but you would never think that when I played it twenty years ago that it was the craziest record. Now Eminem done remixed it. But you never think about these records until later on. Who knew? I don’t remember who I got that from, and I damn sure don’t remember how I got it.”

Biggie and Tupac Live Freestyle

“I still have the test press record of that. I had that on vinyl. I was one of maybe twenty people that had a copy of that. Also, I used to work in Brooklyn, downtown at the Music Factory. So I would go to the West Indian side of Brooklyn and get my shit put on dubplates, so I could play shit at parties and at clubs when I was traveling. Because you couldn’t play cassettes at the clubs. But I had the test pressing of that.

“I thought every tape I was making was special. I felt I was up there with the Kid Capris, because he basically taught us how to put a hot tape together. Everything I did, I tried to put the best quality work out. The 4-track game wasn’t live yet, none of that. It was just straight two turntables and a microphone. And everytime I put out a mixtape, I felt it was my best work. And I felt I was up there with the great ones.”

Classic Material

“The songs on Sneekin’ Up On That Ass II—and Part 1—I still play to this day. That shows how much classic material went on those mixtapes. I still play ‘Players Anthem,’ the ‘Mary Jane (Remix)’ with LL Cool J, I still play that to this day. ‘Can’t You See’ with Total, the Mary J. and Smif-N-Wessun. If I’m in a ‘90s set, I might play ‘The Nod Factor.’ And of course, anything Wu-Tang, they’re always family to me.

“As for Side B, of course ‘Dead Wrong.’ Anything Mobb Deep is always love. Method Man and Redman, ‘Crooklyn Dodgers 2’ is good for a ‘90s set. Yeah, I still play 10 to 15 records off this tape alone.”

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Dubbing Tapes

“I was sending mine out at this time to get professionally done. I would send it out, get a couple thousand copies. But then I was doing my masters. I think I was making my masters on a metal cassette, then I’d take that one metal master and record it on a Sony double cassette recorder. But I had 25 of them. So it was making 50 at a time. I had a sweatshop going on in my crib. [Laughs.] They were all hooked up together, with one remote control. You’d push the record button and they’d all turn on and play at slow speed, because it was better for the quality to record at slow speed. Once they were done, you’d turn them all over, and do Side B. So I was doing 50 at a time every 90 minutes, because back then we were making 90 minute cassettes.”

Distribution

“In order to do successful business in the mixtape game, you had to make sure your stores were all lined up and in order waiting for you to drop your tapes. But then, you had to make sure your out-of-town stores were ready too.

“Let’s say you made your tape on a Sunday. You got your copies and your masters ready to go. You would ship out-of-town first, and give them a day or two to get it. When I say out of town, of course Connecticut. Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, all that area. Schenectady, New York was a big mixtape market. And further, to Syracuse, Toronto. Then you’d go south, and you would hit North Carolina, Virginia, all those. Virginia was one of my biggest markets. Huge! And that’s why I think I went down there so much doing a lot of college shows, because the mixtape game was so crazy down there.

“Once they got it, then you could put it out in New York City. And you had to cover all five boroughs at the same time, which was very hard. At the time, my manager Big June would cover Queens and Long Island. That was my right hand man, so I was fine with that. ‘That’s your bread, go make that bread.’ I had Brooklyn because I worked in Brooklyn, and I would handle the Bronx and Manhattan. We would get up first thing in the morning—drop, drop, drop, drop, drop—so everyone would get it the same day.

“If they all got it by 12, it would be hard for the bootleggers to bootleg your shit. Especially in New York City, because once the Africans got it, and the Chinese got a hold of it, them shits was all over the place—quick.”

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Favorite Tape Spots

“125th had Rock N Will’s, Stereo Palace, and closer to the West Side Highway you had Harlem Music Hut. And that was my family I grew up with. They always had my shit on blast, and I was doing a lot of units there.

“But then, you go to Brooklyn to where I was working downtown on Fulton Street—I’m working at Music Factory and you had Beat Street, so my shit was selling in both stores. Shout to my brothers Goldfinger, LS1 and DJ Culture, they worked in there and they were putting out mixtapes. But because I was working out there and doing clubs in Brooklyn, my shit sold out there also. When you hear Brooklyn, you think of Tony Touch, Evil Dee, and all these Brooklyn DJs. But I was standing my own with the Brooklyn DJs. I big them up, all the time.”

Working at the Music Factory in Brooklyn

“I met some amazing Chinese and Japanese DJs, because they knew that there was a mixtape DJ working at one of the biggest record stores in the city. So they would come see me directly, because they knew I was gonna give them the good shit. I wasn’t a salesman off the street trying to sell these dudes records. I was a DJ who knew the what the fuck I was talking about. I didn’t realize it at first, but these were some of the biggest battle DJs, and this and that.

“But then, when it came to mixtapes, I’m at the counter selling stuff. And they’d be like, ‘Yo Craig, what’s the hot shit?’ And I’d show them all the tapes, but they’d be like, ‘Fuck that, they want yours.’ So here I am grabbing my shit, which is sort of a conflict of interest. But hey, the customer said they wanted the Craig G shit.

“Biggie came in the store a couple times, and dropped off something real nice to me. But he also went and dropped it to Flex and Enuff and the other DJs in the city. So I wasn’t so exclusive with it. Back then, Biggie was alright, he was cool. But now he’s at that legendary status, one of the greatest to ever do it. So it’s like, ‘Oh shit, B.I.G. brought me something hand to hand.’”

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Conflicts with Artists

“I only had one issue in my whole mixtape career, and that was with Cormega. I had put a song on a mixtape, and Cormega wasn’t happy about it. I don’t remember the song, but it fucked up our relationship with each other. To this day, we haven’t spoke, but I haven’t seen him either. So I don’t know. But that was only one incident out of all the mixtapes I ever made.

“I think that song that I put on the mixtape—and I don’t remember where I got it from or how I got it—he wasn’t happy about it because I think he wanted to do something and move forward with it. I don’t think he wanted it out yet. But at the end of the day, I’m not the engineer, I’m not the producer, I’m not the A&R, I’m not the owner of the record label. If your shit gets bootlegged, and gets put out there, you need to check your team. Don’t come after the DJ, because the DJ’s just being the DJ. And that’s to this day. You need to check your team—the people that you’re paying. My job is to play what’s hot.”

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Fat Joe “Dedication” Shout Out – “Craig G, Forever Trying To Look Like Me”

“If you look at his early D.I.T.C. days, we look alike, straight up. When he had the Army fatigue suit on for ‘Flow Joe,’ we damn near had a resemblance. When I met Pun through him, Pun was like, ‘This the motherfucker that look like you!’ It’s just so crazy. I got shirt made that said, ‘I’m not Fat Joe, I’m not Big Pun, I’m DJ Craig G,’ and on the back it said, ‘Any questions?’ [Laughs.] I would wear that shirt faithfully because motherfuckers was getting me and Fat Joe and Big Pun mixed up. And the crazy thing is even after he died, people would be in the street like, ‘Oh shit, Big Pun!’ That was funny, but it was disrespect.

“But Joe is a good dude. When my son passed away, Joe made a great donation. Swizz Beatz made a great donation, French Montana—these guys that I call my friends made donations to my family. So I still got good relationships with these guys.”

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The Infamous… vs. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…

Cuban Linx, I think. Wu-Tang brought me and S&S a test press of ‘Protect Ya Neck’ at The Muse in downtown Manhattan, and I was a fan ever since. Me, S&S, and Bobby Konders was the DJs every Saturday night, and they brought that shit to us personally. We didn’t know who Wu-Tang was, and now I’m a Wu-Tang head to this day. Of course, I love the Mobb. But I think at that time, anything Wu-Tang was winning for me. There were big in a lot of the places I traveled. Like, Wu-Tang was big in Virginia, so I had to play them.”

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DJing in 2015

“I had to get more Internet savvy in order to survive in this game. The youth that are coming out to the clubs, they come out every week. My age demographic, they’ll come out once a month. I know I had to keep up with all the newest music, on all the blogs, and what’s poppin’. Then being on the radio, I gotta have that information, and be informative with it. You gotta see what’s trending, and what’s moving.”

This edition of Mixtape Memories is dedicated to CJ. RIP.

Follow DJ Craig G on Twitter and Instagram.

Photos via DJ Craig G, Discogs, Pushin’ Tapes, and the NahRight/Westcheddar archives. Shouts to the homie DJ Step One with the audio assist.

Previously:

Mixtape Memories: 10 Classic DJ Clue Mixtapes Released in 1995
Mixtape Memories with DJ Doo Wop
Mixtape Memories with DJ Ron G
Mixtape Memories: 20 Classic LOX Mixtape Cuts
Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic JR Writer Freestyles
Mixtape Memories: 15 Classic Cam’ron Mixtape Cuts
Mixtape Memories with DJ SNS
Mixtape Memories: 20 Classic Nas Mixtape Cuts
Mixtape Memories with DJ Whoo Kid (Part 1)
Mixtape Memories with DJ Whoo Kid (Part 2)
Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 1)
Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 2)
Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 1)
Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 2)
Mixtape Memories with Tony Touch
Mixtape Memories: 10 Classic Biggie Smalls Mixtape Cuts
Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic Kanye West Freestyles
Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic Redman Freestyles

Catch up on all previous NahRight features HERE.


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