Craig Mack, the rapper whose “Flava in Ya Ear,” one of the most important rap songs of the 1990s, helped build the foundation for Bad Boy Records, one of hip-hop’s most influential labels, died Monday at his home in Walterboro, South Carolina. He was 47.
Mack, who rapped under his given name, was born in the Bronx on May 10, 1970, and raised on Long Island. He began rapping as a teenager under the name MC EZ and released one single in 1988, “Just Rhymin'” backed with “Get Retarded,” as part of MC EZ & Troup.
At the time, Long Island was a burgeoning hip-hop talent center, home to Rakim, De La Soul and the duo EPMD. Mack was friends with EPMD and eventually went on tour with them, doing odd jobs. He helped their DJ, DJ Scratch, assemble and disassemble his turntables at shows.
After a few years without forward movement in his recording career, Mack took advantage of an opportunity to rap for Sean Combs, then known as Puff Daddy, outside the New York nightclub Mecca, and secured a record deal with Combs’ label, Bad Boy.
Mack was the first rapper to release music on Bad Boy, which would become one of the definitive New York rap labels of the 1990s and the foundation of a multiplatform empire for Combs.
There was no one who sounded like Mack; he rapped in a bellowing, woozy slur that took on unusual shapes, like a record moving from one speed to another. “Flava in Ya Ear,” produced by Easy Mo Bee, was a potent, wobbly funk vamp, and Mack cavorted atop it with a string of non sequitur boasts and insults: “You’re crazy like that glue/To think that you could outdo my one-two/That’s sick like the flu.”
“Flava in Ya Ear” went to No. 1 on the Billboard rap songs chart and No.9 on the Hot 100. It was also named single of the year at the 1995 Source Awards and nominated for a 1995 Grammy in the best rap solo performance category. It was the lead single from Mack’s strong debut album, “Project: Funk Da World.”
It was to be his only Bad Boy album. It was released a week after the Notorious B.I.G.'s “Ready to Die,” also on Bad Boy, which became one of the most important hip-hop albums of all time. In the months leading up to the releases, Combs sometimes marketed the two artists together with a fast-food-themed promotion campaign: “B.I.G. Mack.”
The Notorious B.I.G. also appeared on the remix of “Flava in Ya Ear,” one of the essential remixes of the 1990s, with a stark black-and-white music video — an early high-profile production by director Hype Williams — that was an arresting, mature shift in tone for the genre.
The long shadow of the Notorious B.I.G. proved difficult to escape, and Mack parted ways with Bad Boy. In 1997 he released a little-heard second album, “Operation: Get Down.”
On occasion, Mack would reappear on Bad Boy projects — a quick cameo in the video for Combs’ “I Need a Girl (Part One),” a torrid verse on the remix of G. Dep’s “Special Delivery.”
He continued recording music under his own Mack World Records imprint, two collections of which were eventually released: “Operation Why2K?” in 2012 and “The Mack World Sessions” last year. He had lately been working on music with producer Erick Sermon of EPMD.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
In recent years, another calling brought Mack to Walterboro, a city of about 5,000 in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Fervently religious, he became a follower of the Overcomer Ministry. (Its leader, Ralph G. Stair, was arrested on several charges last year, including criminal sexual misconduct.)
In a video posted on YouTube in 2016, Mack is seen giving testimony at a service while Stair grips him. Without musical accompaniment and with parishioners urging him on, Mack raps, “See, praising the Lord’s easy for me/Craig Mack’s right where he’s supposed to be.” He continues:
If I stayed in New York, it’s just another tragedy
So God cleaned me up, while y’all were still raggedy
Sore as a cavity, depravity, you’re facing calamity
Your ego on a high like we ain’t got gravity
Your majesty, please forgive
This world gives you death, but I wanna live
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.