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The Summer Of ’94 is a look back at one of the hottest summers in the history of pop culture. From OJ Simpson’s Bronco chase, the Rockets first championship, baseball going on strike and the music that was shaped around it. Here’s a retrospective look at the summer of 1994, starting with the first major remix that launched a superstar and made certain a then fledging Bad Boy label had planted its foot in the ground.

Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs needed a hit.

A year prior in 1993, he had been unceremoniously dumped from Uptown Records. He had fostered the careers of Mary J. Blige, Heavy D and Jodeci, delivering a new edge to R&B records with a bit of style and flash. Baseball jerseys, dancers, Puffy was a showman first and foremost. The ghosts of the CCNY basketball game almost three years prior still floated around his conscious but they were starting to fade.

When he ducked away from Uptown, prideful as any twenty-something making executive money in New York could be, he banked that his lone artist of significance, a rotund faced rapper with a steely glance and bit of a lazy eye would change things. Puff paraded Biggie Smalls around as an authentic street cat, a guy who’s placement on the Who’s The Man movie soundtrack with “Party & Bullshit” had earned him a bit of a buzz. 1994 came around and Biggie, now forced to call himself The Notorious B.I.G. had done well on remixes of Mary J. records, even the first B.I.G./Puff outing on the remix to Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby”. But a full fledged solo track of his own with major influence had eluded him. If Puff wanted to make Bad Boy a thing, he needed a track to solidify that the label meant something more than a vanity project of his hopes and dreams.

Enter Craig Mack.

Mack, by all extents looked cartoonish compared to his more rugged, heavy counterpart. The night he walked into the Hit Factory in New York with producer Easy Mo Bee & Puffy, he heard the track that would eventually become his biggest and most prophetic hit. And he dismissed it.

“‘This Mickey Mouse beat man…I don’t know what the fuck I’ma do on this.’” Mack is recalled as saying to Tone & Poke of the Trackmasters who were sitting in on the session. “Puff was jumping up and down kicking the walls like, ‘Nigga, if you don’t rhyme on this fucking record!’ He was going in.”

Mack, reluctantly recorded over the Easy Mo Bee creation. The track caught on once released to radio and found a home in NYC nightclubs, especially The Tunnel, hip-hop’s version of Studio 54. Puffy knew he had something, so he asked for Mack to come back and do a remix – one with The Notorious B.I.G. in mind.

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The elements of “Flava In Ya Ear” boil down to two major moments. First, there’s Puffy’s voice on the intro, clacking empty milk bottles and imitating The Warriors classic refrain, “come out to play”. Then there’s the screech, the signal for the earth to shatter and heads to begin nodding.

In one sixteen bar opening verse, Christopher Wallace became a star.

Much like the other man featured on the remix of the track Busta Rhymes with “Scenario” some three years prior, Wallace stole the show with a calm, direct flow and clear diction.

“Niggas is mad I get more butt than ashtrays/
Fuck a fair one I get my the fast way/
Ski-mask way, nigga ransom notes/
Far from handsome, but damn a nigga tote”

Wallace couldn’t contain himself. The verse leapt off the track, derided rappers who couldn’t do better than him, told them to get a job pushing boxes or even worse, become a hip-hop cop. The third to final line, “not from Houston but I Rap-A-Lot” may have been the first instance someone outside of the state of Texas knew what James Prince and company were doing on an independent level. All Craig Mack could do was follow it up with something just as witty. Never mind he wasn’t a sex symbol, he still said girls screamed when they saw him as if he were Keith Sweat.

“You won’t be around next year/
My raps too severe, kicking mad flavors in ya ear/”

Even if Rampage Da Last Boy Scout, friend of Busta Rhymes was considered the odd man out in terms of verses compared to LL Cool J’s “tongue kiss a piranha, electrocute-a-barracuda” nonsense, the third victor of “Flava In Ya Ear” happened to be Busta himself. His verse on the “Scenario” remix had all but determined that he was the star in Leaders Of The New School, here it was just solidified with animation and geeked up ferocity. The Dungeon Dragon had appeared once again.

The lasting legacy of “Flava In Ya Ear” is its video, a black and white beauty from Hype Williamswhere there’s few models, Puffy cradling his young son and plenty of characters jumping at the camera. Puffy quoted the East Coast, shouted out 1994 as if he and his crew were going to be the ones really keeping New York in a zone of dominance that clearly the West had occupied.

Mack didn’t have another hit as strong as “Flava In Ya Ear” and The Notorious B.I.G. had another ready in the wait in August in the lead up to his own debut album. The one where Puffy’s ear for noticable samples would in turn become his signature sound. But even if the Big Mack pairing didn’t bring Puffy multiple championships like the Big Three did, it put him in the game and made Bad Boy feel like the young Oklahoma City Thunder squad of 2010 – hungry, and not willing to let history determine who they should be.