(Photo: Rap-a-Lot Records)
When Scarface released his third studio album, The Diary, few could have predicted the extent to which it would reshape the sonic landscape of the South. From the eerie instrumentals to Face’s one of a kind inflections, the 13-track opus was regarded by most critics and fans as the perfect album.
While Scarface has carved out his place in hip hop lore, another man who played a pivotal role in lacing The Diary with a groundbreaking sound is N.O. Joe, who produced many of the album's most memorable hits, including "I Seen A Man Die," "No Tears In The End" and the Ice Cube- and Devin The Dude-assisted "Hand of the Dead Body."
In an exclusive conversation with BET.com, Joe spoke about the making of the seminal LP and why 20 years later it continues to stand as a benchmark for the South.
BET.com: First off, when you were making The Diary did you know that it would have such a seismic impact on hip hop?
N.O. Joe: I never knew it was gonna be that big. That was during the time that Rap-A-Lot [Records] transitioned from Priority Records to Virgin and they were stoked about really putting something behind the project, so I was thinking this could be something big. Prior to that I did most of Scarface's second album, The World Is Yours, and they let me experiment with live instrumentation. But they really gave me a chance to shine on The Diary. We went to digital services, which is a bigger studio, and they let me do a lot of live music on the record and that’s what really set it off. I ate, slept… everything with that record. It was a great experience.
At that time the East and West Coast were carving out their own signature sounds. Were you influenced at all by what was coming out around that time?
N.O. Joe: Absolutely. The West Coast and the East Coast. The way I constructed the album as a producer, coming from the East Coast, if you ever noticed the drums, there were no 808 snares, hihats, none of that stuff. I wanted to take part of the East Coast drums, like the real drums. Actually, the drums came from The Meters, a local band out of New Orleans from back in the '70s. That was the basis of that album—so the drums on The Diary were real drums and I had a little 808 bottom to it but not as much, just like in New York, so you could hear the music, so you could hear the bass line, you heard a little of the bottom to give you that southern feel. The core structure was the soul of the music and the organs that I used. And from the West Coast, it was kind of a chill vibe over the top of it, like some lead lines and stuff like that. So it was a combination of everything, the South, the East, the West—and a little Midwest in there as well.
You had worked with Face prior to that, did you notice anything different with him when it came to recording The Diary?
Face was always looking for that next thing and the competition they had out there was fierce. But Face was the kind of guy where he always wanted to take it to the next level [and] I think it really started with "I Seen A Man Die." We went in and when he vocalized the song, in the beginning, he had a certain tone to it, but I was like, "Yo, man, you need to say that s--t like a preacher," and that kind of defined that whole sound. From there he just took it to a whole other level and that became his signature sound.
On many of Scarface’s projects he has a number of producer credits, but sometimes those credits can be sort of ambiguous. How hands-on was he when it came to the music?
He was always hands-on with all of his projects because he knew what he wanted to hear. I think when he brought me in it was kind of a release because on his previous records, with the Geto Boys, he shaped a lot of that stuff, along with the previous producer. When I came in he was more relaxed. Now he would come in and play a little bass line here or maybe change a guitar up. I would say I was always an open type of producer. If he picked up a guitar –– 'cause he played the guitar and bass –– and do something on the guitar that was hot, I’d be like, "Yo that’s dope. Let’s loop that." So he was involved in pretty much all of his records, so you can say he was a producer. As far as programming and putting everything together, he knows what he wants on there musically and mainly what he wants to say on a song.
In your own words what is the legacy of The Diary 20 years later?
The Diary was the beginning of great music in the South that was accepted across the board.
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