The Making of “I Got a Story to Tell”

David Ma speaks to producer Buckwild about meeting Biggie Smalls and working on one of his most beloved songs together.
By    August 26, 2020

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David Ma wrote this while parked next to a fire hydrant.

Known as Buckwild, Anthony Best came at a time when D.I.T.C. had monster beatsmiths within their crew—Lord Finesse, Showbiz, Diamond D, respectively. He soaked up immense know-how under their tutelage and went from mixtape DJ to producer, eventually amassing hall-of-fame beats of his own. Whether it was for Bad Boy, underground elites, or crew mates, Buck made songs with lasting influence still seen today. However, these days, he’s rather low-key about his triumphs. “I’ve always really just wanted to do my best,” he says. “When I started, I didn’t have the money to get all the expensive samples other producers could afford. So I made everything I could from cheap records.”

Buck cites Large Professor and Pete Rock as idols he looked up to, masters who came about slightly before he did. He remembers the impact that Illmatic had, not about Nas or the advancement of lyricism, but on the production side, and how everyone’s expectations shifted thereafter. “No one want to work with just one producer anymore. They wanted a super team of guys because they saw what happened on Illmatic,” he laughs. While Illmatic wasn’t the first release to have multiple producers, it signaled a sea change of assumptions in terms of one producer versus a dream team.

Working mostly solo proved to be a blessing, allowing him to be untethered, a hired gun for whomever. Having Big L and Fat Joe in your crew as practice didn’t hurt either. He hugely credits crew mates Lord Finesse and Diamond D, specifically, for his early strides as a producer. In a blink of ten years, Buck went from sampling dollar bin records to working with Faith Evans, Big Pun, and Jay-Z. He finally got to produce for Nas as well, 2004’s “These Are Our Heroes.” Buck’s beats and various remixes can lay claim as some of the best ever, brute classics like “Stress” for Organized Konfusion or “Times Up” for O.C. He also did “Whoa!” which proved to be a hit for Black Rob in 2000, and later worked with The Game and 50 Cent, too. So many more.

Chief among these stunning one-offs is Biggie’s “I Got A Story To Tell,” the memorably rich-in-detail cut from Life After Death. A baleful story where Biggie lords over snappy Al Green drums and a gorgeous mandolin sample. “After it was recorded, mad people would pop in the studio and tell us that it was their favorite joint off the record,” remembers Buck. And he’s right; all these years later, it’s decidedly one of the album’s key moments, so perfectly minimal it added a sense of calm and unease to the sequencing. The ending dialogue segment feels like you’re in the room. Despite the pen name, Buck’s demeanor has always been calmly consistent, not unlike his career of almost 30 years. Here, we recall his time with Biggie and what went into their enduring collaboration.

How did you and Biggie meet?

Buckwild: I met Biggie through Lord Finesse. Finesse brought everyone around at the time and he knew everyone in the industry, so everything was all through him. He knew Biggie before Biggie was even Biggie. So when Biggie was working on his upcoming joint, he apparently told Finesse: “Yo, let me get some beats from your man Buck.” So Finesse literally made a three-way call with me, him, and Biggie and we exchanged info and that was the start of our working relationship right there.

Tell us how Biggie was in the studio. What memories come to mind first?

Buckwild: He’s very professional but always joking still and very relaxed. What I remember most is that I could feel he had so much talent, early on too. It was an amount that no one could touch. I remember we’d just have crazy fun in the studio together. Biggie wasn’t such a serious person around people he was cool with. He cracked a lot of jokes. We’d smoke and laugh a lot at his crib, I remember that most. He was funny with a remarkable personality. I think people who can rap tend to have big personalities and have something in them to communicate well. Actually, Big L was the same way to me.

Tell us about the working process and anything else you might remember about how the song went down.

Buckwild: Well that’s a funny story because we had been talking about the song for awhile, but we were both talking about different beats. I had showed him some stuff I was playing around with for The Lox and I originally thought he wanted one of those. We got it figured out and he called and was like, “Yo I want this one right here. Watch what I do to it.” That’s what he told me. He was fresh off an accident and was injured for a minute. So he would go to the studio and be in there all night, until 3 in the morning. People never even knew he was in there.

What was it like when you heard what Big had done?

Buckwild: One day, I came to the studio just on the humble, just chillin, nothing too work related. But, I show up and everyone’s talking about the record! “Yo Biggie spit some crazy shit!” I was like, “When did he do that?’’ I was still waiting for his call to tell me to link up so we can finish it! I remember Puff coming by and telling us that this was the craziest joint on the record. Like I said, a lot of people were telling us that.

Was Diddy around during the process?

Buckwild: Diddy would be there when we were mixing things down and he’d have his guys with him and everything. I even tried a lot things to make the beat even better but Puff was like, “Nah, if there’s anything else we’ll take care of it.” I remember asking Diddy if he can get people to play the sampled parts, it might’ve been better. But he refused because he liked it so much the way it was. So the end product was pretty much how you hear it today.

What comes to mind now when you think of the song?

Buckwild: I know that in my career I might not have had the biggest records, but I have shit that stands the test of time.

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