The 1990s were full of new music, eccentric styles, and unforgettable TV shows - but out of all those, the '90s hip-hop stars who rose to fame continue to be one of the hottest topics of all. This decade was packed with big names like Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Dr. Dre, and more - all known for their poetic rhymes and unique beats. However, their public and private personas sometimes differed; these stories show what the rappers were like outside the studio.
While working with '90s hip-hop artists may have the reputation of being a difficult and demanding task, these firsthand accounts paint a different picture of what it was like being close to the stars.
- Photo: Tommy Boy / Warner Bros.
When rapper Coolio (real name Artis Leon Ivey Jr.) passed suddenly on September 28, 2022, friends and colleagues in the music industry expressed their shock and sadness. Actress Michelle Pfeiffer, who appeared with Coolio in the music video for her 1995 hit, Dangerous Minds, took to Instagram to share her own grief.
Writing that she was “heartbroken” to hear of his death, Pfeiffer gave major credit to the artist and his single, “Gangsta's Paradise,” for the film's success:
A life cut entirely too short. As some of you may know I was lucky enough to work with him on Dangerous Minds in 1995. He won a Grammy for his brilliant song on the soundtrack - which I think was the reason our film saw so much success. I remember him being nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear the song. Sending love and light to his family. Rest in Power, Artis Leon Ivey Jr.
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Having been with the rapper for more than two decades, Eminem's longtime music manager Paul Rosenberg can attest to his work ethic. Rosenburg dished on Slim Shady's career in a 2014 interview, describing Eminem as a hard worker:
He’s always been a studio rat. He goes hours at a clip without leaving the booth. When he’s determined and on a creative spark, there’s nothing else he’s focused on. That’s been the same since day one.
However, Eminem's ex-bodyguard Byron “Big Naz” Williams has a different opinion on the rapper. Williams once described himself as a “24-hour-a-day babysitter” to Eminem in his self-published book, Shady Bizzness: Life As Eminem's Bodyguard In An Industry Of Paper Gangsters.
Lil' Kim and New York City rapper DreamDoll worked together for the first time on DreamDoll's song "Funeral" from her 2018 album Life in Plastic 2. In an interview on radio station Hot 107.9, DreamDoll opened up about how much it meant to have Lil' Kim collaborate with her:
My mom was crying. [Lil' Kim] don’t collab with a lot of artists like that. So it was a big deal for her to believe in me 'cause that was my second mixtape; it wasn’t like an album or I had a big engine behind me. It was her believing in me and actually doing it.
Charis Henry was just 18 years old when she became Eazy-E's assistant. She worked closely with the late rapper (real name Eric Wright) for seven years, and in that time she noted who and what were important to him. In an interview with Billboard, Henry reflected on her time with Eazy-E:
The day of that [“Express Yourself”] video shoot - it was a two-day shoot - I was just around, and [Eric] had two beepers, and he would only answer one. He said, “One is for my office; one is for my friends and family.” But he wouldn’t answer his office beeper.
After a quick audition for Missy Elliott's 2002 music video for her song Work It, Alyson Stoner quickly landed the part of a back-up dancer. The then 9-year-old remembers hundreds of kids at the audition, and it feeling surreal to hear she was hired.
Stoner reflected on her time with Elliott in a 2017 interview with Vibe, discussing how the singer truly cared about the children she worked with:
I would have never expected to work with her for that long. There were times we considered going on tour with her, and Missy and her camp just simply said, "A tour is not a good environment for kids, and we don’t want them around it." People would probably have loved to see us go off!
Now, a generation later, it’s a little more common, but at that time, it would have been us on stage with Eminem, and 50 [Cent] and these other people. Missy said, “Nah, not for the little ones.” She was thinking about our well-being the whole time, and that’s really great.
During a 2020 appearance on Naomi Campbell's radio talk show, No Filter with Naomi, R&B legend Mary J. Blige discussed what it was like to work with Biggie Smalls on their track together, "What's the 411?" Blige remembers how reserved and sweet Biggie was:
He was sweet and fun... funny jokes. When I first met Biggie, we were doing "What’s the 411" remix, and he was in the studio on the wall, smoking, quiet. And so it was time for him to go in and do his verse on the remix... he came out [of the studio] and he was like "You feeling that, mom?" And I was like "Yeah! Of course I’m feeling that!” ...so he was always just humble, and quiet, and sweet. And fun, just a lot of fun.