Craig Mack, the Long Island rapper who found fame on Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records in the mid-1990s, has died at age 46, his producer confirmed to the Daily News.
Mack — who launched to hip-hop acclaim with the platinum hit “Flava in Ya Ear” in 1994 before being overshadowed by fellow artists such as the Notorious B.I.G. — died of heart failure at a hospital near his Walterboro, S.C., home Monday.
“God bless my friend. He was a good friend of mine,” said Alvin Toney, who produced Mack’s debut album “Project: Funk Da World” and his “Get Down Remix.”
Toney saw his dear friend a final time last week.
He visited the former emcee at the Overcomer Ministry church he attends in Walterboro to film a documentary about Mack, and his decision to pass on fame for a life of deep religious conviction.
“Nobody got to understand his story,” Toney said. “I wanted the world to know the talent he had. It was something I wanted people to enjoy, but it was cut short because he was very religious and wanted to go to church.”
Tony said Mack told him during his visit that he had been ill for some time and knew he wouldn’t live long.
“He was prepared for whatever comes, to go home to the Lord,” Toney said. “He was prepared to do that. He wasn’t scared. He was ready.”
Mack is survived by his wife and two children, both adults, Toney said.
As a boy, the Suffolk County native dreamed of making it big like LL Cool J and Run DMC, according to a New York Times profile of Mack. He began penning his own lyrics at age 12.
Mack’s career shined bright with the help of Diddy, then known under the pseudonym Puffy.
The Bad Boy Entertainment founder met the aspiring artist at the Manhattan club Mecca and promised to sign him if he could freestyle to Mary J. Blige. Mack did not disappoint.
Soon, Mack’s star-studded hit, “Flava In Ya Ear,” was born. The song went on to earn a Grammy nomination for best rap solo but lost to Queen Latifah’s “Latifah’s Had it Up 2 Here.”
A remix to the song featured Diddy’s other up-and-coming stars, including Brooklyn-born rapper Christopher Wallace, known as Biggie Smalls or the Notorious B.I.G. — who was largely responsible for bringing the record label to fame with his hit 1994 album “Ready to Die.”
At the time, Diddy declared both Biggie Smalls and Mack the foundation of Bad Boy Entertainment.
“This is my life here,” Diddy said, gesturing to Mack and Biggie Smalls during an interview with MTV Raps. “We all need each other to live and breathe. That’s the way we treat each other.”
Mack departed the label in 1995, hoping to strike out on his own, but further fame eluded him.
He released “Operation: Get Down,” in 1997 under the Volcano Entertainment label, but it failed to produce a hit single.
Mack appeared in the music video for Diddy’s 2002 hit “I Need a Girl Part 1,” but he was missing when Diddy reunited his Bad Boy crew for the 2015 BET Awards, having disappeared from the limelight to pursue his faith at a troubled South Carolina church.
A bizarre 2012 video of the church’s self-proclaimed prophet, Ralph Gordon Stair, shows the world the famed rapper was still around — and in his congregation.
“Craig Mack is dead. We have somebody who used to be Craig Mack. He didn’t join anything. God joined him,” said Stair, who was arrested on sexual assault charges in December 2017.
Stair gave the man, who identified himself as Mack, the chance to speak for himself.
“What did you used to do,” the broadcast preacher asked.
“Wickedness,” Mack said.
“And what are you doing now,” Stair continued.
“Righteousness,” Mack replied before bouncing up and down with his hands in the air.
In a later video, Mack could be seen picking up the microphone to freestyle.
A congregant who left Stair’s church after the Christian preacher was busted due to years of mounting rape and molestation accusations, said Mack attended the house of worship up until his death.
The former parishioner, who asked to not be identified, told The News that Mack “identified with the church and was associated with it,” but did not live in its rural compound believed to be home to dozens of followers.
Diddy paid tribute to Mack on Tuesday with a statement remembering his former colleague.
“Craig Mack, you were the first artist to release music on Bad Boy and gave us our first hit,” he began. “You always followed your heart and you had an energy that was out of this world. You believed in me and you believed in Bad Boy. I will never forget what you did for hip-hop. You inspired me, and I will continue to try to keep inspiring others. We will always love you.”
Many other hip hop stars honored Mack as well, including LL Cool J, who was featured on a popular remix of “Flava In Ya Ear.”
“Rest in power Craig,” he tweeted. “May the almighty embrace your soul & lift up your family and friends. it was a pleasure to know you & rock with you. You $tepped away from the game & did it your way.. I always respected that.”
Hot 97 DJ Funkmaster Flex, who shared Mack’s hits on the NYC station, wrote on Instagram, “Rest In Peace! Good brother.”
And “Just A Friend” rapper Biz Markie, who, like Mack, got his start on Long Island, also paid homage.
“R.I.P TO MY MAIN MAN CRAIG MACK ANOTHER GREAT ONE GONE,” he wrote on Instagram.