Not everyone can break through the glass ceiling. For every transcendent star that sets the world alight, there’s a whole graduating class of aspiring artists they’d once shared mics with that find themselves left in the dust. At a time when New York hip-hop scrambled to meet the rising tide of west coast gangsta rap, the east coast of the mid-to-late 90’s was bustling with talent that were happy to pool their resources and act for the betterment of the genre’s birthplace. Leading the way for the empire state, Bad Boy & Rocafella Records would grow from humble beginnings to become twinned powers and were unified by the close-knit ties between their two flagship stars, Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G.
Repping Bed Stuy and Marcy respectively, these Brooklynites became the two defining voices of the time. But even though the dust has settled and Big has been gone for 23 years, there are those who still have grievances to air from that whirlwind of an era. In the wake of Diddy’s speech at the 2020 Grammy’s that placed an onus on providing an “even playing field” for black artists, one dissenting voice from his past couldn’t help but point out the apparent hypocrisy.
Sauce Money at Jay-Z concert, 2006 – Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
“Just watched Diddy Icon acceptance speech at the Recording Academy and I can honestly say I respect the message, just not coming from him,” proclaimed BK veteran Sauce Money on Instagram. “He practices the same backdoor politics against his own people.” Not content to stop there, the tenured MC broadened his scope to issue a stark warning to both Sean Love Combs and Hov himself, stating “Him and his friend Jay-Z. If the Grammys are on the clock, then ya’ll are too!”
Without prior knowledge of Sauce Money’s legacy, this could be chalked up to nothing more than a disgruntled older rapper sniping at an icon a la Lord Jamar. But if anyone is qualified to speak on the ecosystem of 90’s east coast hip-hop and beyond, it’s Sauce. From 1991 onwards, Marcy Projects’ Todd Gaither has carved out what could appear to be a relatively innocuous career. Always in the relay team but never the frontrunner, his decision to lay low for much of the past decade has downplayed how indispensable he was at certain points in the journeys of more commercially and critically-esteemed artists.
Like Sean Carter, whom he first met at the age of 13, Sauce Money was initially thrust into the spotlight by way of an endorsement from the legendary Big Daddy Kane. Armed with a commanding rasp that bear similarities to that of Raekwon, Daddy’s Home single “Show & Prove” was an intergenerational endeavour from Sauce’s then-manager that gave him, Hov, Shyheim, Big Scoob and the Wu’s Ol Dirty Bastard a chance to shine.
After spitting his first ever verse in front of Jay, the two rappers/hustlers were doing their utmost to get their presence felt but, as he informed DJ Vlad, noone could “see the vision.” Fast-forward to two years later and Jay had grown weary of waiting for the industry’s green light and facilitated his own come-up on his classic debut album Reasonable Doubt. Laden with quotable bars and a typically timeless Preemo beat, Sauce’s lyrically astounding performance on “Bring It On” remains one of the keystones of his legacy to this very day. That said, the track’s hallowed status doesn’t mean that there’s any love lost between him and Jaz.
“He’s a piece of shit,” he declared in 2012. “Without getting too much into it, he’s a twofaced kind of n***a. He’ll backbite with you about a n***a then we get with the n***a, he’ll do the same.” Unsurprisingly, Jaz-O was aggravated by Sauce’s remarks and has since vowed to “punch him in the face” for this sleight and other comments he’s made over the years.
Across Jay’s next two projects— In My Lifetime Vol 1 & Vol 2… Hard Knock Life, the always welcome Sauce Money guest spot would become a recurring trope on “Face Off” and the Erick Sermon-produced “Reservoir Dogs.” Capable of wizardry with the pen, it was this reputation for conjugating stunning verses that granted Sauce a platinum opportunity. Despite it being one of the most solemn moments for his borough and hip-hop culture at large, Sauce’s most commercially successful offering came when he was drafted in to write Puff Daddy’s verses for the Grammy-winning “I’ll be Missing You.”
“It was going to be difficult at that time to open up and eulogize a good friend,” Sauce told Genius in 2016. “For whatever reason, he [Hov] reached out to me and said ‘I’m going to introduce you to Puff.’ I remember going to the studio and sitting down with him, I didn’t know which record it was at the time.” With Puff historically comfortable with the checks but less adept at the rhymes, Sauce’s name is found on the official credits as opposed to being enlisted as a ghostwriter.
“It was bittersweet,” he continued. “I’m still affected by Big’s death but having the chance to participate in something like this. It was an honour. He just wanted to capture some of the things they did, the conversations they had…I made sure that I walked him through it and got as close to the rhythms as he could. He did a great job.”
Memphis Bleek and Jay-Z on the red carpet of a movie premiere, 2000 – SGranitz/WireImage/Getty Images
Although Jay had been instrumental in presenting him to Puff and mainstream audiences alike, Sauce Money wasn’t part of the Roc-A-Fella dynasty in the official capacity that Beans or Memphis Bleek would be. Operating under the tutelage of former Orlando Magic player Dennis Scott, an appearance on the Combat Jack Radio Show saw Sauce reveal that he’d actually been an offered a deal with Atlantic when Jay was still getting rebuffed by the majors. Opting to sign to MCA Records but still informally linked to the ROC camp, Sauce’s next few years would be fraught with roadblock after roadblock. Yet for all that they’d styled themselves as an everlasting monarchy in hip-hop that’d span generations, there was one MC from Marcy that had always detected impermanence.
“I was gone early, but from the time that I was there, I didn’t see how it could last,” Sauce told ForbezDVD. “If nothing else, just for a business move on Jay’s behalf because it’s like ‘ok, we’ve reached a certain plateau.’ Jay’s a very ambitious person and it’s only right that he should be able to eat totally off himself and not break up his money three ways. ‘Cause at the end of the day, he’s the one that’s carrying the shit.”
No matter how structurally unsound Roc-A-Fella was by the turn of the millennium, Sauce was flagging too. As his record deal unravelled, Sauce Money set a course for pastures new. However, it proved to be too little too late for his debut project Middle Finger U.
Armed with two Hov features in the form of the brooding “Pregame” and “Face Off 2000” his long-awaited studio project arrived in November 1999. Helmed by an all-star assembly of producers that featured Juice Crew progenitor Marley Marl, DJ Clark Kent and DJ Premier, the album’s title track caused unexpected friction with another legendary New York artist in Big Pun. Complete with the line “Did you hear? I’m the fattest, nicest n***a you know,” Punisher and the Terror Squad had misinterpreted the line as a diss and as a result, DJ Whoo Kid’s placement of the track led to him having an uzi pulled on him by the late Puerto Rican in Harlem.
His lyrical skill notwithstanding, Sauce is candid about the album delays and how they’d diminished the cultural relevance that it may have had otherwise. “I was having problems with MCA, so I moved the project to Priority. Like I said, it was two years late. There was a lot of other things that went into that situation that I won’t mention,” Sauce told Vlad TV. “The timing was bad, some of the material was a little dated to me. Even though I did have some good songs on it, the timing of it, the separation, everything played a part in that. It was impossible for it to do anything good.”
Left deflated by the middling response, Sauce would turn his attention towards his lucrative ghost-writing business, penning plenty “songs you love” but keeping discretion as to for who. But over the past year, a new, more embittered side of Sauce Money has begun to seep out into the public eye. In March of last year, the Brooklyn MC emerged from his self-imposed hiatus and with a renewed fire in his belly. Implored to act due to the “sucker shit” that Diddy had allegedly been partaking in, Sauce unveiled a diss track that took Puff to task in eloquent but foreboding fashion. As well as claiming that he’d kept “my mouth shut, but I guess it wasn’t good enough,” Sauce issued a stern warning to the Bad Boy CEO that didn’t skimp on intensity.
“Should’ve flamed your ass in ’06/Did the drugs make you forget, who it was who wrote your biggest hit,” Sauce spits on the track. “N***a my pen the reason you the shit, you are crossing a thin line about 10 times/Shorten my bag, now I gotta go in mines with you in mind.”
Promising that’ll “only get worse from here” as the beat tapers off, there’s every possibility that his comments about Diddy’s Grammy’s speech could be the overture to another diss track that he’s been sitting on for a rainy day. However, what’s even more uncharacteristic about his most recent outburst is the fact that his long-time friend Jay-Z wasn’t merely caught in the crossfire, but was an active target. Adamant that Jay actively “toned it down” for mainstream listeners and had a “disgusting flow” from his earliest years, Sauce and Hov’s relationship has had its fair share of tumultuous moments but it’s nothing that their bond couldn’t overcome.
Diddy and Biggie performing, 1995 – Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
“We family,” he assured Vlad in March 2019. “I’m not gonna make diss records and put them on the internet, that’s corny to me. Me and Jay don’t always get along. We bump heads y’know? But if I have an issue or he has an issue, we talk to each other.” So, when he held this opinion just 9 short months ago, what’s caused this change in tact that’s made Sauce Money willing to admonish his brother before the world’s prying eyes?
Well, if we can get speculative for a minute, it’s hard not to take notice of the close proximity between Sauce’s first barb that’s been directed in the way of the Roc Nation president and the release of his adversary Jaz-O’s first single on the label just one day prior. Formerly content to operate behind-the-scenes, all signs point to Sauce Money harbouring a renewed desire to take his rightful spot in New York’s hip-hop mythology. Or at the very least, root out falsehoods in hip-hop. Now rallying against the same music industry inner-workings that had extinguished his chances to be a star in his own right, it’s safe to say that this won’t be the last we hear from the Marcy Projects veteran in 2020.