Some people still call Sean Combs “Puff.” For some it’s just out of habit. Others have earned the right. One such man, Tony Dofat, is the latter.
The Grammy Award winning producer was a hit man before there were The Hitmen, taking Diddy’s vision and making it a reality.
A few weeks ago I spoke with him for a tribute to his late friend Heavy D and in sharing the story of their come up together revealed more about himself than I could ever imagine. I’ve been a fan since I heard Hev drop his name on “Who’s The Man,” but there was a lot that I still didn’t know about this unsung Hip-Hop production giant. Walk with me.
Nodfactor: When did you get your start in music?
Tony Dofat: I got my start in 1991 or 92. I worked a project called Rough House Survivors, a group that I got signed to Relativity. I was just a young producer making beats.
What did you start out making beats with?
I started with the Korg DDD 5 and then I went to the MPC-60. I play keyboards and trumpet. That’s when I got into music, when I met Hev. When I got older I started getting into making music. When I saw Teddy Riley come out that’s when I got interested in making beats. I was heavily Teddy Riley influenced.
So during that same process [with Rough House Survivors] I linked up with Puff around the same time. I was just making beats and we were both from Mt. Vernon and my next door neighbor was a guy that worked at Uptown Records, Butt Naked Tim Dog. That was my neighbor and he knew I was making beats, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just knew I loved making beats.
At the time I gave him a cassette with a bunch of beats. During that same time I was doing demos for people. One of the artists I did demos for was DMX. He was signed to my production company originally. I got him in the Unsigned Hype in The Source. Did ten or fifteen songs for him back then. Case was another one signed to me at the time, as well as Rough House Survivors. I had an ear and eye for talent but I didn’t know what to do with it. So eventually a year or two later I let DMX and Case go because I couldn’t get them a deal. I didn’t have that business sense. When I got Rough House the deal with Relativity Puff and I started joining forces. Tim Dog said Puff was looking for a partner to produce with him. At the time I was like 20 years old and had nothing to lose. Tim came back and said Puff wants to link up, come over and start making beats with you. So I was producing Rough House as I started working with Puff. He heard some beats and said ‘I like your sound. We can link up and do this new sound where you mix the hip-hop with your keys and make this new sound. ‘
Then he said we got this project with this girl signed to the label and Andre is giving me a shot to work on the project, her name is Mary J. Blige. We’re gonna work on her. So we were at the studio in the bronx and then he called up one of his friends to bring over a record to sample for an idea we had. The guy comes in the door, we chill, I sampled some of the drums and gave it back to him. That guy was Funkmaster Flex. We all started out together.
The song I sampled was Public Enemy’s “Public Enemy #1”. I sampled the kick and the snare for Mary J. Blige’s “You Remind Me” remix that was my first release. I finished RHS but it didn’t come out until after the Mary J. Blige. i did that song in a day and it came out the next day. We put the beat down and Puff said he was booking studio time at the Hit Factory. The next day that was my first time in a major studio. It happened so fast. We were at The Hit Factory on 54th st. loaded up the MPC, the drums were in there. I messed with the pattern a bit. Mary came in, I laid the beat down and then we did some keyboards and Mary resang the vocals. Then Puff called Greg Nice in. And it was so weird because he was the only one that was out at the time. I got more excited over Greg Nice and I’m in the studio with Mary J. Blige. He did his part and after that we were just in the studio, we didn’t now what we were doing but we got behind the boards and it was magic. Tony Maseratti was the engineer. I started with the best. I had no idea all these people around me would become so successful. We did the “You Remind Me” remix and the next day it was on the radio. That song blew up and I finished the Rough House album.
The funny thing about it is that the needle was broke on my turntable, so I had to borrow one. The guy I borrowed it from was Puff’s roommate Mark Pitts. I never gave that needle back. I saw him at The Grammy’s a few years ago and he said “Dofat where my needle at?”
[After that] Puff said let’s do another one for the album. The album is done but we got some more slots. He took the beat for What’s the 411?, that was one of the last songs we did for the album.
After that Andre Harrell was saying everyone likes your stuff and he started giving Puff more free reign to do what he wanted. So we said let’s remix the whole record. So we went in the studio everyday doing remixes. People loved the sound of what we were doing. We ended up doing a Jodeci remix…
Then I ended up doing Christopher Williams original production “Lets’ Get Right” on Changes [and songs for] Father MC. After we did the Uptown production every on the outside was hitting us up for production. So we started remixing everybody. From Keith Sweat to you name it.
For Christopher Williams Puff said we’re going to L.A. and that was my first time flying to LA. We’re in the studio and I’m making a beat from scratch. During this time I didn’t have to submit beats (anymore) because Puff already knew what I could do. I did this Christopher Williams beat and Vincent Herbert came in the studio and said “I got this girl from Jersey, her name is Faith. Yo she sings.” He brought her by the studio and she sang for us. We asked her if she could do something for the Christopher Williams records and she said yeah. She went into the booth after I did the beat she sang on it. We said she sounded hot. That was her first time in the booth and we were like, we gonna keep that. Puff ended up signing her and she became a super star.