Given that the anniversary of his death was just a few days ago (March 9th), I figured it would only be appropriate to review The Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album, Ready To Die, widely considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop records of all-time from an artist who is widely considered to be one of the greatest rappers of all-time.
Along with rappers such as Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie helped revive the east coast rap scene in the mid 90s. Ready To Die's first single, "Juicy," took the hip-hop world by storm when it dropped in 1994, and from that point on, no one could wait to see what B.I.G. would do next. He did not disappoint, either, as his first LP was full of hit songs and flat-out sick tracks.
The Notorious B.I.G. began his rapping career after being released from prison in 1990. He put out a demo tape that garnered significant attention from notable people in the industry, and shortly after, he would hook up with Sean Combs, more popularly known (at that time, anyway) as Puff Daddy. Puffy then invented Bad Boy Records, and the blueprint for Ready To Die was laid out.
The anticipated album dropped in September of '94 to critical acclaim and exorbitant sales. Backed by "Juicy" and other singles such as "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance," Ready To Die was a smashing success on all fronts, and a long, promising career for Biggie looked imminent.
Of course, B.I.G. would proceed to complete only one more album (Life After Death) before his tragic murder in 1997. However, what he gave to hip-hop still resonates today, and it will never fail to keep doing so.
The fact that it's three-and-a-half minutes long might trick you into thinking this is an actual song, but it isn't. Next.
2. Things Done Changed
The first actual song features a heavily jazz-influenced beat by Fabian Hamilton, and The Notorious B.I.G. sounds very comfortable rapping over it. This track isn't anything spectacular, but make no mistake; it's still pretty solid, and a nice way to kick things off.
3. Gimme The Loot
I love the way Biggie goes back and forth in terms of the pitch of his voice on this cut, and the instrumental by Easy Mo Bee bangs something unbelievable. You will also see on this track why many feel that B.I.G. has the best flow of all-time. "Gimme The Loot" is certainly one of Ready To Die's strongest records.
4. Machine Gun Funk
"Machine Gun Funk" represents the second of four consecutive Easy Mo Bee-produced cuts, and much like "Gimme The Loot," it knocks, particularly when the sample of "Chief Rocka" by Lords Of The Underground surfaces on the hook. What is most impressive about this song, though, is how effortlessly Biggie flows over it. His line about getting "up in that ass like a wedgie" was pretty damn funny, too.
Easy Mo Bee's instrumental on "Warning" is extremely relaxed when compared to his beats on the previous two tracks, and it embodies a nice change of pace. That doesn't mean The Notorious B.I.G.'s content is exactly laid back, though, as he goes in on this with some of his more violent lyrics on the album. By now, you should notice that Biggie sounds equally good over slow instrumentals as he does over those of the fast-paced variety.
6. Ready To Die
I've gotta admit that I found the title track to be pretty boring. Sorry, but Easy Mo Bee's beat just puts me to sleep (and not in a good way).
7. One More Chance
There are two remixes of this cut, and both are more well-known than the original. There is "Stay With Me" R&B remix, which I think sucks, and then the "Hip-Hop Remix" which I think is dope as all hell. As far as this original version? It's solid, but I prefer the "Hip-Hop Remix."
8. The What
"The What" is the only song on Ready To Die that features a credited guest artist: Method Man. What made this collaboration so interesting was that The Notorious B.I.G. had beef with the Wu-Tang Clan at the time, although most state that his problems were only with two-ninths of the Clan (Ghostface Killah and Raekwon). Anyway, Meth kills a simple but sick Easy Mo Bee beat. Biggie does his thing, too, but it's Johnny Blaze who steals the show and makes this cut the best song on the album.
The hit single that put B.I.G. on the map. The liner notes say that the beat was produced by Puff Daddy and Jean Oliver, but it was later discovered that Pete Rock also played a role in crafting the instrumental, and that's no surprise, as the soulful instrumental definitely possesses a Pete Rock feel. The funny thing is I didn't like "Juicy" the first time I heard it, but it grew on me relatively quickly. This isn't the best song on the album or anything, but it's certainly an impressive piece of material, as Biggie's storytelling on this is just spectacular.
10. Everyday Struggle
The Bluez Brothers' instrumental is pretty damn good, and I particularly like the hard-hitting snares. The Notorious B.I.G.'s delivery on this is impeccable as he engages in some of the same type of vivid storytelling that he did on "Juicy."
11. Me & My Bitch
The only beat on the album that does not feature a sample. The Bluez Brothers produced this one, as well, and even with the lack of a sample, they do an adequate job, especially on the drums, as I just love the kicks on this. That said, the instrumental does become a bit boring after a while. I'm sure you can accurately guess what Biggie actually raps about on this song, too, so I don't really feel the need to explain it.
12. Big Poppa
Probably the second most well-known song on the album and one of the most well-known songs in The Notorious B.I.G.'s catalog, period. It's for good reason, too, as, even if the subject matter is tried, it comes at a good point in the album, and the ridiculously chill beat by Chucky Thompson and Puff Daddy is just great. It actually has a west coast feel to it, but it still matches B.I.G. perfectly. The hook on "Big Poppa" is also one of my favorite hooks ever. This record is just phenomenal on all accounts.
I know a lot of people (even Biggie's die-hard fans) don't really like this reggae-tinged song, but I really dug it. I enjoyed the simple (if repetitive) production by Jean Oliver and Puffy, and I liked the vocals on the hook by the uncredited female reggae artist. Also, I thought B.I.G. just sounded very good over it.
14. Friend Of Mine
I guess The Notorious B.I.G. decided to wait until the second half of the album to bombard us with songs about the ladies (notice that I said "about" and not "for"). That's okay, though, because "Friend Of Mine" doesn't sound bad at all. Easy Mo Bee's beat is pretty nice, sounding completely different from anything else on Ready To Die.
As soon as the beat kicks in, you'll know that DJ Premier produced this, and for the record, it's damn impressive. It's not as good as B.I.G. and Premo's future collaboration "Kick In The Door" would be, but it's still damn impressive. You wanna know what the most interesting thing about this record is, though? It actually samples "The What," which we just heard seven tracks ago. How often do you see something like that happen?
16. Suicidal Thoughts
The fact that a lot of people gravitate toward this song is kind of sad (for obvious reasons), and I've gotta say; "Suicidal Thoughts" definitely gives off a creepy vibe. Lord Finesse's somber beat is fantastic, but honestly, Biggie's lyrical content is just too depressing for me to really get into this track. The fact that B.I.G. kills himself in the song doesn't help matters much, either.
17. Who Shot Ya?
"Who Shot Ya?" (and the song that follows it, "Just Playing [Dreams]") wasn't on the original version of Ready To Die, but it appeared on the remastered edition, so why not review it? If you have followed hip-hop at all throughout your life, I'm sure you know the controversy surrounding this song. Being that it was released around two months after 2Pac was robbed and shot in Manhattan, it was interpreted by some (2Pac included) as a diss toward Pac, even though it couldn't have been, as The Notorious B.I.G. recorded the song long before Pac's shooting. That little nugget notwithstanding, "Who Shot Ya?" ultimately resulted in 2Pac's infamous diss track, "Hit 'Em Up." Oh, you wanna know about the song itself? It's ill. The instrumental by Puff Daddy and Nashiem Myrick is nothing short of brilliant, and the same can be said for Biggie's performance.
18. Just Playing (Dreams)
Let me start by saying that the beat on this cut (by Rashad Smith) is fantastic. The kick drums bang, and the guitar strums are catchy as hell. You can tell this wasn't meant to be on the actual album, though, because the sound quality of B.I.G.'s vocals is a little off. That being said, who cares? This song knocks no matter what.
I don't think it needs to be said that Ready To Die is a classic. The best part about the album is the large variety of instrumentals, making Ready To Die unpredictable and a thoroughly enjoyable listen from front-to-back. Of course, it also doesn't hurt to have one of the best rappers to ever do it actually rapping over the instrumentals.
It's a crying shame that The Notorious B.I.G. did not get a chance to do some more work with Pete Rock and DJ Premier or some of the other fantastic producers of our time, as one can only imagine what a Biggie album with more production from those beatmakers and then some instrumentals from the likes of Hi-Tek, Da Beatminerz, Havoc, J Dilla, etc. would have sounded like. That's not to take anything away from Easy Mo Bee, though, as his beats on Ready To Die were, for the most part, very effective.
As blasphemous as this may sound, I will admit that Ready To Die does not get a ton of rotation on my iPod for the simple fact that some of it does sound a bit dated, and despite the fact that I know Biggie is one of the best to ever do it, he was never one of my all-time favorite artists. That said, I will also be the first to admit that Ready To Die is better than most of the stuff I listen to regularly, even if I don't enjoy it as much.
Don't take that last paragraph as a criticism toward B.I.G.'s debut at all. It is, without a doubt, a work of art, and, as I stated earlier, is an album that changed the hip-hop landscape forever. The Notorious B.I.G.'s influence in the game is still alive and well, and you can plainly see that many artists in today's game modeled their styles after him.
Think about this for a second: Biggie only released one album during his lifetime. He completed Life After Death before his untimely demise, but it was not released until March 25th, 16 days after his shooting. The dude only saw one of his albums put out, and yet, he is dubbed by many as the best rapper of all-time. That right there should tell you how good The Notorious B.I.G. really was. Rest in peace.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. The What
2. Gimme The Loot
3. Who Shot Ya?
5. Just Playing (Dreams)
I could put the title track here, but that would just be disrespectful.