The Notorious B.I.G.s Life After Death at 20: A Jubilant, Paranoid Ode to a Legendary MC
Youd be hard-pressed to find a more grandiose or ostentatious 90 s hip-hop album than Notorious B.I.G.s Life After Death. When it was released on March 25, 1997, the Notorious B.I.G.s ambitious second album arrived with an elaborated Cd booklet, and a laundry list of guest superstars ranging from Jay Z to Angela Winbush to D.M.C. to 112 to Too$ hort to the LOX. Hip-hops best producers managed tracks on Life After Death with Puff Daddy, DJ Premier, RZA, Kay Gee and mainstays like Easy Mo Bee devoting Biggie the sonic backdrop to spin his dark street tales.
Of course, its virtually impossible not to view Life After Death as a kind of sister record( answer record ?) to 2Pacs equally gaudy All Eyez On Me . Pacs double album hit stores a little more than a year before Biggies. But where that album served as a pronouncement of 2Pac as hip-hops most unapologetic instigator and the newest, most controversial star on Death Row Records roster, Life After Death unwittingly became a funereal and bittersweet tribute to the life and legacy of the Notorious B.I.G. There was never a chance to view Biggies album any other way: he was gunned down in Los Angeles only two weeks prior to Life After Death s release. With artwork illustrating the now-deceased rapper next to a hearse, and an opening skit featuring Sean Puffy Combs talking over Biggie as the rapper lies near demise in an operating room, Life After Death is forever linked to the tragic situations that swirled around its release.Biggies second album is patently a glossier affair than his classic 1994 debut, Ready To Die . But, while the boom-bap of Easy Mo B. and DJ Premiere was pushed to the margins in favor of slicker fare from Puffy and his Hitmen, the two albums both share an undercurrent of grimness and fury. The self-loathing that was so prevalent on Ready To Die had morphed into intense paranoia on Life After Death , as Biggie had built high-profile adversaries on his road to superstardom.The first song picks up where the darkness of Ready To Die left off. Somebodys Got To Die finds Biggie plotting on an foe and features some of his most cinematic storytelling: the bloodthirsty rhymes about filing my clip as he hunts down a challenger named Jason whod murdered one of B.I.G.s associates. As they find their target and begin shooting, Jason turns around, holding his infant daughter. Its a harrowing opening that sets the stage for much of the albums more chilling moments, as gunshots and a baby crying against the sounds of rainfall close the way and it segues into the pop effervescence of Hypnotize.
One of Biggies most popular hits, his lyrics jumping from player lifestyle( I put hoes in NY onto DKNY. Miami, D.C. prefer Versace) to more murderous menaces( squeeze first, ask questions last ), all over a sample of Herb Alperts Rise with a Slick Rick-inspired hook. Its one of the best radio tracks he ever released and turned out to be his last make and last video he shot before his March 9 th murder.
With his paranoia peaking, Kick In the Door is one of Biggies most aggressive tracksand his verses are stellar throughout. Over a killer sample of Screamin Jay Hawkins I Put A Spell On You, Biggie falls some of his best bars: You cursed it but rehearsed it/ I drop unexpectedly like bird shit/ You herbs get/ Stuck speedily for royalties and prove fund. The hook revisits a line from Junior M.A.F.I.A.s Get Money( and was originally in reference to Biggie attacking a girlfriend) and is the closest to combat rapper humor and punchlines as Life After Death gets. The sungs unspecified targets would subsequently be disclosed as Nas and Raekwon, after B.I.G. felt hed been dissed on Raes 1995 classic Only Constructed 4 Cuban Linx .
The R. Kelly-assisted Fucking You Tonight is a popular way that sometimes comes off as a little bit rote for both artists. Biggie and R. Kelly had toured together prior to cooperate here, and the track is a smooth bit of R& B that hits all the right notes, even if it isnt inevitably new province for anyone involved. Last day is a synth-driven bit of New York street rap, with a then-unknown LOX making their first appearance on a Bad Boy record.
The lone Jay Z appearance on a Biggie album is the baller anthem I Love the Dough. Everything about the ballad hollers 1997 hip-hop: a slick interpolation of an 80 s R& B hit( Rene& Angelas 1981 single I Love You More ), a sing-a-long hook provided by Angela Winbush herself, and rhymes dedicated to the elation of conspicuous consumption, with Jay rapping: We push the hottest Vs, peel fast/ Through the city/ play Monopoly with real cash/ Me and Biggie/ and the models be/ shaking they sadiddy ass/ And Prada be, somethin &# x27; you cats got to see The grimy Whats Beef features an ingenious sample of Richard Evans Close To You, and is one of Biggies darkest and most infamous ways. Reminding unnamed foes that real beef is much more dangerous than diss ways( Beef is when your mommy aint safe to cross the street ), its one of the ballads on Life After Death that many listeners in 1997 assumed were directed at 2Pac.
B.I.G. hurls a nod to Schoolly Ds classic P.S.K.( What Does It Mean) on the brief B.I.G.[ Interlude] before launching into another one of the albums biggest radio makes. Mo Money Mo Problems became a hallmark single and video of the Shiny Suit Era. By the time the single reach airwaves that July, Biggie had been dead four months and Puffys made album No Way Out was out and also dominating the following chart with countless makes. So with Puffy and Ma$ e prominently featured on the track and in the video, it became closely associated with a period and an image that was more Puff than B.I.G.
The first disc of Life After Death closes with a pair of very different anthems that both highlight the lyrical genius of the Notorious B.I.G. Niggas Bleed is a cool crime tale, told with an attention to character and detail that would build Scorsese proud. Biggie recounts a failed theft plotted out and executed by a small crew of crooks. We hear the background and planning as Frank( B.I.G .) gets incurred in relation to pull a task, who recruits my nigga Arizona Ron, from Tucson who sounds like a borderline sociopath( Nothing to lose tattooed around his handgun wounds, everything to gainembedded in his brain ); and they accidentally tip off Gloria From Astoria, the manager, who assumes theyre coming for the safe. The two robbers set a fire, and start shooting as their targets attempt to escape. In graphic detail, Biggie describes the violence and Rons glee at shooting a woman in the head. The song ends in bizarrely lighthearted style, as they escape with a briefcase full of money only to realize their targets car was towed since they are double-parked by a hydrant.
When he came to Northern California, some of my folks was highly upset that he had did an articleI was upset that he did an article in a Canadian publication, 40 recalled in 2013. They asked him from a scale to one to 10 what do you feel about these artists. So, he would say Spice 1. I dont know if it was a three, a four, or a two. Ice Cube, I dont know what he gave him, but I know he gave me a zero. Right? And Im a fixture out there on my clay, right? Western coast, and they fuck with me in New York at the time too, as well. So, I was like okay. Of course I was upset about that. My dudes seen that. Everybody was upset about that.
The diss led to a clash between Biggies entourage and associates of E-4 0 when Biggie came to do a show in Sacramento, but 40 never wanted to publicize the incident. So[ Biggies people] hit me, we pow-wowed, get him back safe and that was that, manyou know that Im so real that I never even spoke on it, he said. His folks spoke on that, I never brought it up. Biggie would give E-4 0 a salute in the Life After Death liner notes.
Ten Crack Commandments has become a popular hip-hop way to reference, as B.I.G. breaks down ten rules for street hustlers in the medication trade. Over a sample of Chuck Ds famous countdown from Public Enemys made Shut Em Down, Biggie offers tips-off on do and donts for would-be kingpins. Playa Hater is a goofball entry; Biggie as an off-key crooner, reimagining the Delfonics Hey Love as yet another threat of violence aimed at his adversaries. Its lighthearted, despite the reliably darknes subject matter centres on robbery, intended to show B.I.G.s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Nasty Boy is one of the albums lesser moments, another way thats not remarkable enough to be a major radio make and not evocative enough to be a standout album cut.
The first albums final single, Skys the Limit, is the most optimistic moment on either half of the double disc. With another 112 -sung hook and a sample of Bobby Caldwells Flame, its a more introspective sequel to Biggies breakout hit Juicy. Whereas that ballad reveled in the rappers newly-realized aspirations, Skys the Limit is a bit more motivational, as he realise how far hes come and embracings the idea that he has no notion how far he could go. The ballads video memorably featured children garmented as Biggie and other Bad Boy stars, a great fit for the sungs You can have what you want/ be what you want ethos. Its another bittersweet moment considering audiences heard it merely weeks after B.I.G. was gunned down.
The World Is Filled features an appearance from Western coast hotshot Too$ hort. It suggests another try at healing East/ West wounds, but doesnt feeling contrived. With Puffy riding shotgun, the three rappers deliver fairly standard woman-bashing over a sample of Space Talk by Indian vocalist Asha Puthili.
But ballerisms and positive reasoning give way to Biggies ever-present anger on Life After Death s final trifecta. As if determined to end the album on a dour and morbid note, Biggie opens My Downfall with an intensive death menace by phone, before the beat arrives thundering in and his raps disclose the depths of his contempt and paranoia as he ruminates on his own violent demise. I was high when they reached me/ took a few cats wit me/ shit, I need the company/ Apologies in order/ To Teyanna, my daughter D.M.C. delivers the hooking, originally from Run-D.M.C.s Together Forever.
When Biggie called for me to go set this hook on the record, I was souped, D.M.C. told MTV back in 2010. I got a call from Diddy, and Puff was like, Yo, D, we wanna induce that the chorus. D.M.C. felt his original line resonated because it was about the pain of being on top. Ensure, only kings can understand what that mean: Shut em down, step back, since they are pray for your downfall.
The RZ-Aproduced Long Kiss Goodnight put to rest some of the whisperings of bad blood between Bad Boy Records and Wu-Tang Clan( though it should be pointed out that the animosity was mostly between Wu members Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Biggienot necessarily Wu-Tang Clan as a whole) and its one of the albums best ways. Biggies rage is once again directed at adversaries and he even takes a shot at his longtime friend, Lil Cease: I used to be as strong as ripple be/ Til Lil Cease crippled me. In 1996, Cease had been driving the car that Biggie was in that crashed and resulted in Biggie having to walk with a cane for several months. The ballad features Puffys calling threats in the background, and is another moment that was widely assumed to be directed at 2Pac. But Puff clarifies near the end of the way that were not talking about no other rapperswere talking about you . Was the you Suge Knight? Jimmy Henchman Rosemond? We may never know for sure. But with its threats to choke yo ass til your face blue, its one of Biggies most confrontational tracks.
The album ends with Youre Nobody( Til Somebody Kills You ). The anthems subject matter and title set a fine phase on an album that seemed to reflect Biggies real-life demise in all-too eerie fashion, and no moment represents the inconvenience that underscored Life After Death like this ominously beautiful album closer. Amongst the always-present threats and boasts( As I leave my competitor respirator-style, I climb the ladder to success, escalator-style) the recurring paranoia is always there. And a melancholy acknowledgment that he could be more notorious in demise than he ever was in life.To a certain degree, Life After Death now feels like the end of the 1990 s. For a decade since Run-D.M.C.s Raising Hell , hip-hop had been steadily growing commercially and expanding creatively. Platinum albums became standard, as hip-hop “re no longer” easily defined and subgenres and sliver styles became akin to pop throughout the late 1980 s. By the mid-1 990 s, rappers were becoming as visible and popular as the biggest pop and rock acts of the epoch, but the specter of violence that began to loom after 2Pac was shooting in Manhattan in November 1994 threatened to undermine all that had been constructed. And when Pac was killed in September 1996, only to be followed by the Notorious B.I.G. in March 1997, it felt like hip-hop was suffocating under the weight of its own popularity and confrontational image. Biggies demise and the release of Life After Death could be considered the bookend to Run-D.M.C.s 1986 breakthrough, as hip-hop had to pause for a second and reassess itself in a way that it hadnt before.But irrespective of backstory and historical significance, the second album from the Notorious B.I.G. remains a staggering testament to the rappers versatility, the ambitions of Sean Diddy Combs and creative potentials during the Cd epoch. Like All Eyez On Me , it has its share of filler; but also like that classic album, the indulgences dont negate the consistent magnificence throughout the project. And the greatest exhilaration of listening to Life After Death is hearing Christopher Notorious B.I.G. Wallace at the high levels of his lyrical powers, more dramatic and vivid than hed ever seen, pondering what it meant to be the biggest rapper in the gameand occasionally voicing like he was actually having fun.
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