Notorious BIG: Ready to Die

May 11, New York: I should begin with the admission that I had two very different first listens of this album. The first was at roughly 13 (as indicated on the Master List) and I was every bit the white 90s teenager who heard only the violence, the sexy interludes, the gunshots. The patina of gangsterism. The second was when I rediscovered hip-hop in college, separate from its existence on Top 40 stations. And in that listen I heard the presence of a lyrical master. It was then that “Warning” became my favorite song on this album. The laconic ease of rhymes like: “there’s going to be a lot of slow-singing and flower-bringing if my burglar alarm starts ringing”.

I love this album because it seems like Biggie is in on the joke. Every song is about the narrator as a master criminal, as a sex [master], but yet the narrative of the album is exactly that— a narrative. A story which though written in the first person, need only be taken as loosely autobiographical. I love transitions like the end of “Gimme the Loot”, in which the narrator is gunned down, into “Machine Gun Funk” which opens with the line “So, you want to be hardcore… talking about gats in your raps.” The whole album feels self-aware.

And then there’s “Juicy”. Which is inarguably one of top ten best songs of all time period.

There are all sorts of gratifying little moments scattered through the album. A perfect verse that leaves you stunned, the lyrics you always find in the back of your head. (“Yeah motherfucker this is Stephanie” is something I mutter under my breath at least half the times I’m waiting for someone to pick up the phone.) The hard cut from the mock interview “SO where you from?” “Brooklyn.” [CUT] BIG POPPA. So good. And the album is barely marred by the frequent skits of mid-90s hip hop albums (that I always disliked)… in fact the “Intro” is even kind of brilliant.

Why couldn’t this guy have lived forever? Or at least past 24(!) years old?

You already own this album. But if you don’t, that is a criminal offense and is only reconciled by purchasing it immediately.

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