Review Summary: A sprawling and at times bloated effort that nonetheless is still impressive.
Ready to Die was a pivotal point in hip hop history. That album officially brought the mainstream attention back to the East after the West Coast dominated for years with gangsta rap and G-Funk. Biggie brought back the East Coast hardcore rap while saving space for the ladies. 1997's Life After Death was another great album yet some people think it is among the Top 10 Greatest Hip Hop Albums (like MTV and its unreliable Hip Hop Brain Trust). If you didn't know, the Hip Hop Brain Trust initially placed TWO Biggie albums on that list without considering a 2Pac album (they later corrected this). I might be among the minority who believe that Life After Death was a great album but not a classic.
Except for the "*** Me" interlude, there was not a single track on Ready to Die that was worth skipping. But Life After Death is, for the most part, a filler-fest. Like most double albums, Life After Death has a good share of filler material that pale in the presence of the highlights. Sex jams like "Hypnotize" and "Going Back to Cali" are classics but I could have lived without hearing "Another" or "The World is Filled...". Yet what makes Life After Death one of the better double albums is that the filler is still pretty listenable. Biggie could have made a more hip hop-rock styled song with the legendary DMC yet "My Downfall" still sounds pretty dope. "Playa Hater" is laughably bad but great to laugh at nonetheless.
Biggie on Ready to Die was loud and hungry. On Life After Death, he is the smooth-talking mob boss Frank White. And he continues his lyrical devastations in probably the most graphic and most explicit ways than ever on this album. In "Kick in the Door", he spares no sugar for Nas ("This goes out for those who choose to use disrespectful views on the King of NY"), Jeru the Damaja, Raekwon, and even the song's producer, DJ Premier. "Niggas Bleed" and "I Got A Story to Tell" are excellent tales of drug dealing and gang violence. Yet the album's most notorious lines are the ones that are supposedly disses against 2Pac. And those lines are downright venomous.
"I'm flaming gats, aimin at, these ***in
maniacs, put my name in raps, what part the
game is that? Like they hustle backwards
I smoke Backwoods and Dutchies, ya can't touch me
Try to rush me, slugs go, touchy-touchy
You're bleeding lovely, with your, spirit above me
or beneath me, your whole life you live sneaky
Now you rest eternally, sleepy, you burn when you creep me
Rest where the worms and the weak be
"Slugs hit your chest tap your spine, flat line
Heard through the grapevine, you got ***ed fo' times
Damn that three to nine, ***ed you up for real doe
Sling steal slow, as for remorse, we feel no"
---from "Long Kiss Goodnight"
Big gives his odes to the ladies on "Hypnotize", "Nasty Boy", and "Going Back to Cali". He laments the negative affects of money ("Mo Money Mo Problems"). He plays teacher in "Ten Crack Commandments", a song about how to survive in the drug dealing business. He even makes an inspirational song for the kids (ironically, however, on "What's Beef?", he talks about killing them).
Overall, Life After Death is a great follow-up to his classic debut. It is far from perfect, in contrary to the MTV Hip Hop Brain Trust's false beliefs. Yet if Biggie condensed the album into one, keeping all the hits and the classics, I'm sure it would then be justifiable to place the album in a top 10 list.