I was in a weird musical crisis aged 14. I’d always listened to Take That or whatever, real *** music that embodied the pansy bourgeois witlessness I thought I was fighting against. I killed that dead. I vividly remember the Eminem thing that followed, and I remember realising ‘Encore’ was rubbish. I really did have nothing to listen to until ‘Ready to Die’ sparkled as a wobbly, funky beacon. I had proof now, proof that if you weren’t on the football team and hated everyone that was you could still be cool. I was really very unhappy and this helped as great music does.
The gristly gangster bits are cool and so's the rags-to-riches getup but my God! 'Ready to Die' is really very funny. Funny enough to take the sting from the ‘I was in one Benz, then I woke up in another Benz’ thing which lurks around the corner, funny enough to take the sting from everything. Take ‘Friend of Mine’ or ‘One More Chance’, both are churning, ravenous things but bam! They’re side-splitters. I think misogyny is awful and that bit “Yo, muthafuka! This is Stephanie! I’ve been waitin’ outside fo’ yo ass fo’ like a fukin’ hour!’ is damn funny. What about when he gives loyalty a go in the midst of all this grossness. ‘You know that ain’t right, with a friend of mine!’ he yales like a comically over-excited but ultimately loveable preacher. Now you’re laughing along to murder you’re not left with anything to feel uncomfortable with. We’d had it before with ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and all that but ‘Ready to Die’ pushed a jeep of almost-desensitized listeners over the edge. Whilst in the long term you might be miserable and unfulfilled you can rest happily amongst the gunshots.
However good rap might be it is a funny idea. It is. It is strange things said at a strange pace but The Notorious B.I.G matches that, he's a bizarre and groovy lump. That is really good because I can rest my destructive inner cynic, he can’t grab hold because the music’s not vain enough to be worth it. It is that rare and perfect jest that doesn’t take anything from the power singles – Juicy, or the weirdly intricate and superb story telling – ‘Gimme the Loot’. I’d always thought Rockism was stupid but it was fantastic to know it.
‘What a big voice you have’ or something. What a befittingly gruff voice he’s got on him. It’s an enormous and lazy thing with bouts of bark that will kill you and eat you. This goes a way to explaining its reverence from that guy who is really into rap - too into rap. That guy who dug deep into ‘Call O’ The Wild’ and ‘Gauge The Mental Murderah’ thinking it was all very challenging when really he was after anything familiar. I did that a lot. Hip-hop enthusiasts should dig his lumbering manoeuvres over massive syllabic mountain ranges, his pulsing, throaty drone on ‘Suicidal Thoughts’ and wow! His rock-solid bark on ‘Ready to Die’. I’m happy he does such strange things with his voice but he’s always a bit slow even when the production gets spikey, see Easy Mo Bee’s ‘Machine Gun Funk’. The Notorious B.I.G isn’t a ‘real person’, he’s a weirdo hiding behind the pathetically intravenous thrill of gunfire. A terrifying and tormented hulk who never screams because that’s too ***ing easy; he’s numb and unaffected all the way to the Cobainesque end, which reminds me what real sadness is and how hopeless everything might be if it does target the gifted. Still, I’m glad neither of us made the football team. Quarterbacks and ‘Ready to Die’ go together like frogs and lawnmowers.