The Notorious B.I.G.- Ready To Die is number 133 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list.
In the early 1990s, the state of hip-hop in the U.S. was rather unbalanced. The seeds of popular West Coast rap groups were now spreading, and growing in popularity. At this time, the most notable of these artists was Dr. Dre, formerly, of NWA
. There are two reasons for this. One would be Dre’s release if his landmark album, The Chronic
, which would prove to be his (and other young rappers associated with the album) big break. The other, much more pivotal reason, was Dre’s establishment of Death Row Records alongside Suge Knight. Death Row would quickly become a hip-hop empire, launching the careers of artists such as 2pac
, Snoop Dogg
, as well as many others. The West Coast brand of high-octane hip-hop was sweeping the nation, and there was very little that could be done to stop it.
Nothing, except the establishment of a worthy adversary. As Death Row is Yin, so to must there be a Yang. And so, upon the street of New York, Bad Boy Records was built. This label was founded by Sean Combs, who the world knows as the rapper Diddy
. Just as Death Row did for the West Coast, Bad Boy did for the East. The label’s first major success came from Craig Mack
’s debut album, Project: Funk Da World
. Soon after, Combs discovered a young artist with, what he believed to be, fathomless talent. This young man was Christopher George Letore Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls. Wallace was immediately signed to Bad Boy, and set to work on his debut album, Ready To Die
. At this time, Wallace took on the stage name The Notorious Big Instead of Game, or The Notorious B.I.G. He released Ready To Die
in 1994. Of all the albums of the early to mid 1990s, this one is charged the most with saving East Coast hip-hop. While Black Moon
’s Enta Da Stage
began the East’s gangsta rap scence, and Nas
raised it to an art form, Ready To Die
, released in their interim, received the most commercial success. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard Top Hip-hop/R&B charts, and number fifteen on the Top 200 albums overall. To date, it has sold over four million copies, making it certifiably four times platinum by U.S. standards.
Ready To Die
was also critical in another area: it helped to spark the eventual confrontation between Death Row and Bad Boy. West Coast hip-hop had dominated for years, and many of its artists weren’t happy about their Eastern counterparts. Soon enough, death threats were thrown around by way of lyrics and songs. Both labels spoke only of destroying one another. Personally, I believe that most of the praise that Ready To Die
has received is due to the actual feud between East and West. While it is still a very good album, it’s nowhere near the greatest hip-hop album of all time, or even of the era from which it came.
I come to this conclusion based on what Biggie Smalls does on the album as an actual artist. There is no denying the fact that the man had talent. This is fairly evident in the amount of freestyle rapping that he does on Ready To Die
. Freestyling is a term that applies to a rapper when he/she does not write lyrics on pen and paper for a song, but rather release on their own intuition and emotion to create rhymes and flow. Basically, they make it up as they go along. Biggie was a pioneer of this type of rapping. While Ready To Die
features plenty of well-constructed, pre-planned lyrical content, the freestyle sections are certainly the most impressive highlights of the album. The wordplay flows very impressively from Biggie’s mouth, as he employs his signature rapping style. His delivery is slow, coherent, and very commanding. Biggie has plenty of staid reserve, yet knows when to cut loose. He knew what he was doing, that’s for sure. However, as superb as Biggie could be at times, he also seemed to fall flat on his face quite a bit. For one thing, he just doesn’t seem to have the same amount of energy as his peers, and this is quite a detraction from someone who has received the accolades that he has. Biggie tends to become lazy quite a bit throughout the album, which makes his rapping rather sluggish and annoying. Still, the good qualities that Biggie displays on Ready To Die
far outweigh the bad. It’s just rather disappointing that I would need to call to anyone’s attention any imperfections in an albums of this one’s supposed caliber.
Usually, I’m more impressed with a rapper’s vocal work on an album. I generally find the actual music in hip-hop to oftentimes be very irritating. The vice-versa couldn’t be more true with Ready To Die
. The instrumentation, samplings, and overall beat is actually very impressive. Everything is extremely polished, and has a certain sense of depth and emanation. Most of the music has catchy pop aesthetic to it, making for great hooks with a unique sense of style. Everything about Ready To Die
is very boisterous and powerful from a musical stand-point, and this is a nice change to hear from a hip-hop album.
Ready To Die
is very varied in actual song content. The interludes and introduction showcase mock violence, as well as images of debauched sex and crime. This is really nothing new to hip-hop, but Biggie take it awfully far on this record, making for some incredibly explicit content. Songs such as “Gimme the Loot" glorify crime, and are delivered by Biggie’s typically rancorously thuggish style. The title track is rather ambitious, but really quite inane, attempting to rely on pop hooks just a little too much. “Juicy," one of the reasons why Ready To Die
was such a commercial success, is hard to the core, with plenty of emotive feeling and staid energy. It’s one of the better songs from the record. “Who Shot Ya," legendarily praised as a song about an attempted murder on Tupac Shakur’s life, exudes a sense of sheer rage, while doing so in a rather casual fashion. “Big Poppa" and “Me & My B*tch" are basically songs about degradation, about how Biggie was something of a demigod in his own eyes (and basically in the eyes of everyone around him, or so he sings). “Everyday Struggle" and “One More Chance" seem to recall old-school hip-hop sensibilities. Everything else is rather solid, holding Ready To Die
together at its seams. The real criticism that can be derived from this album is that its very disjointed. Things seems to start and stop, hit brick walls, and just never culminate the way they’re supposed to. In addition to this, Biggie seemed to rely a little too much on promiscuity to keep the album fleshed out, and tends to become too cocky too often.
The Notorious B.I.G. will forever go down and history as being one of hip-hop’s greatest icons. While it is my opinion that his debut album is neither as classic in quality nor in status as it is acclaimed to be, the fact still remains that it is an excellent album. Ready To Die
has a certain appeal, something of a dirty charm to it. It ropes you in and never lets go. In short: once you listen to Biggie, there’s no turning back. I don’t care if you’re a steadfast believer in West Coast hip-hop, and revere 2pac
as a god; I still want you to here this album. Why? It deserves to be listened to, simple as. I’ll admit that Ready To Die
most likely is the reason why we still have big hip-hop acts coming out of the East Coast, and therefore, this albums needs to be experience by all. However, I can really only recommend it to people within the hip-hop genre: it doesn’t hold up well enough for people who aren’t already well-acquainted with rap, in my humble opinion. If you want to hear what all the fuss was about in the early 90s between all those black guys, then this is the album for you.