Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29: Notorious BIG, "Ready To Die"

Artist: Notorious BIG
Album: Ready To Die
Year: 1994
Label: Bad Boy

The "point" of rap music, in the opinion of many, is to tell a true story, without coloring the details. If this is the case, then Christopher Wallace (AKA Notorious BIG) is easily one of the finest storytellers in history. His 1994 debut, Ready To Die, is a stark, unforgiving, and dark look at the life he'd been living. It is also an absolute classic of the hip hop/rap genre.

The East Coast rap scene had been lagging behind the West Coast since the explosion of Dr. Dre, Snoop, and other Death Row Records artists. The East Coast needed a leader, a spokesperson, a King to bring respect and pride back to the origin of rap music. Notorious BIG and Ready To Die filled all of these roles so well that it can be seen as one of the primary catalysts behind the "coast feud" that would eventually claim the lives of both Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur.

Biggie's delivery is clear, concise, unembellished, and unequivocally unmistakable. A majority of the tracks on Ready To Die chronicle his days of dealing drugs on the streets of Brooklyn, New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Throughout the record, Wallace makes countless references to the cult film, King Of New York, and paints himself as "the black Frank White." Wallace spins tales of the dark underworld of New York's street life and the riches and ills of the realm from which he came.

For an album that sold as many copies as it did and is held as such a keystone of the rap genre, it is nothing short of amazing that the record only spawned one single, the timeless anthem "Big Poppa." The reality is, the reason there were no other singles (save the remixes of "One More Chance") is most likely because the other tracks simply could not be "cleaned up" enough for commercial airplay. Throughout the 17 songs, Biggie never relents, smashing the listener with track after track of brilliant lyrical stylings. The only true anomoly is the albums' final track; the heartbreaking, and perhaps eriely foretelling track, "Suicidal Thoughts."

Few will argue that Notorious BIG remains one of the most important emcees to ever pick up a microphone. His unforgivingly honest lyrics and no-frills delivery make his recordings stand the test of time. He and his debut record, Ready To Die, can be seen as the spark that re-ignighted the East Coast rap scene. There will never be another rapper with gravity and scope of Notorious BIG, and there are very few rap albums as important as Ready To Die.

Standout tracks: "Gimme The Loot," "Juicy," and "Unbelievable."

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