The album cover says it all. The little baby with the afro sitting Indian style. The Summer of 1994, East Coast was looking to make a grand return to the hip-hop game. A gem was found in a Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn MC, The Notorious B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace) He had been rapping since he was a teenager and released a demo under the name Biggie Smalls. Mr. Cee , promoted the demo and it was heard by Matty C of The Source.
“Yeah, this album is dedicated
To all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothing
To all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustling in front of
That called the police on me
When I was just trying to make some money to feed my daughter” – The Notorious B.I.G. from “Juicy“
Sean “Puffy” Combs was working as an A&R at Uptown Records when he heard of the demo and signed Biggie to the Uptown Records label. That lead to him appearing on Heavy D’s “A Buncha Niggas”. After Combs was fired from Uptown Records, he went on to form Bad Boy Records and signed Biggie to the label and with that came appearances on the Who’s The Man soundtrack (“Party And Bullshit”), Neneh Cherry’s “Buddy X“, Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby” and Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” and “What’s The 411” remixes. But what really set Biggie off to stardom was his appearance on Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear” remix, alongside LL Cool J, Rampage and Busta Rhymes. To me, his verse is the most quotable out of everyone on the record. (“I see the gimmicks, the wack lyrics, the shit is/Depressing, pathetic, please forget it/You’re mad cause my style you’re admiring/Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring“) With that being said, The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album was released twenty years ago on this date. Let’s take a look back at the album that brought the East back.
1. “Intro“: This introduction to the album takes place in different stages of Biggie’s life and is detailed by the music in the background. His birth (Curtis Mayfield’s “Super Fly“), arguments between his parents (Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight“), train robbery (Audio Two’s “Top Billin’“) and his release from prison (Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Tha Shiznit“) As he’s leaving prison, he’s rebuffs the guard’s assertion that he’ll be right back in jail. (“I got big plans nigga, big plans, hahahaha“)
2. “Things Done Changed“: (“Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums/Eating 5 cent gums, not knowing where your meal’s coming from“) On the album’s first track, Biggie details from when he grew up to what was present in 1993. First verse, he raps about ‘motherfuckers being all friendly’ and then in 1993, ‘niggas is getting smoked’. It was a grim outlook of growing up in the 90’s era of Brooklyn. Shit definitely got real in verse two when he rapped about the guy wanting to fight instead of having the MAC-10 on his side. (“Slugs in his back and that’s what the fuck happens/When you sleep on the street/Little motherfuckers with heat want to leave a nigga six feet deep“) In the final verse, he talks about the kids with the guns, pagers and how they got killed going out of town. He asked what happened to the cookouts before dropping the bombshell about his mother having breast cancer. Reality was a hard pill to swallow.
3. “Gimme The Loot“: (“I’m slamming niggas like Shaquille, shit is real/When it’s time to eat a meal, I rob and steal/Cause mom dukes ain’t giving me shit/So for the bread and butter I leave niggas in the gutter“) What was dope about this song was Biggie going back and forth on the track as he altered his voice. Robbery was motive on this record and the shootout at the end was even crazier.
4. “Machine Gun Funk“: (“So I guess you know the story, the rap-side, crack-side/How I smoked funk, smacked bitches on the backside/Bed-Stuy: the place where my head rests/50-shot clip if a nigga want test“) Fucks with this track HEAVY!!! The flow here is incredible and I can just vibe out and listen to this all day.
5. “Warning“: (“I fuck around and get hardcore/C-4 to your door, no beef no more nigga/Feel the rough, scandalous/The more weed smoke I puff, the more dangerous“) I can admit that this track was the least favorite of mine but that won’t stop me from rapping along with the lyrics. I remember on an old episode of Comicview where the young lady stated that Biggie needs an Around The Way bra. I was in tears.
6. “Ready To Die“: (“As I sit back and look when I used to be a crook/Doing whatever it took from snatching chains to pocketbooks/A big bad motherfucker on the wrong road/I got some drugs, tried to get the avenue sold“) Biggie on this track raps about his old life where he was robbing folks without any regret. Wasn’t one of my favorite tracks on the album.
7. “One More Chance“: (“I fuck non-stop, lick my lips a lot/Used to lick the clits a lot, but licking clits had to stop/‘Cause y’all don’t know how to act when the tongue go down below“) Before the song begins, there’s an intro where a child is telling hoes not to call there for Biggie and the child makes sure that his mother approves. Then four women leave messages for Biggie and they are fed up with his shit. This version of One More Chance is the filthy version were Biggie talks all types of shit on this record. (“I’ll fuck around and hit you with the Hennessy dick/Mess around and go blind, don’t get to see shit/The next batter, here to shatter your bladder/It doesn’t matter: skinny or fat or light-skinned or black/Baby, I drop these Boricua mamis screaming ¡ay papi!“) This is also our first introduction to Total, who at the time were Biggie’s background singers. Now the remix sampled Debarge’s “Stay With Me” and had an all star R&B/Hip-Hop cast for the video.
8. “Fuck Me (Interlude)”: (“You chronic smokin’, Oreo cookie eatin’, pickle juice drinkin’/Chicken gristle eatin’, biscuit suckin’, MUTHAfucka“) When this interlude came on, my best friend and I would wonder if he was truly fucking the girl on this skit. A. Yes, he was. B. The woman would turn out to be Lil’ Kim.
9. “The What” (feat. Method Man): (“Fuck the world, don’t ask me for shit/Everything you get you gotta work hard for it/Honeys shake your hips, you don’t stop/And niggas pack the clips, keep on“) Soon as the beat drops, nigga!!!! Biggie and Meth killed this! I mean it wasn’t even fair what these two did to this track. It was dope during the opening verse where Biggie goes “I squeeze Gats till my clips is empty/Don’t tempt me, you don’t want to fuck with the M-E” and then Method Man takes the hand off “…T-H-O-D Man, here I am/I’ll be damned if this ain’t some shit/Come to spread the butter lyrics over harmony grit” Very dope collaboration.
10. “Juicy“: (“And I’m far from cheap, I smoke skunk with my peeps all day/Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way/The Moet and Alizé keep me pissy/Girls used to diss me/Now they write letters cause they miss me “) This is Biggie’s rags to riches tale here. That Mtume sample of “Juicy Fruit” is what set this off.
11. “Everyday Struggle“: (“My daughter use a potty so she’s older now/Educated street knowledge, I’mma mould her now”) What made Biggie great at what he did was the storytelling aspect in his rhymes. Painted his rhymes so vividly and just gave you a great story about the rise and surviving in the drug game.
12. “Me & My Bitch“: (“Moonlight strolls with the hoes, oh no, that’s not my steelo/I wanna bitch that like to play ceelo, and craps/Packin gats, in a Coach bag steamin dime bags/A real bitch is all I want, all I ever had“) Biggie talks about his down ass woman on this track. People cringe during the opening line but wasn’t aware that it was from a Richard Pryor routine “Wino & Junkie“. In true storytelling fashion, the girl dies at the end and Biggie vows revenge for her murder. Also what’s interesting is the conversation between Puffy and a young lady during the chorus.
13. “Big Poppa“: (“Money, hoes and clothes: all a nigga knows/A foolish pleasure? Whatever/I had to find the buried treasure, so grams I had to measure“) Puffy made sure to go with the sure shot commercial singles as this track samples The Isley Brothers “In Between The Sheets” and Biggie spits game to the ladies.
14. “Respect“: (“Rap was secondary, money was necessary/Until I got incarcerated–kinda scary/C74-Mark 8 set me straight/Not able to move behind the great steel gate/Time to contemplate, damn, where did I fail?/All the money I stacked was all the money for bail“) This track had to grow on me, although the autobiographical tale that Biggie tells is dope here. I hated the beat and Diana King’s vocals here were annoying. At the end of this track, there’s a skit where Biggie’s trying to convince a young lady to give him head. She’s denying the fact that she knows how to do it and from the reaction during the action, Biggie knew she was full of shit.
15. “Friend Of Mine“: (“I be cruising up the block, I be passing her/Pimping hard with the female passenger/And the only time I call her to hang/Is when me and Dee/blunted up, pissy, scheming on a gang-bang“) This was the “Who Hurt You” track off this album. Biggie details meeting a young lady then she slept with his homeboy then he (Biggie) fucked with her sister. Just a bunch of pettiness going on this track.
16. “Unbelievable“: (“And those that rushes my clutches get put on crutches/Get smoked like dutches from the master/Hate to blast you but I have to, you see I smoke a lot/Your life is played out like Kwame and them fucking polka dots“) My second favorite track from this album and DJ Premier clearly killed the beat. The R. Kelly scratched in sample from “Body Callin‘” makes this work. Just an incredible song.
17. “Suicidal Thoughts“: (“I can’t believe suicide’s on my fucking mind, I wanna leave/I swear to God I feel like death is fucking calling me/Naw you wouldn’t understand“) This track is still eerie whenever I listen to it and Lord Finesse created a dope beat. The way Biggie ended this album as to set up to Life After Death is still incredible.
The album was remastered in 2004 and “Who Shot Ya” (Still don’t get why that track was left off the original album) and “Just Playing (Dreams)” which was given to Lil’ Kim and she remade it for her debut album Hardcore a few years later. What was incredible about this album was just Biggie’s lyrical wordplay and how he crafted his stories in his head. Just sitting here and listening to what was the start of greatness. The first week sales for Ready To Die was 57k but by 1999, it sold 4 million copies. As a hip-hop fan, I’m appreciative of this album because of the impact that it had on me as a fan. I wonder if he was still here today, how Biggie would describe the process of creating this album?