Saturday, March 25, 2017

'97 Retrospective, Celebrating 20 Years --> The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Life After Death"

This retrospective is taken directly from my October 23, 2013 project highlighting The Notorious B.I.G. Any new/updated thoughts will be bold and italicized.

This is my #5 favorite album of all time, one of hip hop's best double albums specifically, and one of the greatest albums of all time, period. Before his death, anticipation for this album was at an ALL TIME high in early 1997, and to say I anticipated it a lot would be a gross understatement. I bought this two months after its release (from the former Circuit City) and needless to say I was HAPPY as hell. Although the artists who make guest appearances did WELL, I feel one of the main selling points of this album was the producers Biggie assembled, and as I will detail during this dissection, it may be the most star studded list of producers ever assembled for one album, and each of them created a cinematic journey to fit Biggie's descriptive and powerful narratives. Time for a dissection of one of my top 10 favorite albums. (Well, in addition to the production being one of the main selling points, I also have to add in the fact that Biggie still had that flair and charisma prior to his untimely death, plus "Hypnotize" was already starting to blow up on radio and TV. Add in the fact that Bad Boy was still firing on all cylinders in hip hop at this point, a variety of factors sold this album.)

Release date- March 25, 1997

Life After Death Intro
Much like the intro that began "Ready To Die", this was another intro I liked a lot, and if there ever was an intro that set a complete tone for an album, this is it. It picks up where "Ready To Die" left off, as Biggie is on his deathbed (with Puff Daddy) by his side ("we were supposed to rule the world baby, we was unstoppable, it can't be over"). As we hear the "flatline" signifying Biggie's apparent death, Puff says, "live your life", symbolically saying this is the life after the death. I know this is just an intro, but man, it's STILL powerful.

Somebody's Gotta Die (Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs, Carlos "July Six" Broady and Nashiem Myrick)
Creative and (again) powerful, this one song is perhaps the BEST form of storytelling I've ever heard. As you clearly hear Biggie rapping over the NICE beat, everything he's describing, you hear it in FULL detail in the background. You HAVE to listen to this song with a good pair of head/earphones to get the full effect. The ending may be a bit much for some, but make no mistake about it, THIS is hip hop storytelling at its finest. 
5 out of 5

Hypnotize (Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs, Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie and Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence)

Small fact: Although I don't think she was ever credited, that lovely voice on the hook is Pam of former Bad Boy trio Total. She did a good job, much like Biggie did on this one. He clearly was having fun when he made this song, and it's indeed a classic.  (To this day, this song still graces the radio. Timeless and it still bangs just like it did in '97. Did I go crazy when I first heard it? Yes indeed.)
5 out of 5

Kick In The Door (Produced By DJ Premier)
The first of two Premo tracks on this album, Biggie delivers lyrical gems on this one, as he delivers subliminal shots as Nas and Raekwon (which is another story in itself). 
5 out of 5

Fuckin' You Tonight (Featuring R. Kelly, Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs and Daron Jones)
I actually never cared for this song, and that's nothing against Biggie of course, I'm just not a fan of R. Kelly. I do skip this one. 
3 out of 5, mostly because of Biggie's verses and the beat.

Last Day (Featuring The Lox, Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs, Havoc and Stevie J)
I love this one right here, as all four men bless this nice track. You can hear it in Jadakiss, Styles P, and Sheek's voices that they were SO inspired to be on the same song with Biggie. Great stuff here. 
5 out of 5

I Love The Dough (Featuring Jay-Z and Angela Winbush, Produced By Easy Mo Bee)
Mo Bee effectively sampled Rene Moore and Angela Winbush's "I Love You More" to great results. This is the second (and unfortunately last) collaboration between Biggie and Jay-Z, and again, you can just listen to the song and tell they're just having the time of their lives being in each other's presence on the mic. 
5 out of 5

What's Beef (Produced By Carlos "July Six" Broady and Nashiem Myrick)
Another powerful song here. Biggie perfectly details what beef is and why it's pointless. Most of today's artists could benefit from listening to a song like this, must be heard to be appreciated. (I want to address that "one line" from this song, and if you're familiar with it, you know exactly what line I'm referring to and I won't repeat it here. I'll say this: although this song is still pretty excellent overall, I never condoned said line and it's probably the second worst line in Biggie's career.)
5 out of 5

B.I.G. Interlude 
Just a fun interlude over a sampled Schooly D classic "PSK: What Does It Mean."

Mo Money, Mo Problems (Featuring Puff Daddy, Mase, and Kelly Price, Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs and Stevie J

This song, much like a lot of others, instantly takes me back to 97 and I can't forget how popular this song was. It's unfortunate Biggie wasn't alive to see the success of it (and this album for that matter). And that one theme, "the more problems we come across, the more problems we see", is one of the most profound statements ever made. The song itself still holds up today. (And like "Hypnotize", it still receives radio play to this day.)
5 out of 5

N***** Bleed (Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs, Stevie J, Carlos "July Six" Broady and Nashiem Myrick)
(Sidenote: Don't let that Stevie J name fool you. Although he's made a complete spectacle of himself on that "Love & Hip Hop" reality show, the man was behind some hits. And he still makes a spectacle on this same show as of this post, lol.) This is another excellent song showcasing Biggie's captivating way to tell a story, and I thought this beat was simply amazing at the time. (This beat still is amazing to me.)
5 out of 5

I Got a Story To Tell (Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs, Buckwild and Chucky Thompson)
We close out the phenomenal first disc with ANOTHER storytelling showcase by Biggie, featuring the first 2 and a half minutes of the story and the final minutes devoted to Biggie telling the story all over again, this time to his crew and it's hilarious. 
5 out of 5


Notorious Thugs (Featuring Bone Thugs N Harmony, Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs and Stevie J)
The second disc gets off to a very memorable start, as we get the exceptionally great collaboration with Bone and Biggie. Krayzie, Bizzy and Layzie Bone all delivered very good verses, but the star of this song was undoubtedly Biggie. He took (not jacked) Bone's style, effectively turned it into his own and created hip hop magic. 
5 out of 5

Miss U (Featuring 112, Produced By Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature)
This is a heartfelt dedication from Biggie to the homies he lost over the years. I'm surprised this one didn't make its way to radio, but it's all good. (I honestly didn't care about this one too much when I first played it, but it did grow on me after a while, had to take my time with it.)
5 out of 5

Another (Featuring Lil Kim, Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs and Stevie J)
Most would say this song could've been better, considering it's the only real true Biggie and Kim collaboration, but what we got was strictly for laughs if you ask me (Biggie knew he couldn't sing, lol). 
3 out of 5

Going Back To Cali (Produced By Easy Mo Bee)
An apply titled song here, even when the silly "East Coast/West Coast" beef was reaching its peak. Biggie had love for the West Coast and it's clear in this song. 
5 out of 5

Ten Crack Commandments (Produced By: DJ Premier)
The controversial nature of this song certainly didn't please the legendary Chuck D, but in a hip hop form, it was a well done "step by step" booklet for you to get, your game on track, not your wig pushed back. Yes indeed! 
5 out of 5

Playa Hater (Produced By: Sean "Puffy" Combs and Stevie J)
I didn't take this song seriously (many people did, lol), mostly because when you listen to it, it was done strictly for laughs. (Somewhat of an extended interlude/breather.)
3 out of 5

Nasty Boy (Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs and Stevie J)
Most didn't like this, but I personally didn't have a problem with it. The skit at the beginning definitely showed why Biggie would've been considered a nasty boy, lol, and it perfectly led into this song. 
4 out of 5 (Not sure why I gave this one a "4 out of 5", but I'm going with the full monty on this one, "5 out of 5.")

Sky's The Limit (Featuring 112, Produced By Clark Kent)

Possibly one of the more underrated songs on this album. I really like this song and its theme: the sky is the limit, you can have what you want and be what you want. So inspiring. 
5 out of 5

The World Is Filled... (Featuring Puff Daddy, Too Short and Carl Thomas, Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs and Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie)
I could've done without Puff's ok but forgettable verse, however, Too Short delivers his usual verse and Biggie's verse is another famously quoted one (Jay-Z knows which one I'm talking about). Good stuff here. 
4 out of 5 (I'll up this one to a "4.5 out of 5", with the .5 deduction due to Puff's verse.)

My Downfall (Featuring DMC, Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs, Carlos "July Six" Broady and Nashiem Myrick)
This, and the next two songs for that matter, are simply amazing, continuously effective. Biggie details the things that he feels would cause his downfall, and it's sort of eerie at the same time, especially lines like "dying ain't the shit but it's pleasant, kinda quiet". That sent chills up my spine when I first heard it. 
5 out of 5

Long Kiss Goodnight (Produced By The RZA)
This is another favorite of mine, home to one of my favorite subliminal lines of all time (likely towards 2Pac): "When my men buss, you just move with such stamina/Slugs missed ya, I ain't mad at ya (we ain't mad at cha)." This was the first (and last) time Biggie would collaborate with RZA. I can imagine what things would've been like had Biggie had the chance to work with RZA more. 
5 out of 5

You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You) Produced By Sean "Puffy" Combs and Stevie J
This is one of the most eerie album closers I've ever heard. The notion that you're nobody till somebody kills you is commonly accepted, unfortunately, for the most part and this song paints that VERY chilling picture. 
5 out of 5

This excellent album STILL holds up today (of course) and I still like it as much as I did in '97 if not more. I respectively disagree with the opinion that this album would've been better as a single disc, as it MORE than justified its length. This album is as classic as they come, and bringing "Ready To Die" in for a bit, songs like "Juicy", "Big Poppa", "One More Chance (Remix)", "Hypnotize", and "Mo Money, Mo Problems" STILL receive radio play to this day (deservedly so). We're going to hear this music forever, even after you and I are gone. Biggie's legacy WILL ALWAYS live on and it will not be forgotten. (And yes, a clear cut 5 star album. Even though every song doesn't hit the "5 out of 5" rating, the material surrounding the "lesser" songs is strong that the 5 star rating is deserved in my opinion.)

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