the-notorious-big

Two decades ago, The Notorious B.I.G. found enough within him and his cerebral to create a rap album that many feel is rawer and superior to the double disc album that followed suit. Yes, Ready To Die comes with the glut of hardcore New York City hip-hop strapped to its back; the mafioso crime tales more gritty and nihilistic. The overall closure of the album sounded more like the requiem of a fatalist than a burgeoning rap star ready to sit on top of the world.

Its lasting impact is that it’s another landmark moment for 1994 hip-hop, the album that eroded plenty of the appeal another seminal debut disc had five months prior. There are celebratory moments, fleeting as they may be before thrusting us back into a world where everything seems black. The skies, the protagonist, the outlook on everything surrounding him.

If Christopher Wallace truly believed he had created an opening for Bad Boy Records with his appearance on labelmate Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear” remix, “Juicy” effectively made the House That Puff built into a shimmering look on kids of the 70s filtering the music they listened to through a machine of 90s bluster and shine.

For all of the pop and fluoresce that laid in the single tracks for Ready To Die, the crowning moment of “Juicy” and the overweight lothario pull of “Big Poppa”, the rest of the album is fronted and buoyed by gruff, in your face storytelling and bleakness. There’s tales of a man escaping death at birth by his own umbilical cord choking him (“Respect”), open declarations of being unafraid to leave the earth (“Ready To Die”), more love given to instruments of violence rather than people themselves (“Machine Gun Funk”) and more. It’s a yo-yoing effect of a man surrounded by everything and succumbs to them, rather than escape.

There have been arguments in the two decades since its release in regards to what Biggie story on Ready To Die is its absolute best. There’s the single player weaponry and paranoia that drips throughout, namely on “Gimmie The Loot” and “Warning”, the latter of which became a hallmark for how vivid Wallace could be in weaving in characters with personality and direction.

Neither however detail the urgency and duality of the two lives The Notorious B.I.G. led, that of drug dealer and father who may possibly have an out. That distinction belongs to “Everyday Struggle” and while “Juicy” is more celebrated and visual thanks to images of Super Nintendos, obscene phone bills and taunts to those who believed he’d never amount to anything, “Everyday Struggle” lays things out with a visceral approach. An empty stomach in the morning looking to be filled by night type of storytelling. “Juicy” feels like closure, a chapter of life marked by bodies, pain and tragedy ending. “Everyday Struggle” feels like Groundhog Day to a man constantly finding the same result after making new moves.

The lasting impact of Ready To Die sort of plays into the weird mythos that has followed Christopher Wallace’s career and the tragic end that befell it three years later. It’s prophetic in a sense, especially that of “Suicidal Thoughts” ending with Puff’s pleas, Biggie’s heart slowly fading away and more. If you subtract any of Biggie’s solo and feature work from 1995 to 1996 and immediately jump into his bloated sophomore disc Life After Death, it’s a eerie bridge between the two.

Ready To Die isn’t a perfect rap album but it plays like multiple scenes from one. Method Man is a more than capable foil to Biggie on “The What” as his own debut solo disc, Tical was set to land later in the winter. Biggie Smalls was the illest as the DJ Premier R. Kelly flip of “Unbelievable” proved. He was a magnificent storyteller who could make eating a slice of bread sound like a practice from crumb to crust. The stories became grander an album later but encasing the grit of New York City, there’s this album and the haunting paranoia of a soon to be rap legend.