Week Fulla 90s East Coast Hip Hop – First Listen #58: The Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Ready to Die’

It’s once again time for me to work towards my dream of being a true hip hop head with another Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop. Last month, I took a week to explore some quintessential West Coast albums from Dr. Dre (The Chronic (1992)), Snoop Dogg (Doggystyle (1993)), Ice Cube (Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990)), Tupac (2pacalypse Now (1991)), and The Pharcyde (Labcabincalifornia (1995)). This week, I’m taking things over to the East Coast, starting with Biggie’s Ready to Die (1994). I know, I know. Me having gone this long without hearing a Biggie project is shameful. Looking for my dunce cap rn. I don’t think I need to say a much about how much of an important part of hip hop culture Biggie is. Though his career (while he was living) was cut incredibly short, Biggie made an irreversible mark on hip hop culture that is still maintained over 20 years since his death in 1997. So many artists today can trace their musical influence-lineages back to him. 

So why it’s taken me so long to listen to an album from Biggie? I really couldn’t say, but I’m here to change my life.

Photo Credit: https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/notorious-big-fashion-what-died-what-lived/

1994: Ready to Die

(via Genius)

No surprise. Ready to Die is ace! The album is very story-forward – much like Amerikkka’s Most Wanted – where the majority of the narrative is centered on Biggie’s (or the character that Biggie is playing on the album) progression from birth, through turbulent adolescence, and into adulthood. And while Biggie isn’t the most technical rapper on here (he essentially keeps the same pace, tone, and flow throughout the project), it’s not a boring listen at all. Biggie’s lyrics are tight, and I’m not here to debate Biggie’s voice as one of the best in hip hop history. His flow is like syrup on top of the production led by Diddy (aka Puffy aka Puff Daddy aka P. Diddy aka Love). He breezes through the 76 minutes of this project with the ease of a veteran, even though this was his debut album. 

I know how it feel to wake up fucked up

Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell

People look at you like you’s the user

Sellin’ drugs to all the losers, mad buddha abuser

But they don’t know about your stress-filled day

Baby on the way, mad bills to pay

That’s why you drink Tanqueray, so you can reminisce

And wish you wasn’t livin’ so devilish

THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G., “everyday struggle”

The main thing I love about this project is that it truly represents the very best of what hip hop can do. There’s a level of everydayness that exists throughout the project, but there’s also the lavish, champagne-filled lines that make up the rest of the space on here. Hip hop, for me, is the most successful when it’s tangible but still offers something to look up to (in whatever way an artist interprets that), and Biggie does that masterfully on here. And a lot of that back and forth happens through the idea of taking control. Biggie references (pretty often on here) how he wasn’t raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he wasn’t going to let that keep him from getting what he wanted. Whether that meant selling drugs, robbing people, or making raps, Biggie was about maintaining agency over what he wanted in life. And, of course, Biggie wasn’t/isn’t the only artist to do this, but in the context of how influential this project has been, it feels important to note.

I had a few favorites on here. Obviously, there’s not a person in the world who doesn’t love “Big Poppa” and “Juicy,” and they’re a great addition to the project. It was interesting that there was a choice to put the two of them in the middle of the project instead of at the beginning, but it was a nice surprise when they came up. Actually, my favorite moment on this project is the transition from the end of “Me and My Bitch” to the beginning of “Big Poppa.” At the end of “Me and My Bitch” (after the offloading of some misogyny and the myth of “ride or die chicks” in the verses), Biggie’s asked a question of “where are you from,” and when he answered “Brooklyn,” I expected there to be a “Brooklyn” by Yasiin Bey (which sampled “Who Shot Ya?” from this project – didn’t know that until today!) or “Compton” by Kendrick Lamar-type of track. BUT when that very familiar sample of the Isley Brother’s “Between the Sheets” came on, I had to hold back a scream (I was listening to the album on a walk and didn’t want the older ladies walking near me to think I was insane). It was perfect. You really just HAVE to listen to it. I also really enjoyed “Everyday Struggle” – I think that’s my favorite from the album (I would DIE for the sample of David Grusin’s “Either Way” on there) – and the production on “Me and My Bitch,” “Gimmie the Loot,” and “Machine Gun Funk” was chef’s kiss.

There wasn’t a lot that I didn’t like about this project, however, “Just Playing (Dreams)” on the 2004 remaster brought up a little bile in my throat. He had gotten through the project with minimal unhinged misogyny, and having this song at the end felt like it cheapened the project as a whole. I’ll give it a small pass because it wasn’t on the original project, but this was a song that should have stayed a blip of thought in his brain that he laughed and shrugged off. The other vomit-inducing moments on this project were centered on the sex simulation tracks. I just DON’T understand whyyyyyy these exist. Like, the obvious target audience for these albums is straight men. Do cis straight men want to hear another cis straight man imitate having sex in a song? Like, what’s the utility?? What if my Bluetooth connection between my phone and earphones disconnected during my walk, and “Fuck Me” was playing all loud on the walking trail??? I’d never be able to go back!

But other than those moments, Ready to Die is a great project. The 90s debut projects have continued to impress me, and it’s a shame that this album was the (first and) only one from Biggie that was released during his lifetime. It’s clear that he was entering the game with something special and had his time cut extremely short. Biggie gave us a lot on here, and the impact he’s made in hip hop is enough to fill four lifetimes. 

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image via Vulture

(listen to Ready to Die on Spotify by clicking the image below)

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Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop – First Listen #30: Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’

Let me start this off by officially dubbing this as a Missy Elliott stan blog lol (as well as a Denzel Curry, Tyler the Creator, Pharrell Williams, and Childish Gambino stan blog). I LOVE Missy Elliott – which is gonna sound like a fake statement, since the whole reason we’re here is because I’ve never … Continue reading Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop – First Listen #30: Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’

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