Ready To Die

The Notorious B.I.G.

Bad Boy Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/12/2003

Like movies, some of the best albums are defined by a few unforgettable sequences: the horse scene in the first Godfather movie, the chest-bursting scene in Alien movie. For The Notorious B.I.G.'s major label debut, Ready to Die, the album is decorated with similar 'moments,' such as the obscenely funny "Interlude," rapping about living on five-cent gum and blowing his ownbrains out at the conclusion of the album, after over an hour of taunts, bravado and playa fantasies.

While 2-Pac usually excelled at making general observations about life as a young black man through the eyes of an observer, Biggie Smalls was able to personalize his experiences: the poverty, drug dealing, and later, the excess of fame. "My momma's got cancer in her breast/don't ask me why I'm motherf***ing stressed," Biggie rants on "Things Done Changed."my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Before Sean "Puffy" Combs was more worried about selling clothes than making memorable albums, he gave Ready to Die its ambitious, cinematic flow. For every laid-back, Cristal-soaked party anthem ("Juicy"), a morose, regretful tune followed. "I don't want to live no more," is the main chorus of "Everyday Struggle." Even songs that appear to give reason to why groups like the PMRC still are in existence ("Me and My Bitch") contain moments of stark vulnerability on par with Elliot Smith, as Biggie ends the song with one of his best friends getting killed.

Biggie Smalls claimed he never liked writing down his lyrics, opting to rap from the top of his head. With Ready to Die, he captured the dread and helplessness of the life of a dealer as well as some of the most over-the-top party anthems of the '90s. Even in a world where it's becoming increasingly harder to shock people, listening to the XXX-rated "#!*@ Me (Interlude)" can still leave me squirming, laughing and cringing at the same time as the song is a minute-and-a-half hardcore porn track, featuring Biggie.

The album closes with the harrowing "Suicidal Thoughts." While Ready to Die contained as many boasts as N.W.A.'s and 2-Pac's best works, Biggie Smalls always excelled at following up every tale of violence with its stark consequence, on the victim and the perpetrator of the action. It's an incredibly dark album, making it all the more of a difficult listen, knowing Biggie Small's tragic fate a mere three years after Ready to Die's release. Even if you're not a rap fan, the storytelling Biggie weaves throughout the album remains some of the most vivid examples of verbal cinematography on an album. Almost ten years after its release, Ready to Die remains a landmark achievement.

Rating: A-

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© 2003 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bad Boy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.