While considering my options for Flashback Friday, my immediate thought was to write about Avril Lavigne’s Let Go. Sadly I knew that my editors would probably refuse to publish anything to do with Avril, so I decided to go back one more decade and write about someone who is on the opposite, but equally magnificent, end of the musical spectrum. Thus for this ‘Flashback Friday’ I give you the Notorious B.I.G. and his iconic album, Ready to Die.
While most of my teenage years were spent listening to the angsty melodies of Fall Out Boy, Blink 182 and Good Charlotte, Biggie was the one exception to my somewhat questionable taste in music. He was someone that I had grown up hearing about and I wasn’t quite sure what the term ‘East Coast hip hop’ actually meant (still don’t really, if we’re being perfectly honest) but I knew it was something magic. There are 17 songs on Ready to Die and I would be kidding myself if I thought I could possibly do justice to all of them. So I’ve chosen to share my five favourites with you today.
I want to say that the first song I heard was Juicy, but maybe that’s just because of the way that the lyrics really stuck with me. For me it is one of those rare songs that I loved instantly. I know that most artists sing about their lives and the struggles they have faced, but I just think that Biggie did it better. His lyrics are so raw and honest and they aren’t trying to be pretty or sentimental. There is a real feeling of passion and hurt when you listen to this album, especially Juicy. The song opens with the lyrics: 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 and called the police on me when I was just trying to make some money to feed my daughter. From the minute I heard those words I was in awe of this man who had truly struggled. This song just touches my heart. I don’t know how to talk about it without being a little bit cheesy.
Opening track Intro is probably my favourite opening track of any album. It’s so offensive, so full of profanities, it gets you so pumped up for the rest of the album. While a lot of albums have an intro that merely works as an introduction to the rest of the album, this Intro is its own song and if I’m being honest it probably deserves a better title than simply Intro. I also love this song because when you’re 15 years old, you know that any song that uses the word ‘fuck’ so consistently has got to be good.
Machine Gun Funk really embodies the 90’s hip hop sound and Biggie’s classic, loose, easy flowing lyrics. Biggie was a gem of an artist; he really made you feel the pain and emotion in the situations he raps about – no matter how socially or culturally separated you were. This song is all about getting off the street and quitting drugs, and while the subject matter is deep, the jazzy melody makes it feel like a party beat.
Warning is a sad song to look back on, because it’s about an alleged hit on Biggie and a kind of twisted prophecy about his murder, which took place three years later. Over a smooth Isaac Hayes sample we hear a conversation between Biggie and a ‘friend’ – both sides voiced by him. The conversation relays an elaborate plot to kill Biggie, and builds ominously. The song climaxes with a simultaneous ‘Oh, Shit’ from both characters as two gunshots are heard and the song ends.
My favourite Biggie song ever is Big Poppa. When I listen to it, I feel like I should be driving a Cadillac through the streets of Brooklyn with one hand on the steering wheel and a joint in the other. This image would be almost perfect if I weren’t, in reality, a small white girl with absolutely no ‘swag’ or ‘game’ or whatever the kids are calling it these days. But this song is timeless and beautiful. As his name might suggest, Biggie was not a small man, and unlike so many other rappers who talk about all the ‘pussy and bitches’ they get, Biggie refers to himself with the lines Heartthrob never/ black and ugly, as ever. This song is basically Biggie saying he knows how to treat a girl right. There’s no need for bragging or bigotry, he’s just an ordinary guy singing about girls and its wonderfully endearing.
The depth of this album is just too much. Biggie Smalls was an absolute lyrical genius and it is a true testament to the quality of his music to know that it is still being appreciated 21 years later. On Ready to Die, he has created something truly timeless. His untimely death has allowed his greatness to remain unspoiled; critics have often said that it is unlikely that Biggie’s music would have remained as good as it was in his first two albums, but somehow I don’t believe it. I really do think he had an incredibly special gift and I believe that his music would have remained majestic. I have genuinely become quite emotional writing about this and I guess its true when they say that only the good die young.