The Notorious BIG remains one of hip-hop's most celebrated figures, a legend beyond hyperbole. Though he only provided us with two albums during his tragically short life, Ready To Die and Life After Death, the impact of Biggie’s artistry remains felt to this day.
A master of flow, of charisma, of storytelling — the young man had the mind of a genius wordsmith, one that left a profound impact on those within his circle. As such, rappers like Diddy, Lil Kim, and The Lox have continued to honor his memory at every turn.
Did you know that Biggie released only one album?
Ready to Die was one of the most explosive debut albums of the east coast hip-hop scene of the 1990s, marking the beginning of The Notorious B.I.G.‘s short but significant career.
The fabled concept album accounts the early life of Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G. Making use of infectious funk rhythms, smooth lyricism and spoken word scenes throughout, the album’s narrative of birth to a suicidal end helps to explore Biggie’s real-life experiences of gang violence and family struggles.
Ready to Die, released in 1994 by Bad Boy Records — a label run by Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs or P. Diddy — earned Biggie a place as the face of the east coast rap scene, pitting the album against Dr. Dre’s Death Row and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle. Even over a quarter-century after its release, Ready to Die still maintains the sonic relevance it had at release.
At the time of recording Ready to Die, Biggie was in his early 20s, busy taking care of his sick mother, had a baby daughter to feed, and was involved in activities that meant that death could come at any time. But Biggie wasn’t afraid of dying and continued to stare it in the face until his passing in 1997. The entire album, from its title Ready to Die, to its lyricism and attitude, is imbued with his fearlessness, resulting in the power to hype and power up its listeners.
The entirety of Ready to Die feels like a heartbeat, the different rhythms marking changes in intensity that reflect the lyrical context.
P. Diddy’s played no small role in the album’s production and its subsequent wide appeal and commercial success. While Biggie’s power to captivate the listener comes largely from his in your face and thuggish sound, Diddy ensured that the album had a balance of tracks focused more around hooks and radio playability, to entice audiences. While this frustrated Biggie, some of the albums most notable tracks such as Juicy and Big Poppa are the result of these decisions.
Of course, the sad reality remains true -- Big is no longer with us, at least not in the physical form. His music, however, has only grown stronger in time. Young hip-hop fans have eagerly discovered his catalog, while OG's have grown wistful losing themselves in nostalgic return trips. In truth, we could all benefit from a reminder of Big's legacy, so show some love to late, great Notorious one on his birthday. Happy birthday B.I.G!
Listen to Ready To Die down below.