Ready to Die (Notorious B.I.G., released September 13, 1994)
When I listened to this album for the first time, I knew right away that I had to do more research. There is no way I can write about an album by Notorious B.I.G. and not know more about the supposed East-West rivalry, Tupac, and how they all connect. All of that information could easily influence the lyrics on this album, and why this album is listed as one of the most significant albums of all time. Coincidentally, I downloaded a documentary a few weeks ago called “Biggie and Tupac”, which was about their deaths and whether or not they are related. So it was great education for me to watch in the midst of listening to this album.
Ready to Die was released on September 13, 1994 under the Bad Boy Records label, owned by Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy, Diddy, P. Diddy…whatever). I had no idea that Biggie and Combs were connected at all. That shows my lack of information, clearly!
- Things Done Changed
- Gimme the Loot
- Machine Gun Funk
- Ready To Die
- One More Chance
- #!*@ Me (Interlude)
- The What (feat. Method Man)
- Everyday Struggle
- Me & My Bitch
- Big Poppa
- Friend of Mine
- Suicidal Thoughts
This album is filled with street life references. Biggie (born Christopher Wallace)’s mom was interview in the documentary I watched, and she said he wrote about what he saw. He wrote about street life, because that’s what he knew. And that’s what I hear in the album too. Again, there’s a lot of gun talk, swearing and anything but positive language. (I sound like a prude when I say it like that) But this album has got a smoothly agressive sound. The samples and beats in the background of Wallace’s lyrics provide a funky backing that make you want to walk with a swagger. Seriously. And the lyrics flow off Wallace’s tongue with ease. They are matter of fact, a bit confrontational in sound, but exude confidence and connection with the beat.
There are also references to death on this album (aside from just the album title, Ready to Die). On ‘Warning’, Biggie raps about someone from the barbershop paging him early in the morning to warn him, someone wants to “stick the knife/ through your windpipe slow”. The title track, ‘Ready to Die’, is a mix of Biggie talking about being ready to die, and also holding a gun to someone’s head. Not really my scene (actually, not at all). But judgement aside, this album is iconic in the sense that it brought attention back to the New York, East-coast hip-hop scene and also is a strange precursor to Biggie’s 1997 death. The track that stuck out to me the most was ‘Suicidal Thoughts’, the last track on the disc. It’s exact;y what the title suggests, and is made out to sound like a phone call from Biggie to someone else (I’m not sure who, just from listening), spewing a suicidal rant. And then the album ends with Wallace saying “I’m sick of talkin” followed by a gunshot, and the man on the other end of the phone yelling at him to get his attention. Then, a pulsing heartbeat slows and the album finishes. These kind of tracks always make me wonder to what extent the artist is expressing themself honestly and to what extent its part of the “show”. Was Wallace actually feeling this way at this time, or are the lyrics exaggerated? I’m not sure, but it its a poignant way to end a track, let alone an album.
Oh, and on a side note, the album also features a few great singles which most of us will know well, like ‘One More Chance’, ‘Juicy’ and ‘Big Poppa’. And just like The Chronic
, it features a track of just sex sounds. What’s the deal with these!? Anyone? Can anyone fill me in here on what I’m missing? Anyway…
Definitely worth a listen if you haven’t heard this album before. And if you aren’t a hip hop fan, I challenge you to listen to this album without judgement and take what you will. There’s a very liquid-like element to Notorious B.I.G.’s rapping that is unique and also contributes to him being such an iconic artist in the hip-hop music scene.