The recent controversy with the Marvel hip-hop variant covers gave us the perfect excuse to take a look back at one of the most iconic rap albums.
There’s no denying rap has been the major musical force of the last few decades. Once largely confined to the ghettos of our inner cities the genre can now be heard frequently on popular radio stations.
Its ubiquity could almost make you forget that rap was at its most vital when it was dominated by Gangster Rap. Sure, the explicit stuff sold well but it wasn’t exactly mainstream either. However, between 1985 and 1995 the greatest innovations and the cool factor were squarely with the gangstas.
One of the biggest albums of that era was the debut of the Notorious BIG, otherwise known as Biggie Smalls. The album, Ready to Die (1994), was arguably the pinnacle of the gagster sub-genre. There just wasn’t much left to do after this record hit. That might partially explain the industry’s, and Biggie’s, gradual move to a softer sound and different subject matter. Gangster rap never really went away but it definitely is not the force it once was.
Ready to Die followed in the footsteps of great releases like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic (1992) and Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (1993) with its cinematic scope. What is meant by cinematic? The key words are scope and story. By tying all of the songs together in a narrative thread and making great use of skits between songs these artists succeed in making a bigger statement. Indeed Ready to Die makes both of these other two albums look a bit juvenile by comparison.
The album’s intro consists of a sequence of skits giving us a partially imagined retelling of Biggie’s life. We are treated to the sounds of his mother giving birth as well as his arrest for robbery, all backed by classic soul and rap songs. It’s a compelling introduction to the Biggie Smalls character that the actual Biggie presents us with on the album.
What really carries the album though is Biggie’s detailed lyricism and animated delivery. Set atop some great beats and assisted with some astute production this record hits hard.
Listen to “Gimme the Loot” for instance. The subject matter is all made-up gangster bullshit, but the intensity of Biggie’s delivery, as well as the humor in many his rhymes, make the track addictively exciting.
For those who prefer more true-to-life autobiographical stories I’d recommend tracks like “Things Done Changed,” “Me & My Bitch,” and “Suicidal Thought.” All of these songs reveal a surprisingly sensitive and tortured individual. Oftentimes one can’t help but see these songs in light of his eventual murder.
In sum, there is not a mediocre track on this album (I could do without the F— Me Interlude skit though). From beginning to finish this album grabs your attention and makes you listen. If you’re new to Gangster Rap this is definitely a great place to start.
- Great Lyrics
- Great Personality
- Engaging Beats
- Glorification of Crime
- Listening to Biggie Smalls simulate sex