Today’s album was a more deliberate consideration. One, because it is a double album release with nearly two hours of music, and secondly, after not really warming up that much to the first album from The Notorious B.I.G., and knowing how important he is to my son as a hip-hop afficionado, I had to make sure I fully absorbed this album. The good news for me, as well as my son, was that I enjoyed “Life After Death” much more than “Ready to Die”. I certainly don’t celebrate the concept or the fact that this album was released 16 days after Biggie was murdered in Los Angeles, but it is the musical expansion that I was hoping to find on this release. “Life After Death” is the #179 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
As intended, this album is a notable diversification of sound, including the featuring of many guest artists. The album opens with a continuation from the last album, and the themes of violence, sex and drugs remain rampant on this record as well. After the macabre opening of “Life After Death (Intro)” and “Somebody’s Gotta Die”, we encounter a lighter mood with his major hit, “Hypnotize”. This song was my first extended introduction to Biggie, and it remains a favorite, even though I may have found a few others I like even better on this record. “Biggie Biggie Biggie, can’t you see, Sometimes your words just hypnotize me. And I just love your flashy ways, Guess that’s why they broke and you’re so paid.”
My least favorite song on this album is a trash piece from a trash human, R. Kelly. I won’t waste time on the song title, but it’s awful, just like he is. Thankfully, the rest of the album is much stronger, with some other really great tracks. Just like I loved it on his arch-rival Tupac’s album “All Eyez On Me”, the R&B feel of many of these songs is a welcome buoyancy to the morose themes that frequently resurface. I don’t love his turn to host Jay-Z, but that is more a statement on my ongoing annoyance with Jay-Z.
“Mo Money Mo Problems” is a notable hit from this record, and one of the most visible appearances from Puff Daddy. It is a great upbeat track that really takes off when the funkier and smoother side of Biggie emerges when he takes control of the mike.
Probably my overall favorite track on this album is “Going Back to Cali”. To be clear, this is not the same song as LL Cool J performs, which I also love, but it is Biggie letting us know, somewhat prophetically, that an east coast rapper has a place on the west coast as well. I find it to be one of the hardest hitting and powerful beats on the album, and throughout all of the collaborations, I like hearing Biggie front and center here. The next song “Ten Crack Commandments” is another powerhouse, and I love the sampling of Chuck D doing his countdown.
After several listens and a lot of contemplation, I can report out very favorably on this second and last full album created by Biggie Smalls, AKA The Notorious B.I.G. He is a cultural icon in the world of hip-hop, and his tragic loss just serves to further reinforce the pointlessness of the violence across this musical genre and our larger society.