Legacy Salute: Biggie’s Best, Part 1
Tuesday (March 9) marks the 13th anniversary of the death of the Notorious B.I.G. There aren’t enough accolades to give the Brooklyn bone-crusher. Biggie helped mold one of the greatest eras in hip-hop with a versatile style and gift for wordplay that has him perennially listed in the top three when you ask most hip-hop fans to name the greatest MCs of all time. Here, your favorite hip-hop team chooses some of Frank White’s pre-eminent musical accomplishments.
Shaheem Reid: Life After Death
How do you distinguish extreme excellence? How do you look at two albums by the same artist — both of which you feel are in the top 10 greatest hip-hop creations ever made — and put one over the other? Ready to Die vs. Life After Death is a subject I’ve debated going on 10 years now. No argument has a clear-cut winner. Both albums are classics. Both have stood the test of time. You can’t logically dis a song on either LP. There might be some records you prefer over others, but Big didn’t have anything wack on his albums. For me, though, I go with Life simply because I feel that it was Biggie at his best. He had evolved. He grew. Big touched all bases from the ’hood to Hollywood in two immaculately put-together discs — a feat that no other MC has been able to duplicate since. Nothing could ever replicate the initial euphoria that Ready brought, but Life was the master with his craft fully perfected.
Rahman Dukes: Ready to Die
Nothing can replace that feeling hip-hop heads in New York City experienced in the days leading up to this release. I specifically recall the Friday before RTD was set to shock the world. It seemed like every car from Brooklyn to Queens was pumping “Juicy” and “Unbelievable.” Back then, albums were on cassette tapes and not bootlegged. Imagine hearing this flawless masterpiece for the first time in its entirety. The East Coast ran hip hop in the ’90s, and Ready was the icing on the cake. The movement the album set off in the Tri-State Area was the first to do it, only duplicated years later when 50 Cent dropped Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Hmm, that title Get Rich or Die Tryin’ sounds eerily similar to … you know the rest.
Unanimous Choice: “Hypnotize”
“Hypnotize” had the million-dollar video with the mermaids and the car chases, but it’s way more than the visual production that puts this record slightly above our other favorites Big singles like “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance.” “Hypnotize” was so hot in its heyday that it felt like the walls in the club would just melt when the DJs pulled it back (sometimes up to 10 times in a row). We were absolutely devastated that Big was gone, but this record helped us get through it. Big left us three and a half minutes of pure jubilation to celebrate his life and legacy.
Best Album Cut
Reid: “The What” from Ready to Die
The Bad Boy/ Wu-Tang Clan pairing was too much. “N—as know soft like the Twinkie fillin’/ Playing the villain/ Prepare for this rap killin’/ Biggie Smalls is the illest/ Your style is played out like Arnold and that ’What you talkin’ bout Willis.’ ” Big was as merciless as an NFL linebacker attacking the blindside of an unsuspecting quarterback, wonderfully cocky and as humorous as eight episodes of “Def Comedy Jam” all in just a few bars. You put that with a hungry and focused Method Man, who lyrically spat broken glass all over the track, and you wonder why Diddy — in his infinite wisdom — never pushed the button on this classic with radio adds and a video.
Dukes: “Everyday Struggle” from Ready to Die
B.I.G. was a true master at making some of the most hard-core tracks come off as commercial material. If you tune out exactly what he was saying on songs such as this one, you’d think it was something that you could expect to hear on regular rotation. But then there are lines like this: “I got my honeys on the Amtrak/ With the crack in the crack of her ass/ Two pounds of hash in the stash/ I wait for hon to make some quick cash/ I told her she could be lieutenant, bi— got gassed.” It’s a bit explicit, but I’m sure you get my point.
Best Guest Appearance
Reid: Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn’s Finest”
Another tough one. Big was prolific not just with his own projects, but with doling out the love on his peers’ records as well. I had an inner conflict trying to figure out if I should go with Shaq’s “You Can’t Stop the Reign,” where the swagga was off the Richter, or Puff’s “Victory.” But in the end, I had to give it to his back-and-forth with Jigga. Both MCs were relentless, neither one wanting to let the other get the upper hand. In the end, Big and Jigga made the best tag-team duo since Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh on “The Show.”
Dukes: Shaquille O’Neal’s “You Can’t Stop the Reign”
I think the beauty behind this monster is that this record came out around the time when B.I.G. was in rehab and took a break from the rap game. The wordplay on this song is historical. “A lime to a lemon/ My D.C. women bringin’ in to G-minimums/ To condos with elevators in them/ Vehicles with televisions in them/ Watch they entourage turn yours to just mirages/ Disappearin’ acts, strictly nines and macs/ Killers be surreal, Copperfield material/ My dreams is vivid, work hard to live it/ Any place I visit I got land there/ How can players stand there and say I sound like them, hello.” Ten years since the release of this song, nothing comes close to what Big had to say. The irony is that he gave such a jewel away to Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq, you owe the Christopher Wallace estate big time for this one.
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