BWW Series - Hip Hop Through History: Part IV: Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die
Today, BWW continues its new series, 'Hip-Hop Through History - Part IV: The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die. Throughout much of the 1990s, the East Coast reigned supreme in Rap, making some of the most important albums of that decade. One album that exemplifies this supremacy is Ready to Die by The Notorious B.I.G. Unlike much of rap at the time, Ready to Die has a highly conceptual structure.
The album, from beginning to end, is a masterpiece in storytelling, which tells the grim tale of a gangsta. Biggie opens the album with a set of vignettes, which signify key moments in his life-including his birth, frequent explosive arguments between his parents, and subsequently, the crimes for which he was convicted. Following this arc, the album leads directly into "Things Done Changed," "Gimme the Loot," "Machine Gun Funk," etcetera.
Each title, as well as the songs that accompany them, demonstrates the overall thematic approach of Ready to Die. As the album's title suggests, Biggie attempts to paint a portrait of a hoodlum who should not have been born-someone who was born ready to die. And as such, he creates a dark, grim tale. The album is also meant to call out the existing dichotomy between the lives of successful rappers, and those who must hustle to make ends meet.
What drives the album, though, is Notorious' candid, yet captivating, storytelling. As the songs alternate between the grim and the aspirational subject matter at hand, B.I.G. remains a captivating storyteller, never losing himself amidst the heavy nature of the tale he tells. An important example of this occurs on the album's final song, "Suicidal Thoughts." The song's beat for the song is comprised of little more than a phone ringing and some quiet background music.
This is very different compared to the funk and soul driven tracks littered throughout the album. After picking up a phone and calling Diddy, BIG raps, "When I die f*** it I want to go to hell/Cause I'm a piece of s*** it ain't hard to f****ing tell/It don't make sense goin to heaven with the goody goodies dressed in white/I like black tems and black hoodies." "Suicidal Thoughts," ends with Biggie shooting himself in the head, which is somewhat ironic, since Big was killed shortly before the release of his second album, Life After Death. It is fitting, then, that this masterpiece is a dark tale of a life that was taken too soon.