Review: The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die

'Ready to Die' is a visceral tale of survival and ambition

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Ready to Die arrived on September 13, 1994 and changed hip-hop forever.

The Notorious B.I.G.'s debut, Ready to Die, is a universally acknowledged hip-hop masterpiece. The only album released in Biggie's lifetime is compelling enough to stand up to virtually any hip-hop work of its era.

At a time when west coast artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg had their grip around hip-hop's neck, Brooklyn's finest reached gold in two months, platinum in a year.

Ready to Die also notched a prestigious 4.5 Mic rating in The Source, which praised Biggie's storytelling: "Big weaves tales like a cinematographer, each song is like another scene in his lifestyle." Ready to Die went on to sell over four million units.

Why did Ready to Die resonate with so many people? Maybe it's because it's a story of desperation and ambition without the romanticized redemptive ending. Instead, Biggie's debut is a ploughed furrow moisturized by visceral tales of survival.

See also: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Biggie Smalls

Listening to Ready to Die almost twenty years later, it's evident that he was "one of one." Biggie's style and swagger require a grueling acting class to master. Case in point: rapper-cum-actor Jamal "Gravy" Woolard, who played Biggie in , needed a "Biggie Bootcamp," replete with rapid weight gain and real tears, to morph into Frank White. Gravy had to shove cotton balls into the side of his mouth and grip his tongue while he rapped in order to imitate Biggie's speech pattern.

 

There's no acting class capable of teaching the life experiences that inspired Biggie's raw tales. Biggie was broke and paranoid when he recorded Ready to Die. Penury and paranoia inspired the darker material on songs like "Gimme the Loot" and "Things Done Changed." With mouths to feed, Biggie found himself deep in the drug game in North Carolina in between studio sessions.

Ready to Die benefited from Biggie's circumstances. Tracks like "Warning" and "Gimme the Loot" are raw like the streets of New York. On the flip side, Biggie and the Diddy-led production team imbue tracks like "One More Chance" and "Big Poppa" with glossy flourishes.

Biggie's inimitable blend of edge and appeal is a blueprint that most rappers have tried to adopt.