Hey look! A music review – The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (1994)

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“It was all a dream…..”

 

It was this simple lyric that inspired a generation of hip hop fans and musical contributors the world over. This lyric was uttered by Brooklyn rapper The Notorious B.I.G. (or Biggie Smalls or Biggie) on the song “Juicy” off his debut album “Ready to Die”. Born Christopher Wallace on May 21st 1972, Biggie was raised in a single-parent household – this parent being Jamaican-born Voletta Wallace – after his father left the family when he was two years old. Nicknamed “Big” due to his overweight size, he started selling drugs at age 12, dropped out of high school at age 17 and got arrested at age 19 for dealing crack cocaine. After nine months in jail, he made bail and started pursuing a rap career. Under the alias “Biggie Smalls” – a gangster character from the 1975 blaxploitation comedy “Let’s Do It Again” – Christopher put out a demo tape which reluctantly found its way into the hands of Uptown Records A&R and record producer Sean Combs. That’s right, folks! Puff Daddy a.k.a. P-Diddy a.k.a. Diddy a.k.a. Mr. “Making the Band” (REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!) himself. Anyhoo, after Sean got fired from Uptown in mid-1992, Christopher eventually got signed to Sean’s new label: Bad Boy Records (“BAD BOY, BABY!!”). And after his longtime girlfriend gave birth to his first child T’yanna on August 8th 1993, Christopher returned to the world of drug dealing to support his daughter. Sean found out about it, and forced Christopher to quit so he can properly pursue a music career under the Bad Boy label.

Within one year of signing to Bad Boy Records, Christopher’s life changed immensely. Under the new pseudonym The Notorious B.I.G., his solo track “Party and Bullshit” appeared on the soundtrack to the hip-hop buddy-cop comedy “Who’s the Man?” (1993) and his collaborations with artistes like Mary J. Blige (“Real Love”), Super Cat (“Dolly my Baby [Bad Boy Extended Mix]”) and fellow Bad Boy signee Craig Mack (the fucking EXCELLENT “Flava in Ya Ear” remix) put his name on the hip-hop map. He later married then-up-and-coming R&B singer Faith Evans (who would later collaborate with him on his smash single “One More Chance/ Stay with Me (Remix)”) on August 4th 1994, and put out his critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful debut album “Ready to Die” on September 13th. The following year, he helped launch the career of his protégé group Junior M.A.F.I.A. (which included female rapper Lil’ Kim) with their debut album “Conspiracy”. With his new-found status as the (un)official East Coast hip hop ambassador, life for the Notorious B.I.G. had never been better.

However, everything changed on the night of November 30th 1994. Both Biggie and his then-friend and Death Row Records member Tupac “2Pac” Shakur – the (un)official ambassador of West Coast hip hop – were at a New York recording studio with their respective crews. Upon leaving the studio, Tupac was robbed and shot five times by an unknown assailant. Tupac survived the shooting, and publicly accused Biggie and Diddy of involvement in the event. Though Bad Boy Records claimed they had nothing to do with the incident, it didn’t stop Tupac and Death Row Records from launching a slew of vicious verbal assaults at the record label, and the East Coast in general. The result was the revival of an infamous feud between the East Coast and West Coast hip- hop movements. Regrettably, this feud ended with the fatal drive-by shootings of Tupac in Las Vegas, Nevada, in September 13th 1996 (oddly enough on the 2nd anniversary of the release of “Ready to Die”) and the Notorious B.I.G. in Los Angeles, California, on March 9th 1997. More than 15 years later, those murders remain unsolved.

And now, without further ado, in commemoration of its 20th anniversary (fuck, I feel old), I present you to my long-awaited review of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready To Die”.  WARNING: As you may have gathered from my intro, this write-up is gonna be pretty long (it is a long album, by the way). DON’T say I didn’t warn you.

1. INTRO – “Ready To Die’s” intro track vividly describes four events in Chris’ life, with each time period classified by a specific song: Chris’ birth in 1972 (Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly”. It should be noted that on the original version, the sample used was the 1977 Marvin Gaye funk track “Got To Give it Up”, which would’ve created a ridiculous-as-hell time paradox on the album had that song been cleared); a heated argument between his mom and soon-to-be-absentee father somewhere around 1979-1980 or thereafter (Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”); an armed robbery by a desperate Chris and an accomplice in 1987 (Audio Two’s “Top Billin’”) and Chris’ release from prison in 1993 (Snoop Dogg’s “Tha Shiznitt”). Both in thematic concept and aural execution, “Intro” succeeds in giving the listener a cinematic glimpse into the harsh, unjust, uncompromising environment where Biggie was born and raised into, and eventually became a part of. Not for the faint of heart, “Ready to Die’s” intro WILL prepare you for what you’re in for. You’ve been warned, I suppose. 

2. THINGS DONE CHANGED – Using a vocal sample from legendary West Coast producer/rapper Dr. Dre’s mellowed-out meditation on growing up in the ghetto (“Lil’ Ghetto Boy”), and a downcast, string-assisted instrumental by producer Darnell Scott, Biggie contrasts the “happy days” of his past to the poverty-stricken, crime-ridden reality of his (then) present. And while he rightfully sounds stressed and dissatisfied by how times have changed, he approaches this topic with a hardened sense of realization that things will not get better. A sad truth, yes, but one that we, at some point in time, must accept. 

3. GIMME THE LOOT – The title says it all. Biggie channels the psychoses of two “stick-up-kids” (performed by himself in a back-and-forth manner) on the edge of desperation. Casual listeners will find themselves freaked the fuck out by “Gimme the Loot’s” ‘controversial’ lyrics (controversial – and I use this term loosely – to the point that two words were edited out before the album’s release, though you can find the original uncut version on the “O.G. Edition” of “Ready to Die”) but the open-minded will find themselves entertained by its darkly humourous, over-the-top, violent braggadocio all the way to its fitting conclusion. If all else fails, there’s Easy Mo Bee’s menacing, heavy-bass instrumental (that fucking KNOCKS, by the way) and Biggie’s infectious hook (“Gimme the loot, gimme the loot – I’m a bad, bad, bad”) to keep you interested.

4. MACHINE GUN FUNK – A brief interlude of Biggie coughing out chronic smoke (*COUGH*unnecessary interlude*COUGH) at the end of “Gimme the Loot” segues into a funky, head-nodding instrumental by Easy Mo Bee, complete with a heavy drumbeat, smooth guitar sample from 1970s funk band Black Heat’s “Something Extra”, backing vocal sample from Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns’ (awesome name, right?) “Up for the Down Stroke” and a CATCHY-ASS hook from (the criminally underrated) rap trio Lords of the Underground’s “Chief Rocka” (“I live for the funk, I die for the funk”). Biggie brings tons of charisma and swagger to this song, as he raps about leaving the crime game and entering the world of rap, while continually keeping his eyes open for those who wish to see him dead (“Used to sell crack, so I could stack my riches / Now I pack gats to stop all the snitches / From staying in my business, what is this”). Fantastically funky track overall, even if its remix (more on that later) doesn’t “funk” as much.

5. WARNING – “Who the fuck is this?”  One of the most famous opening lines in music history, Biggie starts off this song on an obviously sour note. On the surface, “Warning” is a vile verbal reaction to a telephoned warning by Biggie’s friend Pop (voiced by….you guessed it…. Christopher Wallace) that some “friends” of his (HILARIOUSLY voiced by….believe it or not…. Diddy) from his early drug-dealing days are coming to his house to kill him. But underneath the threats of violent retaliation is a sense of paranoia and fear that the ones who grew up with you when you had nothing will indefinitely grow to envy you and wish you harm –  or in the song’s case, sneak into your home to try to murder you – the second you get rich. The underlying soul sample from Issac Hayes’ melancholy “Walk on By” gives the heavy, automatic-head-nodding instrumental by Easy Mo Bee a blaxploitation-esque vibe. And Biggie delivers bar after bar of hard-hitting lyrics that seamlessly masks the fear his character experiences on this track (“There’s gonna be a lot of slow singing/ And flower bringing / If my burglar alarm starts ringing”). A bonafide masterpiece, “Warning” deserves to be in the Top 5 of any list of favourite B.I.G. songs.

6. READY TO DIE – The low-pitched organ sample from Willie Hutch’s “Hospital Prelude of Love Theme” from the blaxploitation classic “Foxy Brown” that permeates through Easy Mo Bee’s beat gives this title track an eerie, funeral-type atmosphere. But within the context of this song, whose funeral is it? Is it one of the persons Biggie violently crossed paths with in the past, or is the individual being threatened throughout the song by Biggie and in the intro and interlude by Diddy – or is it Biggie himself? This is the complexity of “Ready to Die”, one of two major tracks that presents Biggie at the end of his rope. As he reflects on his violent past as a “stick-up kid” (“As I sit back and look when I used to be a crook / Doing whatever it took from snatching chains to pocketbooks”) and the violent, desperate mindset that came with it (“Shit is real, and hungry’s how I feel / I rob and steal because that money got that whip appeal”), he tells himself that there is no hope or redemption for him and boldly proclaims that he is ready to die (“My shit is deep, deeper than my grave, G / I’m ready to die and nobody can save me”). The jazzy instrumental of the original version of “Ready to Die” is okay, but the fantastic beat in the final version perfectly matches Biggie’s cold, harsh lyrics. And the scratches of the vocal sample from rap legend Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin’”, which I fucking LOVE, is the literal cherry on top of this depressing-ass-looking cake that hopefully, I WON’T be eating. ‘Cause I love my life. Just saying.

7. ONE MORE CHANCE –  Assisted by a simple yet sultry hook by R&B group Total (REMEMBER THEM?!!!) and a smooth beat that samples the keyboards of R&B group DeBarge’s CLASSIC 1982 song “All This Love” (which is actually more noticeable on the original version of this track), Biggie kicks some explicitly smutty, wickedly clever boasts and brags about his sexual prowess (“When it comes to sex, I’m similar to the Thrilla in Manila / Honeys call me Bigga the Condom Filler / Whether it’s stiff tongue or stiff dick, / Biggie squeeze it to make shit fit”) on this track. Not to be confused with the less-NFSW “One More Chance / Stay with Me (Remix)” (more on that later), “One More Chance” is sex rap at its ballsiest (HA!! See what I just did there?)

8. F*** ME (interlude) – Inspired (I guess) by Dr. Dre’s skit “The Doctor’s Office” from “The Chronic”, “F*** Me” is a skit – or skeet – or skeet skit – where Lil Kim (playing herself?) gets fucked (*COUGH*fake orgasm with some intentionally ridiculous dirty talk added for the hell of it*COUGH) by Biggie. Like “The Doctor’s Office” skit from “The Chronic”, I am not sure why this fucking skit exists on the album. And honestly, I don’t care. Moving along…

9. THE WHAT (ft. Method Man) – The sole rap collabo on “Ready to Die”, and one of the best collabos Biggie has ever taken part of in his career. From Easy Mo Bee’s murky, nocturnal instrumental to the competitive yet friendly verbal battle between Biggie and Wu Tang Clan member Method Man, EVERYTHING on this song works! Both emcees are lyrically on-point on this track, but if I had to pick a clear winner, I’d say Meth. With his trademark gravelly baritone voice, he delivers some of the track’s most memorable punchlines (“Step inside the ring, you’s the number one contender / Looking cold-booty like your p***y in December / N***a stop bitching, button up your lip and / From Method all you getting is a can of ass-whipping”).  His bars kick so much ass that they remain untouched on both the original version of this track (Biggie’s first and third stanzas had different lyrics) and the existing version on the album. Words can’t describe how fucking awesome this song is. No wonder it’s called “The What”.

10. JUICY – The first single from “Ready to Die” that introduced Biggie to the world and forever cemented his status as one of rap music’s greatest emcees. Using the funky guitars of R&B musician James Mtume’s 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit”, Poke, one half of production team Trackmasters, along with LEGENDARY producer Pete Rock (who also did the remix to this track) create a groovy, upbeat instrumental for Biggie to lay down some of the most heartfelt, noteworthy and relatable lyrics he’s ever composed. Even if you never wore “the red and black lumberjack with the hat to match” or ate “sardines for dinner” like he says on the first verse, or “smoked skunk (weed) with your peeps all day” or “dropped out of high school” as stated in the second verse, you can relate in some shape or form to his transition from common thief to hip-hop millionaire. Biggie celebrates the fact that he’s living the rap dream that he admittedly never thought would ever come to past due to his social background (“I never thought it could happen, this rapping stuff / I was too used to packing gats and stuff”). And now that he’s no longer involved in crime, he can financially provide for himself (“Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis / When I was dead broke, man, I couldn’t picture this”), his family (“Livin’ life without fear / Puttin’ 5 karats in my baby girl’s ears”) and friends (“And my whole crew is lounging / Celebrating every day, no more public housing”). Other rappers tried their hands at this topic (*COUGH*Drake’s “Started from the Bottom”*COUGH*one of the worst songs of 2013*COUGH*Yeah, I said it*COUGH*) but Biggie’s “Juicy” still remains the quintessential rags-to-riches rap song and the epitome of the hip-hop version of the American Dream.

SIDE NOTE: I recommend you check out the hilarious hip-hop reviewer The Rap Critic’s insightful comparison of “Juicy” to “Started from the Bottom” at the link below. Consider this a commercial break from reading my review. And yes, I’ll be here when you finish.

11. EVERYDAY STRUGGLE – The slightly-pitched sample of pianist Dave Grusin’s soothing “Either Way” sounds melancholy and forlorn over the hard snare hits and underlying bassline of producers Bluez Brothas’ instrumental for “Everyday Struggle”. With a heavy heart, Biggie reflects on his past experiences in the drug game while empathizing with those still involved in drug dealing (“I know how it feels to wake up fucked up / Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell”) from both an external level (“People look at you like you’s the user / Selling drugs to all the losers”) and internal (“But they don’t know about your stress-filled day / Baby on the way, mad bills to pay”). If “Juicy” is the hip-hop version of the American Dream, then “Everyday Struggle” is the hip-hop version of the American reality.

12. ME & MY BITCH –Biggie dedicates this aptly-titled track to his physical personification of the “perfect” bad-ass, take-no-shit-from-nobody gangsta girlfriend – the Bonnie to his Clyde, the Mallory to his Mickey, and all that good gangsta shit that we all love. Biggie’s storytelling skills are on perfect display as he vividly describes his relationship with this gangsta girl from its beginning to its (spoiler alert) tragic end. And while the original instrumental by Easy Mo Bee, with its use of the Minnie Riperton song “Take a Little Trip”, succeeds in creating dread and foreboding from the front end of this track, it’s the slow-paced Bluez Brothas/Chucky Thompson/Diddy instrumental with its mournful violins and heavy drums that truly sets up the idea that Biggie’s relationship with this girl was doomed from the start. Way more adult than contemporary, “Me & My Bitch” is probably one of the most unconventional love songs you’ll ever hear in your lifetime.

13. BIG POPPA – The second single from the album is one that’s near-IMPOSSIBLE to hate! Chucky Thompson and Diddy seamlessly blend Biggie’s braggadocious, pick-up line-punctuated verses (“I got more Mack than Craig get in the bed / Believe me sweetie, I got enough to feed the needy”) with a smoothed-out sample of Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” (the ULTIMATE 80s bedroom song), an infectious G-funk synth line and a catchy vocal sample of Biggie’s own contribution to Super Cat’s “Dolly my Baby [Bad Boy Extended Mix]” (“I love it when they call me Big Pop-pa!”) into a smooth, laid-back musical package that WILL make you “throw your hands in the air…..if you’s a true player”. And aren’t we all true players deep down inside? I’d like to think I am, at least.

14. RESPECT (ft. Diana King) –  Before making her official introduction to the music scene with 1995’s “Shy Guy” (from the “Bad Boys” soundtrack), Jamaican recording artiste Diana King provided the chorus to Biggie’s lyrical life story “Respect”. SIDE NOTE: her dancehall-tinged coda at the conclusion of this track (“Have mercy /Di gunman in a di party / And everybody feel irie / And everybody just follow me, follow me, follow me!” was reworked into the chorus for “Shy Guy” – just so you know. On “Respect”, Biggie gives us an intriguing three-verse account of his life (birth, incarceration, career as a rapper) over a Diddy/Poke instrumental that slows the guitars of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “I Get Lifted” into a punchy, hard-hitting BANGER! If you’re looking for a summary of the first half of the 2009 Biggie biopic “Notorious” (which I highly recommend you check out), look no further.

15. FRIEND OF MINE –  After a “sloppy” (and I use that term loosely) sex skit at the back end of “Respect”, Biggie goes into an explicit tirade over the women who blatantly cheated on him in the past (in the second verse, one of these women cheats on him with his real-life friend and fellow hustling partner D-Rock), and how he intends to treat them like…ahem….the bitches that they….ahem ahem…..are. While “Friend of Mine” is easily the weak link in the platinum chain of “Ready to Die”, it makes up for its flaws with a funky-as-hell instrumental provided by none other than Easy Mo Bee. So at least this track wasn’t a total waste.

16. UNBELIEVABLE – The composition of this track is legend in hip hop circles. With little money in his album budget, Biggie literally BEGGED producer DJ Premier to produce a beat for him. Reluctantly, Primo took him into his studio, and created the beat right in front of him. Biggie requested that Primo use a specific sample from R&B crooner R. Kelly’s hit song at that time (*COUGH*Not-that-subtle love song to Aaliyah (RIP)*COUGH) “Your Body’s Callin'” (“It’s unbelievable”) as the hook. Hours later, once the beat was prepared, Biggie went into the booth – with no lyrics written down – and started spitting his rhymes. The result: the BEST song on the entire album. I shit you not! THIS IS THE BEST SONG ON THE ENTIRE FREAKING ALBUM!! “Unbelievable” brings three crucial elements to the table: Biggie’s smoothly-delivered and comprehensive multi-syllabic rhymes (“And those that rushes my clutches get put on crutches / Get smoked like dutches from the master/ Hate to blast ya but I have ta”), a head-nodding boom-bap instrumental by DJ Premier that ranks amongst the finest ever produced in rap history (you can quote me on that) and a well-chosen – and well-scratched (by Primo) – vocal sample from the aforesaid R. Kelly track that BRILLIANTLY defines this song. Unbelievable? BELIEVE IT!  Yeah, I just quoted “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not!” and the English dub for “Naruto”. SUE ME!!

17. SUICIDAL THOUGHTS –  Recently, I listened to jazz icon Miles Davis’ “The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions” boxset (a must-listen for any avid music lover) for the first time, and I stumbled along a certain three-second segment on the sprawling, 21-minute track “Lonely Fire” that I would’ve easily ignored had I not remembered it being looped on the Lord Finesse instrumental for “Suicidal Thoughts”. If I ever get the opportunity to meet Lord Finesse, I would LOVE to find out how he discovered this segment. With every loop on “Suicidal Thoughts”, this small airy musical sample develops into a vast, haunting soundscape that envelops the listener in cold darkness. Even before the drums kick in, this darkness is heightened by a chilling late-night phone conversation between a depressed, suicidal Biggie and a frightened. disheveled Diddy. Here, Biggie goes into a one-verse downward spiral of self-loathing, feeling unloved and worthless due to the many bad decisions he made in his life. Diddy desperately tries to talk sense to his friend, but unfortunately, his pleas fall short as Biggie (spoiler alert) kills himself at the end of this song. Grim subject matter aside, this song is in no way intended to encourage people to consider suicide as a means to escape the pain of life. It’s bad enough we lost a beloved Hollywood actor less than a month ago (the late, great Robin Williams) thanks to suicide. The message in this song is simple: the levels of wealth and accomplishment one attains in life (cars, clothes, jewelry, money, power, fame etc.) are ultimately meaningless when one’s conscience and spirit remain unclean. “Suicidal Thoughts” succeeds as the conclusion of Biggie’s overall story arc on the album: he’s born into a cold world, learns to survive in this cold world, becomes part of it and STAYS in it even with his external achievements, and ends his life when he realizes he’s done little to internally change himself for the better.  In short, “Suicidal Thoughts” is the PERFECT way to end “Ready to Die”.

BONUS TRACKS TO ADD TO YOUR PLAYLIST

1. WHO SHOT YA? – The first of two bonus tracks on the remastered edition of “Ready to Die”, “Who Shot Ya?” is the most controversial song in Biggie’s catalogue. Its controversy stems from the brash, ferocious, in-your-face lyrics (“It’s on n***a, fuck all that bickering beef / I can hear sweat trickling down your cheek / Your heartbeat sound like Sasquatch feet / Thundering, shaking the concrete”) that were misinterpreted as a deliberate diss against 2Pac, even though the song didn’t specifically call him out. The mere fact that “Who Shot Ya?” was released two months after 2Pac’s aforementioned robbery/shooting in New York led many West Coast rap fans – and 2Pac himself – to believe that Biggie had prior knowledge about the shooting, even though Biggie himself claimed that he recorded the track way before the time of the event. Three months later, 2Pac retaliated against his former friend with arguably the HARSHEST diss song ever recorded: “Hit ‘Em Up”, a stinging, brutal assault on Biggie, Faith Evans, Diddy, Lil’ Kim and some other Bad Boy affiliates. In my opinion, “Who Shot Ya?” is the better of the two diss songs, but from a lyrically visceral perspective, “Hit ‘Em Up” still has the power to make me cringe.

2. JUST PLAYING (Dreams) – On the second bonus track off the “Ready to Die” remastered edition, Biggie does something that every full-bloodied man has done, or considered doing, at some point in time: compile a mental list of R&B divas he’d like to have sex with. Oh COME ON! Don’t you give me that look! Like you’ve never fantasized about sleeping with celebrities before? Anyhoo, Biggie shouts out a number of female singers that were relevant at the time of the song’s recording from veterans Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan to girl groups like SWV (remember them?!!!) to TLC. Funny he didn’t mention Total, whom he collaborated with on the superb R&B track “Can’t You See”. SPOILER ALERT: He ‘disses’ Xscape (i.e. the group that Tameka “Tiny” Cottle – the wife of Southern rapper T.I. – was part of) in the following line: “I’ll fuck RuPaul before I fuck them ugly-ass Xscape bitches”. OUCH! Well, fortunately, he did apologize to the group for what he said. Unfortunately, and apparently, he did that the night before he died. The power of apology, ladies and gents.

3. MACHINE GUN FUNK (DJ Premier Remix) – DJ Premier uses an all-too-familiar-in-the-hip-hop-world sample from The Mohawks’ “The Champ” and an all-too-familiar-in-the-hip-hop-world drumbeat from Clyde McPhatter’s “The Mixed Up Cup” to create a instrumental that may not be as funky as Easy Mo Bee’s beat for the original “Machine Gun Funk”, but embodies the East Coast boom-bap sound that Primo perfected during the 90s. The verses are the same from before (save for the addition of the term “blue suits” (i.e. 5-0, pigs, popo etc. etc.) that was omitted in the original track) and they sound fucking DOPE on this beat! And there’s a spoken intro by Biggie – with a brief beatbox added for good measure – that sounds way better than Biggie’s post-chronic smoking “sniffling” intro in Easy Mo Bee’s version. Both versions are great, but this is arguably the better of the two and well worth checking out.

4. ONE MORE CHANCE / STAY WITH ME (Remix) (ft. Faith Evans) – The song that introduced me to the Notorious B.I.G.  Back in 1995, this song and its hip-hop star-studded music video were in HEAVY ROTATION, and I couldn’t help but be amazed at the lyrical dexterity and ‘mackadocious’ demeanour he portrayed in both mediums. Even when he admitted in the following line: “Heart throb never, Black and ugly as ever”, he fearlessly backed that up with “However, I stay Coogi down to the socks / Rings and watch filled with rocks”. Over a smooth-as-silk piano-assisted instrumental, and backing vocals by Faith Evans and an uncredited Mary J. Blige, Biggie makes two things absolutely clear on this song: (1) ALL the girls wanted him and (2) he had ALL the game! Superior and far more accessible than the original “One More Chance”, “One More Chance / Stay with Me (Remix)” is a certified hip-hop/R&B classic.

MY THOUGHTS: Let’s get the obvious out of the way: “Ready to Die” is one of the great debut albums in the history of rap music…..hell, ALL MUSIC! Biggie’s distinct flow, sharp lyricism and vivid storytelling are both celebrate, studied and even imitated (*COUGH*Rick Ross*COUGH) by hip hop aficionados and artistes to this day. His ability to draw the listener visually, aurally and emotionally into his stories makes “Ready to Die” an immensely captivating listen from start to finish. From its musical production to lyrical content, this album truly embodies the essence of East Coast hardcore hip hop. Long story short, “Ready to Die” deserves its status of “hip hop classic”. It’s my fourth favourite album of all time – the first three being A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders”, Wu Tang Clan’s “Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers” and Nas’ “Illmatic”, and I can safely say that after 20 years, it’s aged gracefully. If you love 90s hip hop, then you NEED to have it in your collection (original or remastered edition). It’s like the fucking law! Die-hard fans of “Ready to Die” should check out the “O.G. Edition” which you can easily find online and download for FREE (ah yes, the F word!). If you never listened to it, I strongly recommend you do so as soon as you can. And while you’re at it, make sure to check out the Biggie biopic “Notorious” (not to be confused with the Alfred Hitchcock CLASSIC of the same name). It’s a really great movie – even though Anthony Mackie’s performance as Tupac Shakur was a bit “iffy”.

MY RATING: 5 out of 5 stars (“Listen to this album before you die….LITERALLY!”)

– Matthew