Tag Archives: Puff Daddy

Golden Era: Life After Death, 20 Years Later….

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest albums in Hip Hop history. On March 25, 1997, about two weeks after The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, Bad Boy Records released the Life After Death double album. This album went on to cement Biggie’s status as one of the (if not the) greatest rappers in the history of its genre, with classic singles, being able to cover all areas & satisfy all listeners from the streets to the clubs. As we celebrate the anniversary of Life After Death, we’ll break down the top songs from the album, The Butterfly Effect, and if this album precedes Ready To Die or not. My crew run, run, run, my crew run, run…..

Where were you when….

I’ll never forget where I was when Biggie Smalls passed. It was after the heinous East Coast – West Coast battle between Biggie & Tupac that dominated the landscape of hip hop music back in ’96. For those that don’t remember, it pretty much all started back at the 1995 Source Awards, when Suge Knight delivered his infamous Come to Death Row acceptance speech. Even back then, you got the impression things were going to escalate quicker than the News crew fight in Anchorman. It lead to Suge bailing out, and then signing Tupac out of jail, who at that point, was as rabid with anger and revenge as I’ve ever seen as a rapper. Or anyone really. He went after Biggie, Puffy, Bad Boy, and any East Coast artist that seemed cool with them.  In songs and interviews, he went after them like the Hulk. (One of the most classic interviews, was the last interview he did with Toronto’s own Master T. I’m not even sure Master T got a word in after his first question). You know how everything snowballed after that: multiple rappers from both sides chose their allegiance to each coast sending out shots in almost every way possible. From videos of rappers kicking down buildings, to MC’s kidnapping LA-fitted wearing brothas, and throwing them over the bridge. As fans of Hip Hop, you felt forced to choose a side. I won’t lie to you, musically between the beef, Nas dropping, It Was Written, The Fugees running wild, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest dropping new material, LL making his second of 15 comebacks into the game……it was an incredible time. Overall though, it was getting to a dark place. Then in September ’96, things turned pitch black when Tupac was shot 9 times after the Tyson fight in Las Vegas, ultimately dying about a week later. Hip Hop lost one of its biggest and greatest stars just as he entered the sweet spot of his prime years. The speculations were wild and rampant as to who killed Tupac.  Of course, one speculation was that Biggie and Bad Boy had something to do with it (which I never believed). Darkness was looming…..

…..and on March 9th, I was woken out of bed by my brother-in-law’s phone call asking if I’d heard the news about Biggie Smalls being shot and killed the previous night. I still remember brushing him off nonchalantly, basically telling him, “Get outta here, & stop believing the crazy rumours out there”. Once the phone call was done, I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, went to the couch and put on the TV. As soon as the TV came on, I saw Christopher Wallace’s face appear on CNN. I didn’t need to turn up the volume to know what I just heard wasn’t a lie. I was floored. At the time, this was my favourite rapper, with Nas being the only other rapper I put on that pedestal. All I kept thinking about was, I’ll never get to hear him rhyme again. I just couldn’t shake that fact out of my mind. I loved Tupac’s music and his talents, but his death didn’t hit me like Biggie’s did. Even when people were coming after him for essentially starting the “Name Brand/Playa” era that plagued hip hop for a while, or the content of some of his lyrics, I stood right by him. I mean shit, you heard him rap, right? Every song he dropped, every feature he was on, from 112 & Total, to Pudgee Tha Phat Bastard & Tracey Lee, it didn’t matter. You never caught him slipping. Best combination of flows, lyrics, and delivery that I’ve seen. So when I got my hands on a copy of Life After Death, it was bittersweet. On one hand, I couldn’t wait to see what he left behind, but you knew whatever it was, you had to really take it in. If Ready to Die was the launch pad to super-stardom, Life After Death was the album that put him into an orbit separate from any other rapper alive. The album not only went on to be one of the only Hip Hop albums to go Diamond (10M+ records sold in the US alone), it cemented his legacy as the greatest rapper of all time, even if he only had two albums in his catalogue. Can it be debated that his death elevated his status for the title? I mean, I guess so, if you want to argue it. However, before you start setting up your supporting arguments like a defence team, do yourselves a favour: pull that album out (either from your CD stash, iTunes, Spotify, etc.) and listen to it again. Twenty years later, if that album comes out right now, where does it stand lyrically? Even if you don’t like every single song on the album, how can you argue with the level of lyricism, or the attention to detail in every bar? How? I think this album was so big (for lack of a better word), that I don’t think the success of it mattered whether he was alive or not. In fact, I think it might have been even bigger had he had the chance to tour, or follow some of the songs with videos and marketing. Did his death affect the game in other ways? Absolutely, and we’ll get into that right after these messages…. This is The Ave Podc….. f**k, my bad. Haven’t written for a while now, gimme some time to shake the rust off. I’m on podcast autopilot. My damn wrists are fucking sore!

 

Top Tracks from Life After Death

** DISCLAIMER – This is strictly a collection of my favorite songs from the album. I’m not ranking them here, it’s just too hard. Honestly. **

Honorable Mentions

Mo Money, Mo Problems ft. Puff Daddy & Mase

Even though I was a fan of the song, and Biggie did his thing (“B-I-G-P-O-P-P-A / No info for the D-E-A…”); I always felt like this song belonged more on Puffy’s album or the Mase album. As far as the video was concerned, it would have been better if Biggie was alive to make it. The golfing tournament/NASA alternative idea was weird at best.

Sky’s The Limit

If memory serves me correctly, this was the last video released for album. It was a cute touch using the kids to play the roles of the Bad Boy Family, but the reminder that he was no longer here made the video feel depressing nonetheless, much like the first time I watched I Ain’t Mad At Cha after Tupac died.

Notorious Thugs ft. Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony

One of my underrated favourites that almost made the cut. Wanna know why it didn’t? After Biggie did his spin off of Bone Thugs’ flow (and did it better than they did you can argue), do you even listen to what the rest of the Bone members say, or do you immediately skip to the next record like I do? Can’t make the cut if I can’t tell you one lyric of what anyone else says for the remaining 75% of the song. Can’t do it.

…… and now, the Top Tracks….

Hypnotize

“Ha, sicka than your average / Poppa twist cabbage off instinct / ni**as don’t think shit stink, pink gators / my Detroit players / Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn”

It was the aforementioned first single off Life After Death. Even in the midst of the Jiggy Era that some people hated with a passion, this was one of the best songs that came from it. The beat was cool (sampling Herb Alpert’s “Rise), and it made you dance, but the way Big maneuvered through the track was almost too easy. The mentality of it almost seemed cocky. Meaning, he knew everyone from Jeru The Damaja, to The Roots, was coming after him for all the “named brand, living the rich life” style, like his lyrics were sponsored by Robin Leach. With that said, he went and made the song bigger than life, and it was celebrated almost immediately by the radio, the clubs, and the streets. In fact, the Vibe Magazine industry party that Big, Puff, and the Bad Boy family attended the night Big was murdered, dropped “Hypnotize” at the party…. and the reception from the fans and the celebrities was so huge, they played the song at least 8-10 times in a row that night. And this occurred in a city that apparently hated him. The song was destined to take off no matter what happened.

Did the video perpetuate the Jiggy Stereotype? With women swimming like mermaids in pools, to the tiger, to the car chase scene, to the boat chase? I’m going to lean towards yes. I can’t lie, the video didn’t make me hate the song, it kinda/sorta lived up to the lyrics, but it didn’t make me feel much better about the song like some of the other Biggie videos I watched up until that point like, “Warning“, or “Big Poppa“. Another thing, where the f**k was Puffy going in that car scene, when he climbs into the back of the convertible coupe?? It’s been 20 years, I still haven’t heard a reasonable explanation for that yet.

Interesting Fact:Hyponotize” hit #1 on the charts two weeks after it was released, was #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and was one of the biggest songs in music in 1997. It was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance the following year….. where it lost to Will Smith’s, “Men In Black“, who later went on to drop, “Getting’ Jiggy With It” a few months later. Go figure.

F***ing You Tonight ft. R. Kelly

“You must be used to me spending / and all that sweet wining & dining / well I’m f***in’ you tonight” – R. Kelly, chorus

“So no, caviar, Shark Bar, uh-uh / Strictly sex that’s sweaty and leftover spaghetti” – Biggie Smalls, 2nd verse

So let’s get to the obvious thing that sticks out first: The title. You figured with that name, it would only be made for your car or the clubs, but after you listened to it a few times, you realized the record label was gonna have to bleep out “F***ing” cuz everyone will have to hear it. Everything about the song was smooth, from the production, to Big’s verses, to R. Kelly’s vocals. It was a great marriage between all parties involved. It’s essentially the smooth version of Akinyele’s, “Put It In Your Mouth”. They’re both vulgar, both take the direction of the song in different ways, but the end game is the same.

Now, I can only speak from a man’s POV, but strictly looking at the lyrical content, this is a great song. As you get into adulthood, and you start getting on the dating scene, you may start hooking up. Some more than others.  Once you’re in the situation with someone where you get comfortable enough, you can ask for what you want, and sometimes…. you just want ass. You don’t want to have to go to a restaurant, or fancy show, or go out for drinks, or have a deep conversation, or even talk, and all the ancillary stuff. Sometimes, you just want direct action. No lovemaking, just strictly back-breaking action. Am I wrong for saying that? You know I’m not. Any man or woman can agree, which is partly why it was a popular song. Once you get past the vulgarity of it, it’s relatable. You listen to this song, and you’re not just nodding your head because you love the flow, you’re also nodding in agreement.

Sidenote: It’s funny, because at the time, R. Kelly was entering the heights of his prime, especially when “I Believe I Can Fly” was released the year before. Quite frankly, it made him a superduperstar with everyone who loved music. Maybe you thought for a split second he might go down that route, and stay making that nice, uplifting kind of music in the same vein. Nope! A few months later he was in the booth recording, “f**king you toniiiiiiite……f******king you toniiiiite….. said I’m f****ckin you toniiiiiiite” ad-libs. You gotta love Kells….. musically.

Long Kiss Goodnight

“Laugh now, cry later / I rhyme greater / Than the average playa hater, and spectators / Buy my CD twice / they see me in the street they be like, ‘Yo he nice’ / but that’s on the low though / Be the cats with no dough, tried to play me at my shows”

Towards the end of the second CD of the album, the last 3-4 songs start to take a darker turn. Starting with, “My Downfall“, where he gives us insight on what his life was like, from the death threats at the beginning of the song, to exploring the haters trying to bring him down (with DMC doing the chorus, one of my underrated Biggie tracks). Why I selected “Long Kiss” in this spot instead is due to the fact that the lyrics are just that much tighter. This was also the unofficial diss track to “Hit Em Up” that Tupac released the summer before. Such a violent record as a whole. Even if I don’t support that part of it, I can’t help but love the artistry of the wordplay.

Interesting Fact: The first two verses he did as a freestyle on his last interview before his death on The Wake Up Show with Sway & Tech.

You’re Nobody (Till Somebody Kills You)

“So don’t you get suspicious / I’m Big Dangerous you’re just a little vicious / As I leave my competition, respirator style / Climb the ladder to success escalator style”

“Some Creole C-O bitches I met on tour / Push a peach Legend Coupe, gold teeth galore / Told me meet ’em in the future later, they’ll take me shoppin’ / Buy me lavender and fuschia Gators / Introduce me to playa haters and heavy weighters…”

Underrated gem, plain and simple. But at the same time, it’s eerie that the end of the album the titles was so obsessed with death, but like a reoccurring theme, the bars are fire, especially the first two verses. So you kind of ignore the other stuff, even though the title of this track seems like some sort of premonition.

3. I Got A Story To Tell

“We don’t get down like that, lay my game down quite flat / Sweetness, where you parked at? / Petiteness but that ass fat / She got a body make a nigga want to eat that / I’m f**kin’ wit chu”

Ok, I know I said earlier I wasn’t going to rank these songs, but f**k it, I got rank these last three at least, being that they’re my favorite songs on this album. The greatness of this record comes at you in a couple of ways. 1) It was storytelling at its finest, it literally played out like you were sitting on the couch with him while he was replaying it back. You can picture the story in your mind as he was telling it, and to wrap up the last half of the song retelling it to his boys was something I’ve never heard done before; & 2) the fact that the legend grew and grew as to who the Knick in the story was. I’m not gonna lie….. I didn’t even fathom this being true until John Starks admitted it on Highly Questionable a couple of years ago. Then all the rumours came out as to which Knick it was. Then you find out later on the same show a couple of years later when Fat Joe spilled the beans and stated it was Anthony Mason (which was later confirmed by Puffy himself). I would have never fathomed in a millions years that one of the bouncer-sized Knick power forwards would have been caught out there like that. And I really liked Mason too. I hope he at least had a triple-double that night. #RIPMason

2. Ten Crack Commandments

“I’ve been in this game for years, it made me an animal / It’s rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual / A step-by-step booklet for you to get / Your game on track, not your wig pushed back”

So morally, this song is wrong. Just all wrong. Here’s a guy giving you the success guide on how to be a great drug dealer, sort of like a Thug Tony Robbins. It’s definitely not a song that was going to get him beside Big Bird on a Sesame Street episode, unless Big Bird was going to ship keys with him. Any detractors that had an issue with the content, I get it. Which is why Chuck D sued Biggie’s Estate and DJ Premier, and had them in court for years or it, he didn’t want his voice (The ‘1,2,3,4,5…’ voice is his, in case you missed it) associated with the promotion of drugs or drug sales of any kind. I totally get it, and he has the right to feel that way…… you hear that…….. yup…… it’s that “But” coming…. and it’s clapping louder than a King of Diamonds “athlete”….

……the song is genius. You know it, I know it. The way Biggie flipped those rules about the drug game was something very few rappers could do, much less even think about doing or pulling off. In fact, can you even think of another rapper that could have done this? On top of that, he spit this on the landscape of one of DJ Premier’s most recognizable beats he ever made. The way these guys meshed together on the boards and the mic, it was like prime Shaq & Kobe, without the beef. It’s a shame they only got together three times total……

1. Kick In The Door

“Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns / As I crush so-called willies, thugs, and rapper-dons / Get in that ass, quick fast, like Ramadan / Its that rap phenomenon Don-Dadda”

“This goes out for those that choose to use / Disrespectful views on the King of N-Y / Fuck that, why try, throw bleach in your eye / Now you’re brailling it”

……….and out of those three collaborations, it’s an honest toss-up between Unbelievable and this track as to which one’s my favorite. The beat alone for this is legendary enough. If I needed my own theme music, I’ve have this instrumental playing behind me while I do my George Jefferson walk. On top of that, this was Biggie taking care of all business went it comes to MCs trying to reach for the King of NY crown. Each verse was like a trapeze artist flipping through the air, doing on insane stunt after another. Just when you think it can’t get any crazier, they pull out the bowling pins to juggle while somersaulting backwards. I can’t even tell you which verse I liked more honestly. Just know when I played this album in doing my research for this post, this was the one song I played back-to-back at least 3-4 times in a row before I skipped to the next track. This track wasn’t meant for the clubs or radio, it’s meant for the streets and the Hip Hop heads only. It’s the best of Biggie’s lyrical talents, along with the other two I just mentioned, with a knocking beat to match. Can’t get any better, at least in my eyes.

Sidenote: It was also the introduction of The Mad Rapper. #Thisismyfourthalbum

 

The Butterfly Effect

As we all know, the Hip Hop world was forever affected when it lost 2 of its major stars being Tupac & Biggie. To take it further, when Biggie died, it left a gaping hole in the game, which left Hip Hop in a very weird place in 1997. The East Coast – West Coast beef was dissolving. Death Row Records was pretty much decimated, not only with Tupac’s death, but Dr. Dre leaving the label to start Aftermath, and Suge Knight going to jail for a few years. Then Bad Boy lost their biggest star with no one to replace him, no matter how popular Mase got during that time. His loss affected the career trajectories of many in the game, but especially the New York City landscape. And how could it not? Some careers for better or for worse went a different direction, and you have to wonder how big they would have gotten had Biggie still been alive. While I won’t focus in on every single rapper/artist who’s career got affected by the Biggie void (that list will take too long), let’s focus on three guys who were for the most part.

Puff Daddy

First off, let me give credit to Puffy, who is probably one of the biggest and best businessmen the music industry has ever seen, much less Hip Hop. He’s essentially an Icon, if not a superstar. His career was affected the hardest in a negative and a positive way. He lost his biggest artist to his business in a drive-by shooting, that was the result of an insane beef between two bi-coastal record labels, as well as a friend. We all know he is not a rapper, and his musical career was built off his swagger, which is fine. The label was so huge & he was so popular in ‘96, that he could take a chance and put out records himself. A lot of people loved “Can’t Nobody Hold me Down” (myself included), but no one was pinning him down as the biggest artist in hip hop during that time.

What happened post-Life After Death? The L.A.D. album blew through the roof, due to the superiority of it from his peers, and the love from fans that felt even deeper for it once he passed. Then Bad Boy put out two Biggie tribute tracks almost immediately afterwards, starting with, “We’ll Always Love Big Poppa” by the Lox, which people seemed to like. The second one though, “I’ll Be Missing You”, which was done by Puffy (ft. Faith Evans & 112, and sampled The Police) blew through the moon. And I mean through the moon. It launched Puffy into superf**kingduperstardom, which nobody saw coming. Between this song, Puffy releasing Puff Daddy & the Family’s No Way Out album, L.A.D still running the radio/clubs/streets with all its singles, and Mase’s album dropping, Bad Boy reigned on the industry. They were the biggest wave, and filled the void for a while. I was in New York City most of that summer of ’97, and trust me…. it was the summer of Puffy. The Jiggy era was in full swing, and the Shiny Suits were out. Not even Wu-Tang’s Forever album could knock the momentum down a peg.

Would his career have been as big had Biggie been alive? Hard to say, because as a businessman, I’m really not sure if there’s anyone that would have stopped him from doing what he wanted. But musically….. No. I think he would have been huge, and his album still would have sold millions, but without that tribute song, I don’t think he would have taken off the way he did. It’s a bittersweet thing. His music career as an artist was never bigger than the time he filled that void. Even with all the remix albums, and the reinventions thereafter.

DMX

Listen, Bad Boy changed the game in 1997. To the point where other rappers starting sounding like them, and a lot of artist’s videos look like a baller’s wet dream, with the glamour and the fish-eye lens POV that was popular as hell back then. That Jiggy era was a real thing, and as much fans as that they got from that, oh boy did they have their detractors. There was a lot of people tired of seeing Puffy & the rest of the family, whether it was from rappers being jealous, or others feeling the shiny suit/baller life wasn’t representing the genre properly. It even bled into the Soca scene during Toronto’s Caribana parade, that summer when Puffy performed his hits on one of the Hip Hop floats, which pissed off a lot of the Soca community, and led to the banishment of Hip Hop floats on the parade route (there was even a song made taking shots at him for it).

How did the Jiggy Era start slowing down? DMX happened. Well, he wasn’t solely responsible, but his energy gave people a hot, new option to mess with. When he dropped, “Get At Me Dog”, it was one of the first signs that Hip Hop started breaking away from the Jiggy Era. Between DMX, Big Pun, and Canibus, they repped a new generation of rappers that made it cool to be street and/or lyrical again on a major level. When DMX came out, he blew up large & fast. He was street, gritty, passionate, fiery, and he was such a change from what we were exposed to the previous year…. that you just felt him. “How It’s Going Down”, “Stop Being Greedy”, and especially “Ruff Ryders Anthem”.  Tell me any one of those records weren’t hot?! On top of that, he had a Tupac spirit, between the high energy and recording material at breakneck speed. The man dropped two smash #1 charting albums in the same damn year (“It’s Dark & Hell is Hot” & “Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of My Blood“)! AND they both debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts selling 6 million units combined.

Would his career have been as big had Biggie been alive? Yes. For this reason: his energy was so much different from where Hip Hop was going at the time. Even though Wu-Tang was there, and The Fugees were still riding high from “The Score“, Hip Hop was missing some of its aggressiveness. X tapped into that something fierce, and it resonated with people. Had Biggie been alive, he would have been touring all over for L.A.D, blowing the album up even more, and as much as people would have been rolling with it, I feel they would have been open to a new, changing voice too. X was so street & gutter though, I could’ve honestly seen Biggie doing a couple of songs with him.

Jay-Z

Jay-Z has become the most successful rapper in history, between all his album sales, business ventures, and game changing moments. However, everyone has a beginning. It’s almost hard to remember this, but there was a time when Hov wasn’t on the top of the mountain. During the mid-90’s, it was hard to get through in the Golden Era. In ’96, he released his debut album “Reasonable Doubt“, which many people had a lot of love for, and claimed as a classic. However, some of the greatest albums in Hip Hop history were dropping almost on a regular basis (i.e. “Illmatic“, “Ready to Die“, “Only Built For Cuban Linx“…., “Doggystyle“, “The Score“, “The Infamous“, “All Eyez On Me“….. pick one). By the time he went to release “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1**, Bad Boy was on top of the world, putting their influence on everything, Hov included. Any of you remember the “Always Be My Sunshine” video? Or “I Know What Girls Like“? He tried to make a reach for radio, but it didn’t quite work, something he later regretted.

How did Jay fill the void? Jay-Z then went out on the Puffy & the Family tour, opening up for Bad Boy, but ended up leaving the tour part way through. He then released a movie based on his songs from his 1st two albums called “Streets is Watching”, which garnered a lot of success on the streets and the underground. Then a few months later, his life forever changed when he dropped the “Hard Knock Life” single. Again, I was in New York stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn bridge when they dropped the world premiere on Hot 97. Once the track ended, I knew right there he was about to take over, like….it was a wrap. Not only that, but it came at a perfect time too. The Jiggy era was ending. Snoop was putting out a mediocre album on No Limit Records. Lauryn Hill was at her apex, but most of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was her singing. Nas had only done “The Firm” album in two years (which was cool, but not legendary), and was busy making “Belly“. Big Pun was major, but not major enough to fill that void. X was major too, and a superstar, but with all his success, he still wasn’t King of New York caliber. Enter Shawn Carter. He had the streets, radio, and the clubs buzzing with that record. He had the lyrical content, flows, swagger and style. Most importantly, he had the BIG co-sign based on the songs they did together, and The Commissions group they were putting together before Big died. He fit the description, and claimed the crown as the best rapper. Of course, that lead to him wanting to stomp out Nas as his only major threat to the throne, which lead to the epic Takeover/Ether beef (thank you guys), but that’s another story for another day.

Would his career have been as big had Biggie been alive? This is a hard question….but No. Jay has reached a mythical level in Hip Hop at this point, with generations of rappers being forever influenced by him. However, had Biggie been alive, I’m not 100% sure how big Jay would become. I think Big would have been the guy for at least a little while longer, and I’m not sure how that would have influenced Hov being in the lower position. Would he have gone for the throne after doing the Commissions collaboration? Would Nas have stepped up after L.A.D. with another huge album, stoking his competitive juices? Would Canibus have found better producers to produce his 1st album, and keep up with the competition? It’s all theory and we don’t know for sure what would have happened, and listen, Jay was nothing to sneeze at when Big was around. He was really, really, really nice. With that said, I never felt at the time he was a threat to Big, or even Nas until “Hard Knock Life” dropped. As much as I am a fan of his music (I own every one of his albums on CD, and have seen him in concert about 3 times), it’s hard to say his career path would have been the same had March 9,1997, had just been a normal day like any other.

** For what it’s worth, I actually became an official Jay-Z fan after the “In My Lifetime” album. I was hooked on “A Million and One Questions“, “Friend or Foe ’98“, and “Where I’m From” among others. I didn’t care for the radio-type records including, “The City is Mine“, which tributes Biggie by saying he was essentially going for the throne in his honor. One thing I gotta ask: On “Where I’m From“, when drops the line, “People argue all day about who’s the best MC’s / Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas”, was that really an argument back then? I remember hearing that line and saying to myself, “They are???” all confused. Maybe other circles were really arguing that back then & I was just oblivious like Mr. Magoo.

Is “Life After Death” better than “Ready To Die”?

Now, this is a really tough question, much tougher when you break both classic albums down. To answer this question, I’ve recruited some past contributors to the site, and guests from previous Ave Podcast shows to get their thoughts on which album is preferable to them.

Kevin W. –  Past contributor, South Shore Ave; Previous Podcast Episodes: 2016 Year of The Reaper

Ready to Die” is better. Here’s why: 1) There’s 5 bonafied classics including “One More Chance“, “Juicy“, “Big Poppa” & “Unbelievable“. 2) It’s a game changer in terms of impact on the rap game 3) It’s a pre-Jiggy era masterpiece. Life After Death seemed tailored for a more commercial market 4) The album didn’t need as many guest appearances (only had one); and 5) It’s an indisputable must-have for any Hip Hop head.

Randall Walter – Etobicoke Thunder AAU Basketball Coach, Founder of CIS Sports Group, Previous Podcast Episode: State of The Raptors Address

“They are both great bodies of work. It’s like choosing between your children. I think it all depends on preference as I prefer “Ready to Die“. In my opinion during its release time, it had less “filler” radio party anthem tracks (if any at all) with more of an overall street sound. It was a start-to-finish classic album. Not discrediting “Life After Death“, but Big just came off more hungry (no pun intended) on his 1st album. I’m living everyday like a hustle, another drug to juggle. Another day, another struggle.”

Julian aka Jules Da Commish – Guest on The Ave Podcast; Previous Podcast Episode: The NBA Western Conference Preview

Ready to Die“. Reasons? 1) Production was more of my liking. It’s underground, harder, and grittier. 2) Related more to my younger, thuggish mentality; 3) More bangers!”

DJ G Sharp – 95.5FM WPGC Mixshow DJ, Washington DC; Guest on The Ave Podcast; Previous Podcast Episode: 25th Anniversary of Juice #Juice25

“If I had to choose between the two my heart (and mind) go with “Ready to Die“…

To this day I close my eyes and let Biggie tell his stories in a way only he can. Let’s take “Warning” as an example. It was if you were in the room with him at 5:46 in the morning mad as f*ck that the phone was ringing. You knew exactly what was going on with every verse.

As much as I love “Life After Death“, the sheer impact of “Ready To Die” had when it wad released cannot be matched. Biggie’s first album was half of Bad Boy Records’ big splash into the Music Industry. Together with Craig Mack’s “Project: funk The World” Bad Boy blessed us with the genius of “Big Mack“, which was a promotional campaign that revolutionized how urban music was marketed in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

The impact Ready to Die both musically and from a marketing standpoint was unparalleled.”

Shawn A. – Past contributor, South Shore Ave; Previous Podcast Episodes: The MVP’s of 2016, Power Recap Episode

“While celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Life After Death“, Biggie’s final musical offering before his untimely death, I reflect and ask myself if this album was better than his introductory album, “Ready to Die“.  My answer to this question is a very uncertain and unconvincing ‘Not Reallllly…. ish’.  It’s hard to actually pinpoint exactly why I feel this way, especially when you look at tracks that can still rival any present day song 20 years later with a perfect balance of lyrics and beats; i.e. “Kick in the Door“, “Ten Crack Commandments“, and “Long Kiss Goodnight“.  The album even included the necessary commercial songs, that were dope without compromising his lyrical integrity; i.e. “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems“.

I guess if I were forced at gunpoint, being interrogated by Jack Bauer threatening to shoot out my kneecaps unless I gave him a definitive answer, I would tearfully blurt out “There were just too many songs, and way too many of them were fillers!”  I mean almost all the tracks on the album were lyrically solid, but for some reason, I never felt like listening to them, some of the beats and hooks were forgettable, and others like “Notorious Thugs” just hurt my ears, yes I can appreciate that Big showed his ability to switch up his flow and hang with the Bone Thugs boys…. I get it…. but my ear drums still told me it was just flat out a bad song.  I think if they had taken out some of those filler tracks, it would have made the album more solid in its entirety, and more on par with how I felt about “Ready to Die“.

Me: All I’ll say is this: “Ready to Die” is one of the best Hip Hop albums ever made, but on L.A.D, he was lyrically superior as an artist. By that point he really came into his own, he could literally rap any way, style, or flow, and knock it out the park. In ’97, no one was on his level. The album was literally a movie……a movie that went maybe 10-15 mins too long in retrospect. Disc 1 is better than Disc Two, and if they had kept the album to one disc, maybe transfer a few songs over to Disc One, this might have been Top 5 all-time. It’s still an undisputed classic to me, but because of length, I’ll take “Ready to Die“…. barely. His untimely death leaves his legacy as the greatest, missing the chance to put out a wack album, or people getting tired of him, or Biggie having to reinvent himself in some way, etc. It’s like if Michael Jackson died right before Thriller was released, how much greater would we remember his career? Mind you, he’s still the greatest now, even with a full career intact. It sucks that we don’t have a lengthy catalogue from Biggie to choose from. With that said, as fans of Hip Hop music, let’s hope someone in the future comes along and blows us away with their talent again.

 

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to South Shore Ave, click onto the Follow button, and enter your email address, or click onto the RSS Feed. Very special thanks to DJ G-Sharp, Shawn Adonis, Randall Walter, Kevin W., and Julian Da Commish for their contributions to this posting.

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of Mary J. Blige’s My Life

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest albums in R&B history. Twenty years from tomorrow, coming off the success of What’s the 411?, Mary J Blige gave us the gift that was My Life, an album that solidified her as the R&B voice for her generation. As we celebrate My Life, we’ll review some of our favorite songs from the classic LP. I know you can hear me now…..

**DISCLAIMER — This is not a Top 5 list. You could make a honest argument for 10 songs from this album being in the Top 5. This is strictly a review a collection of songs from the album.**  

I Love You 

“All those pretty memories / I know you can hear me now / For the record / I love you / I love you 

I shine…… you shine (shine)…….. I shine……. you shine (shine)……. I shine…….. you shine (shine)…….. I shine……. you shine (shine)…….. I shine…….. you shine……. and this day and time / we maintain / the same frame of mind / elevation / spark it up / Yo Start the circulation / 360 degrees of rotation……

…… so I can’t just recite the whole first verse of the remix? Would this be considered as a crime of laziness? Ok, fine. So I won’t do that, but I will say this: you’ll be hard pressed to find another album with so much legendary remixes off the singles. This is no knock whatsoever on the original version of the record.  If there weren’t a remix, this song would be incredible anyway with the piano loops & that hard bass line that came from the mind of Chucky Thompson (well, sort of).  It’s a beautiful record in every which way.  BUT when they threw in Smif-N-Wessun (who were an hot up & coming duo from the Boot Camp Click, that was about to release their own debut album Dah Shinin’) on the beginning of the remix, it metamorphosed into the perfect marriage between R&B and Hip Hop. It’s something that Mary J mastered throughout her entire career, singing over hip hop beats & working with rappers so seamlessly.  You couldn’t find anyone who didn’t love that record. Even the hardcore hip hop heads who never listened to R&B unless their sister was playing it in the house, had to add this single to the collection. 

When I’m 80 years old, and this song comes over whatever speaker device will be around by then, I will get up & do the Puffy dance until I pop my hip out of place. I can’t stress this enough, play this remix to any Montrealer between the ages of 30 – 45 years old, & they’ll lose themselves in that “I Shine, You shine” call-and-response. This is arguably one of the best remixes she was ever a part of, & she had a whole damn album specifically for remixes. It’s hard to separate the remix from the original because they both use the same beat, but you can’t discuss the original without discussing the remix. It’s impossible.

I’m Goin‘ Down

Singing cover songs for artists are tricky. Depending on the kind of song that’s being selected by the artists as well as their vocal range, they can either do a song justice, or just ruin the record to shit. When I was younger, I didn’t have a problem with Michael Bolton, I really didn’t. Then again, I thought those were his songs. Once I heard the originals to them, it made me wanna shave a bald spot into his curls. On the flip side, Luther Vandross did a lot of cover songs & more often that not, killed the original to the point where you pretended he created it himself. In the 90’s, Jodeci annihilated Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” in one of the more memorable cover performances & for this album, Mary J made Rose Royce’sI’m Going Down into her own song. If she were a gymnast, her artistry on this track would be equivalent to a quadruple cartwheel, where she does a crazy flip & sticks the landing on the corner of the mat. Not only did you feel the talent in the song, you felt her pain so much so that, if she started sobbing towards the end of the song, you wouldn’t have been surprised.

This song was probably the best representation of her life at the time & not just because of the song title. As reported at the time, she was going through depression and battling with drugs and alcohol. I have this depressing theory about some musicians that the more chaotic their lives are, the better their art form. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I’ve seen this example too many times in history. The best example was Marvin Gaye back in the 70s when he made the, I Want You album. He was high most of the time. Gaye then made, Hear, My Dear after going through his divorce with his first wife. It’s like their pain becomes our listening pleasure through their work. It’s not a surprise that for all the accolades & the career she’s built, her albums after this were never better than My Life, because My Life was made during her darkest moments; which is completely unfortunate for her….. as a person. However, as an artist, with her pain channeled through her work, My Life became a gift to us as her fans and R&B in general.

Sidenote: Was there a remix for this? You bet your ass there was! Change up the lyrics, jack The What beat from Biggie Smalls, sprinkle in some Mr. Cheeks, and voila! You got a sweet remix that serves everyone well.

You Bring Me Joy

To keep with the theme of jacking beats and songs, we follow Sean “Puffy” Combs & the Hitmen in the getaway car while they load up the shotguns and prepare to jack poor Barry White for his production. I’m telling you, there wasn’t a more blatant beat stealer in the mid 90’s than Puffy. And unlike some producers who may take a piece here or there of a song, Puffy would just take every damn thing. If the original production was a chicken thigh, he ate everything off the bone, sucked out the bone marrow, & then chewed on the bone until the bone was collected into a small pile in the corner of his plate. He never shied away from that fact either. His theory was that once you heard those beats, it would automatically grab your attention. Plus, the original production worked before, so why wouldn’t it work again, right?  It was a smart way to market his artists, it was almost admirable. To me, 90’s Puffy will always be a cross between Robin Hood and Omar from the Wire. He came around in a trenchcoat & jacked 70’s & 80’s beats to provide musical pleasure to the masses. The only thing that was missing was the whistling before the start of every song.

To throw credit back to Puffy though, this particular beat and some of the other ones chosen for this album helped to make the songs timeless. When it comes to Mary, as depressed as she may have been during these times, she was also able to swing the emotion pendulum in the opposite direction. You may feel her pain in some of these songs, but you also felt her happiness, which is a hard thing to convey as a singer. Really hard. But you felt her joy in this song, and you can’t help but feel upbeat. On top of that, it was a staple on radio mixshows back then, and you can still play this song in the club right now to get the ladies feeling great. 

K. Murray Interlude

Interludes & skits are a 90’s thing that everyone used on their albums. Usually it’s a space filler to get enough material to make an album. Most are forgettable, others like Redman and Wu-Tang were classics. Bad Boy took it to another level by introducing the world to Biggie’s stroke game, Biggie’s sex stories (about how he um, “drops waste” on a chick), and the legendary Mad Rapper. Even though Mary wasn’t a part of Bad Boy, Puffy still provided the interlude influence anyway. No one remembers what the hell Keith Murray was saying, but most people I know wonder, what the hell beat is that?!?!? A few months later, we found out with “Who Shot Ya?, which at the time might have been one of the most ridiculous hip hop beats we ever heard. Who the hell would have thought that this beat eventually would be the start of one of the worst beefs in the history of music, a beef that led two A-level rappers (Biggie & Tupac) to die right before they reached the prime of their careers & altered many others? And again, this beat came from a R&B album?? That’s one hell of a 24-second warning shot. 

Be Happy    

Quick story: I’ll take you back to the summer of 2006. Mary J was performing at the Molson Amphitheatre here in Toronto. I was meeting some family members at the concert & was flying down the highway trying to get to the start of the concert so I wouldn’t miss out on her Be Happy performance. I ran into a crazy amount of traffic near the Lake Shore area due to construction. I started getting annoyed because even though I had no idea what the listings of her songs were gonna be, I just knew she was gonna perform that song early. After doing enough things on the road that would have gotten me pistol-whipped by police, I finally made it into the parking lot. As I met up with my family members who had my tickets, and we’re walking up the steps to the outdoor arena, I hear the long intro coming in, “DUH-DUH Dun-Nuh-Duh” over the speakers as the crowd starts going apeshit. SMH. I’m stuck in line waiting for security to tear my tickets, praying that Mary feels like a Reggae DJ at a soundclash & rewinds the song back ten times with the air horns. Nope. By the time I walked into the place, she was on to another song. Even though I enjoyed the rest of the concert, it still burns me that I missed her perform that song, especially considering that I’ve seen her live again since then & she didn’t perform Be Happy. F***.

I also wanted to see her perform that song because to be honest, it’s my favorite Mary song ever. Considering how many songs you can choose from her catalogue, that’s saying a lot. Some others on this list (“My Life” for starters) I put almost as high. Almost. You remember that old episode of Seinfeld where the guy Elaine’s dating goes into a trance and he can’t be disturbed by anyone (not even her) until his favorite song is finished? Well… okay, it’s not nearly that bad but it’s probably within the ballpark. If I’m by myself & that song comes on, there’s a pretty good chance I just zone out until the first chorus is over, I won’t even lie to you. The video itself was memorable only because of Mary standing on that rock overlooking the mountains. Unless it really was her stunt double doing it all this time and if so….. it’s understandable. What R&B singer is risking their lives for the sake of that song?

Sidenote: Was their a remix for this song? Why hell yes of course. New beat, same lyrics, throw Keith Murray in there to rap his 16 bars, and another hot remix is created. What artist is even dedicating this many remixes to their albums anymore??? Seriously? I’m asking. 

My Life

“Life can be only what you make it / When you’re feelin down you should never fake it / Say what’s on your mind / And you’ll find in time / That all the negative energy / It would all cease”

The album title track is the realest song on the album. It’s relateable to every and anyone going through hard times. To keep fighting, to keep believing in yourself, and to keep believing in God to get yourself through it. When you’re younger, sometimes you don’t appreciate the positive messages as much as you would when you get older, and as an adult, it rings truer to you. I never paid as much attention to it as I probably should have admittedly, just because I was lost in the melodic production of Roy Ayers…. I mean Puffy and Chucky Thompson. However, appreciating the song now, it stands as a stance against your obstacles taking you under. In 2014, we are still fighting against the mental issues as a society, although I think there is a better awareness about it now, as opposed to the mentality we had 20 years ago in terms of sweeping those problems under the  rug. On this record, you can see that advice Mary was giving to others and even herself, to basically keep fighting. In fact, I’ll let her tell it…

“I was ready to just check out,” she says now. “It was a moment—I can’t get into it—but I saw my life going and I was grabbing for it. I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ That’s when I realized that I don’t want to die. And I switched, and I started praying and crying, and my life shifted right there.”

Mary J to Billboard Magazine

The scary part of her situation is, not only do millions of people suffer through those same demons, but sometimes it’s the person right beside you that’s spiraling out of control and you have no idea. This is why it’s always important to communicate and to discuss your problems with someone when things are rocky. You never want to wait until it’s too late because when it gets too far, it’s almost impossible to come back from it. In some cases, you don’t. Which is why 20 years later a song like this can still register and resonate with many people.

Closing Thoughts

In my last post about TLC’s CrazySexyCool, I stated that they were the most relevant group of the 90s. Well, let’s just say that Mary is the most relevant R&B artist of an entire generation. I mean, Mary J is still selling out concerts & putting out quality music right now (see Think Like a Man Too Soundtrack). She may not go triple platinum whenever her album drops anymore like she did with My Life, but she has a loyal and huge fanbase that still allows her to put out material that they will respect. My Life wasn’t just an album that helped Mary J really break out as an artist, but as a listener, you literally felt it. It’s the greatest LP she ever made. Most great artists always have that one album that is their Picasso. Marvin Gaye had it with, What’s Going On?” and I Want You; Stevie Wonder had, “Songs In The Key of Life”; Michael Jackson had, Thriller; his sister Janet had, Rhythm Nation; and Janet, the list goes on and on. Some of those artists have that “It” album a few years into the game after they find their voice. Some others like Mary find that classic early into their careers. It’s scary to think she was only 23 when My Life was made. However, it never matters what age or at what point of your career it happens. Once it comes, you have to embrace it because very few artists ever achieve classic album status. It’s even harder to create another classic album once you get one under your belt.

Part of Mary’s legacy will be how she successfully connected Hip Hop & R&B together. The perfect example of this is when she hooked up with Method Man on the Ill Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By remixes in the Spring of ’95. Both versions of that remix were instant classics, and it catapulted Method Man further into the superstar stratosphere. After that, it has become a “Mama, I made it!” moment when rappers had a chance to not only work with her, but get a feature from her on their album. This My Life period was probably the highest peak of great R&B music as a whole. As the Hip Hop & R&B worlds blended together more and more since that album, the R&B industry became a little harder, and more edgier in some ways. It lost a lot of its soul and because of it, the R&B game overall has suffered. In no way does Mary carry any blame. Even if her production had a Hip Hop feel to it (especially early in her career), you always felt her soul no matter what. If the Golden Era of R&B was a mountain, My Life was the flag that was planted at its peak. We should celebrate that feat and then realize that we could only have come down from there. My question is, When is that renaissance period of R&B coming back? Two years from now? Five? Ten? Will I even like R&B anymore by then? I’ll say this: If more artists can capture the magic that this album had, I think you’ll know what my answer will be….

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G’s Ready To Die

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest Times in Hip Hop history. On September 13, 1994, right in the middle of the Golden Age of 90s Hip Hop, Bad Boy Records officially dropped the debut album The Notorious BIG “Ready To Die“. This album went on to become one of the most iconic and influential albums of the genre, simultaneously making Bad Boy an industry super power and launching Biggie into superduperstar status. As we celebrate the anniversary of Ready To Die, with the help of my friend Shawn Adonis, we break down the top four songs from the album. If you don’t know, now you know….

UNBELIEVABLE

Breeze through in the Q-45 by my side, lyrical high / and those that rushes my clutches get put on crutches / get smoke like dutches from the master / hate to blast ya but I have to / you see I smoke a lot, your life is played out like Kwamé / and them fu**ing polka dots…

Cee: I don’t wanna add any more hyperbole to this song as great as it is already, but I could have honestly quoted the whole first verse of the song. When Biggie’s name was buzzing back in the summer of ’93 with his Party and Bullshit track, as much as I liked him and all the remixes he was on (i.e. see Mary J. Blige’s Real Love remix), I would have never thought he would have reached the lyrical levels that he brought to the song. I’ll admit, I just didn’t see the other levels coming. Before anything else that was released from him off of Ready To Die, this was actually the first cut I heard from the album. You can tell the difference in his voice from this song compared to the previously released tracks. It always sounded like he was yelling &/or too hyped up when he was rapping, as great as the songs were.

On “Unbelievable”, he appeared to be more relaxed, the confidence in his abilities had fully grown, & the swagger was completely swollen. But the lyrics….the lyrics….the lyrics though. In retrospect, what he did to that DJ Premier beat almost wasn’t fair. How he set up the metaphors (i.e.Breeze through in the Q-45 by my side…”), intersects the humor (i.e.Wear boxers so my dick can breathe“), ended the remaining potential of rappers careers (i.e. The Kwamé shot), this wasn’t just lyrical gymnastics, it was a verbal P90X session. Again, I’m only speaking about the first verse. Do you know how difficult it was to stand out like that lyrically in ’94 when people like Nas, Snoop, Jeru, Redman, Wu-Tang, Scarface, Keith Murray, Buckshot & everyone else were roaming the streets? And yet, he was so ridiculously talented that he made major room at the table anyway. The song title actually says it all to be honest.

Shawn: Very well said Cee. I’ve gotta say, you brought up some very interesting points that I’ve never really considered. And that I fully intend to steal like a burglar, while I head to the nearest barber shop to pass them off as my own original & enlightened thoughts so that I can be showered with praise.

I had heard a few tracks from Mr. Biggie Smalls before hearing “Unbelievable”, but they never captivated me enough to really keep my attention. The hyped up yelling flow that you mentioned just didn’t do anything for me, but this song changed all of that.  Just like you Cal, this was also the first track that I heard from Ready to Die. It was back in the days before you could go online and hear any song you wanted with the click of a mouse.  If you wanted to make yourself a hip hop mixtape (which back then was actually literally a tape), you had to sit by the radio with your fingers hovering over the ‘play’ & ‘record’ buttons waiting to hear something that was worthy to make the cut, and you were afraid to leave the room, cause as soon as you did, that’s when they’d play a song you wanted.  As soon as I heard that Primo beat come in, I started recording with the quickness.  After trying to figure out who “Sticky Smalls” was (I can’t be the only one who thought, and still thinks, that the hook sounds like he’s saying “Sticky, Sticky, Sticky Smalls is the illest”…. Perhaps this was some intentional brilliance that I just wasn’t cool enough to understand.  Why not just emphasize the B?). I heard him spit that first bar and I knew I made a wise recording decision.

No one can debate that Big was given a heater of a beat.  Back in those days Premier could have used a sample of himself passing a bowel movement, and as long as he mixed it right and added a baseline to it, it would be an instant classic.  But the “Unbelievable” beat stands out to me because it could have went either way depending on who laid down the verses over it, and the Notorious one’s style, flow, and energy is what made you take heed to the beat.  Any other rapper on that beat would have been like someone wearing a fly outfit with a beat up and bummy pair of sneakers.  It would have just ruined the whole thing.

What separated this song from others at that time, was that other rappers often used two bars to complete a thought, however, Biggie laced every bar with entirely new subject matter, and kept it up for line after insanely lyrical line. You hardly had a chance to process everything he was coming at you with.

And one last thing, that senseless unprovoked jab at Kwame was totally uncalled for. That poor bastard was probably somewhere plotting his comeback, when out of nowhere he was blindsided by the most relevant thing in rap saying he was now irrelevant.  I can’t help but to think that he was probably in a dark room somewhere pouring gasoline on his polka-dotted memorabilia, with tears streaming from his sleepy eyes.  To avoid the public backlash he was probably forced to change his identity……. which would have pretty much consisted of him dying that bleached swirl in his hair black.  Without that or the polka-dots, no one could have picked him out of a line up.

JUICY

It was all a dream / I used to read Word Up! magazine / Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine / Hanging’ pictures on the wall / Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.

Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood / And it’s still all good / Uh… and if you don’t know, now you know, ni**a.”

Cee: It’s safe to say this is the most popular song Biggie ever made, right? I mean, we could make an honest case for that, can’t we? I don’t believe it was his best work, but it did its job, which was introducing him to the masses. And it worked in a major way. People can rip him all they want, but much praise goes out to Puff Daddy (I’m using his original name dammit!) for coming up with the idea of using Biggie’s talents over an old, classic 80s record. Sure, he almost ended up literally overkilling hip hop a few years later with that same “Just use the whole beat, don’t bother sampling it. No one will care!” formula, but for this song & some of the other Biggie songs & collabos down the line (i.e. Sky’s The Limit” and, I Love The Dough), it always worked to perfection. It was perfect actually. It allowed Biggie to stay street & gutter talking about his rags-to-riches story, but having the melodic nostalgia to play on major radio stations & still suck you in. In fact, the remakes Puffy created would bring new life to a whole new generation. Think about it Shawn, in 1994, what teenager even knew who the hell Mtume was?

To me, what made this song more of a classic than anything else is the video & the fact that it actually matches the lyrics. This is probably one of the more true to life videos we’ve seen, especially back then. It shows the progression from him hustling on the corner; getting arrested; his boys running after someone for doing something that violated crew standards; getting interviewed by the pool; his boys playing Street Fighter with either a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis on a 50-inch screen while Big, Puff & from the looks of the older token white man sitting beside him, his accountant handling business on the money green leather couches. Shit, he even had his Moms in the video holding the Source Magazine with a smile on her face. This was almost as authentic as you can get. A feel good story that matched the wordplay letter for letter.

If this song drops in 2014, there would be girl-on-girl kissing in the pool while guys pour Peach Ciroc on them; everyone holding red cups sipping on that lean & blowing weed smoke into the camera; & the reporter would have dropped the mic, stripped down to her bra & thong, to then start twerking on Big to the point of muscle spasming. But in 1994, everyone just waved their hands in the air & partied by the pool. It was almost wholesome.

Sidenote: Did you ever look at a street light & wanna do pull ups on it too Shawn or was it just me?

Shawn: Most definitely Cal, not only did those pull ups and dips on the street lights make those guys look like ghetto superheroes to me (cause as I’m sure you remember, I had what one might describe as a stick figure physique back then), but it inspired me to climb lamp posts to get my strength up. Unfortunately, they’re 30 feet high around here, so my fear of death deterred me a bit.

Now, I know that what I’m about to say is going to be considered the highest form of Hip Hop blasphemy known to man, and that the ground may open up and swallow me whole as soon as I finish typing this……..but…….. I’ve never really liked Juicy. * insert Gasp here *

Ok, now don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand the allure of the song and why so many people like it.  How can you not enjoy the story of a young downtrodden kid from the hood, single parent home, mother that struggled to put food on the table, took to the streets to make money, experienced the ups and downs of hustling, went to prison, pursued music to finally become one of the top rappers in the game, living a lavish life and finally being able to take care of his Mom.  I get it completely.  It’s just not my cup of tea musically.  So let me defend my opinion here.

First of all, like you said Cal, this wasn’t Big’s most lyrical contribution to the Album, and back then I was a lyrical fiend, I would live for those “I can’t believe he said that, I have to rewind it 30 times” moments, and this song had zero of these moments.  Secondly, that beat never did anything for me.  It was so simple, so boring.  I’ve never been tempted to so much as nod my head to, or even tap my foot to this song. When it comes on in the club, that’s my cue to take a trip to the bathroom. When it comes on the radio, that’s when I switch to the news station to get caught up on current events.  It’s one of those songs that you hear once and that’s enough.

It’s a great story that would make a great movie (which ironically was poorly casted years later, and made a mediocre movie at best), and like you said Cal it made a great video.  Sure, parts of it that looked cool to me back then, look a bit cornier and outdated now, but that’s only because people took this video’s blueprint and improved upon it throughout the years, which is why all the classics look a bit corny.  From what I remember too, this was the first video of that era where a rapper stepped out that “grimey” persona, and made it look cool to throw on some linens and hard-bottoms.  In a rap climate where Wu Tang, Nas, Boot Camp, and others made sure they were dressed in clothes that would make them “fit the description” of a perpetrator,  Biggie made it look cool to be classy.

Even though we only got little glimpses of it in this video, how cool were Puff’s diddy bop scenes? We had no idea at the time that Puff’s smooth two step/shoulder jerk/arm wave/neck bob/spin-around dance moves would end up playing Robin to Biggie’s Batman in his future videos and performances.  Or who would have imagined back then that this shirtless dancing champagne sipper would become one of the biggest music moguls in history?

By the way, not only did I not know who Mtume was in 1994, I don’t  know who they are in 2014 either.  But thanks to my pal Google, I’m fully caught up now.  Those dudes look disco-rific.  And sadly a lot of people would hear the original song today and think they stole Biggie’s ‘Juicy‘ beat.

Hey….um…. that 2014 version of the video you described, would you happen to have a link to that video that I could check out for some….. Uh…. research?

Cee: I’m sure we can find that version on Youtube somewhere. ***Searching***

BIG POPPA

“To all the ladies in the place with style and grace / Allow me to lace these lyrical douches in your bushes / Who rocks grooves and make moves with all the mommies / The back of the club sipping Moet is where you’ll find me / The back of the club, mackin’ hoes, my crew’s behind me / Mad question asking, blunt passing, music blasting / But I just can’t quit/Because one of these honeys Biggie gots to creep with”

“I love it when they call me Big Poppa / Throw your hands in the air if you’s a true playa”

Cee: This song is the blueprint and the reason why Rick Ross can take his shirt off, let his tatted man boobs swing freely into the air today & nobody bats an eye. In Hip Hop, The Fat Boys made being big funny and comical as well as stereotypical. I mean, we understood they were fat, but did they really have to talk about their love of food & gorge on pizzas in interviews too? Even as a little kid, I never took them seriously. Heavy D made the big man dynamic into something cool and fun. Not only were his songs on par with some of the best Hip Hop & R&B material during the late 80s & early 90s, but he kept up with everyone & them some on the dance floor in the era where you danced until you sweat through your clothes. He wore the suits, had his dancers behind him doing all the innovative dance moves (one of his dancers Trouble T. Roy died unfortunately during an accident at one of his shows, and was forever remembered on the T.R.O.Y classic by Pete Rock & CL Smooth), and even introduced Monifah to the game. I will never, ever be mad at him for that one.  With that said, as great as he was, he never gave off the image to women that they wanted to get with him. They wanted to party with him, and maybe afterwards give him a great big hug when the night was done.

Here’s where Biggie changed things. You know how you can speak things into existence? Meaning that if you keep making affirmations to groups of people after a while, the affirmation starts to become believable. Well, with songs like these and “One More Chance” (both the original & the Remix) off the album, Biggie gave the affirmation that he was a ladies man & gave all big boys a chance to prove they can also play the field. You kept seeing it in his videos. He started moving differently, performing in concerts in dress shirts, slacks & suits. He started looking more like the head of a crime family instead of a rapper. The bigger his star power got, the hotter the music got, the more women just started flocking to him. A year after this album dropped, this dude was married to one of the most popular R&B artists in the game on his own label (Faith Evans), & had a mistress on the side that we all pretty much knew wasn’t a real secret (Lil’ Kim). He converted this supposed weakness into strength and power.

The allure of power. It can make you look more appealing than you really are, funnier to your peers than you can ever imagine, and look more appealing than you really are. There’s a reason why I wrote that twice….it’s because it’s true. Some of your favorite athletes & entertainers are not the best looking guys, let’s face facts here. Also, the fact is, Biggie was not an appealing looking guy. Heavy-set, heavy-tongued, labored breathing when he spoke, & had an eye that was lazier than the least motivated couch potato. Not only did he know that, he effin’ told us this & rapped it so ridiculously most times, that it no longer became a focus. He turned his rap skills into a persona and his persona into superstardom. This song is living proof. Even in the video, he’s leaving with two chicks. I know it’s only a video & they said “Cut!” when he walked offscreen, but the images from that & the lyrics he spat made you think that this was at least possible to believe.

Most importantly, Big Poppa is a classic anthem that can still rock radio and clubs in 2014. The flow, cockiness & swagger was ahead of its time. Throw in The Isley Brothers Between the Sheets sampling, he raised the bar for “I’m gonna take you home. Here’s why and you’re gonna love it” records & almost made it mandatory for rappers to have at least one record on their album like this if they wanted to go major. All this from a  man who self-described himself as black and ugly.

One more thing: In the video, is there any reason why he couldn’t be in the whirlpool with the video chicks too? Puffy’s in the thing with all these woman wearing next to nothing, pouring champagne, basically about to get it in….. & Biggie’s rapping outside the lip of the pool like he’s providing them elevator music. The song’s called Big Poppa, shouldn’t he reap the benefits 100%? Instead he only got 80% like a work dental plan. Smh.

Shawn: You hit the nail on the obese head there my brotha. Big rapped with an arrogance and confidence that made it seem like if you were a woman, and weren’t craving him in all of his big, black, fat glory….then there was something wrong with you.  But something tells me, if he were Chris Wallace the grocery clerk, he may not have had that affect on the ladies.  It’s amazing how money and power seem to sexify a man in a woman’s eyes.  But then again who knows. They say he was a really charming dude, so maybe he would have dropped a line like, “Would you like paper, plastic, or latex?”, and he would still have the women fighting over his large physique.  

I’ve never really been a huge fan of these cassanova tracks, where rappers act like their lives are a never-ending Axe commercial.  But Big Poppa had to be the best of its genre, not only offering you ladies-man braggadocio, but clever wordplay such as: 

“Really honey listen I’m askin / most of the fellas think they be mackin’ / but they be actin’ / who they attractin’ with that line what’s your name what’s your sign / soon as he buy that wine I just creep up from behind…” 

Gotta respect a man that lets another dude buy the drinks before he comes in and snatches the woman right from under him, and quite aggressively too.  In the video Biggie moved the dude aside by palming his face like Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  Talk about adding insult to injury. I hope that dude went home after that. There’s no respectable way to dance and try look cool in the club after another man no-look passes your face. 

I have one question: Who was that chick that played the main love interested related too???  She had to be the director’s sister or something, cause she straight up looked like snaggle puss in the face.  Not only is she not the prettiest chick in the video, she wasn’t even the prettiest of the three people in that scene with her, Big and Busta.  I mean, maybe she had a killer body, but you couldn’t really tell cause they didn’t pan down.  Didn’t this chick look like Ludacris from the “Word of Mouf” album cover?  Google that pic and tell me that’s not the same person. 

I hear what you’re saying Cee about that hot tub scene, they got Biggie up there rapping, steam from the hot tub probably got him dripping sweat under that leather jersey, leather sticking to his skin, all uncomfortable.  They couldn’t even invite a brotha to roll up his pant legs and let his feet dangle in the water, with the hot water bubbles massaging his feet?  Honestly, it’s only cause Big played it so cool, making it look like he gets so much ass, that it didn’t even phase him to let his peoples enjoy moments like that.  Most men, myself included, would have taken a running start into a canon ball in that tub.  But I guess that’s what separates Big Poppa from the rest.

It’s all good Baby Baabeehh…..

THE WHAT ft. Method Man

“(Assume the position) / Stop, look and listen / I spit on your grave then I grab my Charles Dickens, bitch” – Method Man

Shawn: Cal my good man, the first time I heard Method Man, my favorite rapper at the time, spit that line, I thought my head was going to explode into my Wu Tang scully (actually, I was never cool enough to have a Wu Tang scully, and by the time I finally had two pennies to rub together and bought a Wu Tang t-shirt, it shrunk after one wash and was unwearable. Very traumatizing. I try to repress those painful memories). Not that it was necessarily the best line in the song, cause Meth and Big went back and forth with with so many hot lines that to borrow (steal) your phrase from earlier, I could have quoted the entire song, but something about this line stood out from the rest for me.

For the only feature on Ready to Die, Biggie employed the services of one of the games most captivating characters, the most recognizable member of the famed Wu Tang Clan, the “M-e-t-h-o-d Man”. Remember Cee, back then features happened about as rarely as a solar eclipse. Nowadays, rappers are feature whores, hopping on tracks with every other rapper, every time the wind changes direction.  It’s so bad now, that some rappers have more songs featuring other artists than they even have by themselves, and truth be told, it’s because a lot of them aren’t talented enough to hold your attention for a whole 3 minutes.  Some songs have so many different people featured on them, that by the time the song is over, you don’t remember who the song originally belonged to. But this wasn’t the case with “The What“. They were two rappers in their prime that could have easily commanded an entire song by themselves. What they offered their listeners was a rare gift.  Back then, cross-crew collabos were so rare that when you heard that two rappers you liked were hopping on a track together, you were actually excited, cause you knew you were in for some musical magic that probably wouldn’t be repeated any time soon by the pairing, if ever.

This song was very necessary for the album, it struck a balance between songs that real hip hop head’s would love (most men), and the more commercial snoozefest tracks like ‘Juicy’ that catered to a different demographic (mostly women, and we know that men like what women like).

I’m sure that Big spitting that opening line about throwing “Shield’s on the dick” was probably the last time a rapper claimed to use anything but Magnums, wouldn’t you say?  These days every rapper claims to be packing an Anaconda.  You have dudes that are 5’2″, 100 pounds, looking like they haven’t gone through puberty, yet claiming to be suffering from Ron Jeremy syndrome (I may have dated myself with that reference, and inadvertently revealed to my parents that those nights that I said I was watching “wrestling” in the basement, the blonde and brunette weren’t Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper) .  And then of course, in the next bar they use the word “magnum” as a double entendre in reference to a handgun. Man, hip hop is depressingly predictable these days.

Cee: Before I jump on this song, I wanna pour out a lil’ liquor for the career of producer Easy Mo Bee. Seriously speaking, this dude had a major hand musically for the first two projects for Bad Boy Records. I’ll never, ever take anything away from the talents of Biggie or Craig Mack, but think of how different life would be for those guys coming into the game without his production. I actually forgot just how much work he did for these guys. From “Party & Bullshit” to Flava in Ya Ear (AND the Remix!) to Get Down, I mean, I especially remember just how hot those records were back then. Shit, the “Flava in Ya Ear Remix” still shuts down parties now. By all accounts this is supposed to be one of the greatest albums that ever came across the Hip Hop genre & this man literally produced 1/3 of all the songs on it.  A third! Yet, by the time this album (and to a lesser extent, Craig Mack’s album) exploded, Biggie was a superstar, Puff was a superstar, Craig Mack was at his peak of screaming “Haaaa buoy!” everywhere with his Philly Afro-cutting ass, but where was Easy Mo Bee’s name in flashing neon lights??? Poor dude got left at the docks with his knapsack & suitcase while the party boat departed without him. He’s been properly credited for his work on “Gimme the Loot”, “Machine Gun Funk”, “Warning” (undisputed classic), and the album title track (Ready to Die), so I’m hoping he was properly paid for his services, however, I still can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. He’s THE forgotten entity off this classic & one of the most overlooked producers in hip hop history. I mean Shawn, did you know that he even produced this?!?!?!

Outside of DJ Premier with “Unbelievable”, Easy Mo Bee quite possibly produced the hottest beat on Ready to Die with “The What”. It might sound simple, but it’s a perfect combination of eerie and funkiness.  Also, if you’re gonna bring someone like Method Man in the studio to rap, wouldn’t it be to something like this? This beat was made for him. In fact, Easy Mo Bee created the perfect backdrop for both these rappers to come out with their best lyrics. If this was a boxing match, it would have been Method Man in a split decision, IF Biggie didn’t drop that last verse to make it a solid draw. Both guys are firing haymakers in this song, but these bars right here….

“I used to do stick ups, cause hoes is irritating like the **hiccups** / Excuse me, flows just grow through me / Like trees to branches / cliffs to avalanches / It’s the praying mantis….”

…..it showed another example of Biggie as the brightest of stars. Back in 1994, before Tical came out, Method Man was arguably the hottest rapper in hip hop. If he featured on your song, you had to perform first because once he got on, you had to do like those safe sex commercials & wrap it up. Nobody cared about you after he performed. Just sing the hook & get the hell out of Dodge. Make no mistake about it, Method Man came for the jugular here. So for Biggie not to only fight that off buzzsaw, but to drop lyrics like the ones I just quoted with almost effortless flair, it should have shown anyone who wasn’t aware that he was going to be major. And he was. By the beginning of ’95, he was the biggest hip hop star alive. You couldn’t touch him. The only ones that was on his stratosphere lyrically &/or star power-wise was Nas, Meth (and Wu Tang as a whole), Snoop & probably Tupac before he got shot and went to jail. He was not only the King of New York, but was basically the King of everything. Like Nas with Illmatic, he dropped a Mona Lisa. Unlike Nas, he eventually changed the game from how we looked to what we wore & what liquor to drink.

Looking back at it now, my generation was so spoiled because we had such groundbreaking legends from the rappers to producers who were creating at such a high level that we almost took it for granted. Almost. As a huge lover of music, I kind of wish that today’s generation experienced what mine did because we got fed. If hip hop was a restaurant, it was a five-star restaurant in the mid-90s. We were eating filet mignon & caviar, & washing it down with some Autumn Reisling wine and champagne often. As the times went along, the prices got more expensive and some of the superb dishes that we got to eat were taken off the menu. Now in 2014, a five-star meal mostly consists of spaghetti and meatballs with Allen’s Apple juice, & it’s being eaten up by everyone under the age of 25. I don’t want to knock it & say it’s not a good meal, but the palate of my generation was forever affected. Some of us decided to close our eyes and dig in, while others decided to try different restaurants altogether. And some like myself, want to try these new dishes, but when I look back at albums like Ready to Die & remember how well off I was, I end up walking out of the establishment shaking my head. Maybe that makes me a snob. Maybe so…. & it might be better that way. Damn, I hope I didn’t make you get hungry…..  

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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