Retro "Brooklyn" Classic: Notorious B.I.G.

There are some emcees you just love to root for. The cats with that intangible “it” quality—sincerity in their voices and a swagger that straddles the fine line between arrogance and confidence. For me, the emcee I loved to root for most was Biggie—the Notorious One and in my opinion still the undisputed King of New York.

As it is with human nature, it’s mainly posthumously that we heap accolades and praise on the ones we love. So to avoid the quagmire of redundancy, the scope of this article will be limited only to one of the most important artifacts of hip-hop ever: Biggie’s debut LP, Ready to Die.

Put simply, Ready to Die was notches above what other rappers were doing at the time of its release. The album was complete on so many levels and it spanned the entire hip-hop spectrum: from underground to commercial, grimy to mainstream, backpack purist joints to club bangers, and everything in between.

If it was story telling you wanted, B.I.G. delivered on tracks like “Warning” and “Everyday Struggle.” “Warning” is such a hip-hop classic that whenever it comes out of a speaker in any club, everyone around sings those legendary opening lines in unison: “Who the hell is this / paging me at five forty-six …/”

If it was some pure, low-carb hip-hop you wanted, Biggie satisfied your aural desires with the Premier laced “Unbelievable” and the Easy Mo Bee produced “The What”. Apart from the god emcee Rakim, there’s really no rapper living that can parallel Biggie’s slow-flow, laser-precise delivery. He enunciated his words so clearly whilst simultaneously weaving together complex concepts and clever metaphors. The skills were just ridiculous.

If a club banger is the fix, B.I.G. laced accessible cuts like the first single “Juicy” and the addictive, sex-charged “One More Chance.” But even with his party cuts, the Bedstuy emcee in him always shone through. It was this special trait that allowed him to be both a mainstream radio fixture and favorite of street thugs and grimy project cats everywhere.

Biggie’s untimely death on March 9, 1997 was one of the harshest blows ever dealt to the hip-hop movement. TuPac’s passing was just as heartbreaking, but at least with Pac we seem to have an endless vault of his music that assuages the pain and makes the loss hurt a little less. With Biggie, the questions will always linger: How good could he have gotten? What kind of dizzying heights could he have taken his career to? Remember, he was only 24 when those bullets put an end to his life.

In the end though, we can’t get caught up mulling the “what if’s” and mourning his senseless death. Instead, we must celebrate his life. “So take that ice up, for the nicest MC. And please yo, tell BIG, he’s unbelievable…” – Jay-Z, “Friend or Foe ‘98”

Brooklyn, Stand Up!

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