Updated: Jan 8
Today's throwback review will be on Biggie Smalls aka The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1994 classic album, 'Ready to Die'. The late Biggie is considered one of the greatest albums of all time, and this album is great evidence to back that claim up. After the release of a few singles and some buzz around his name, he wanted to showcase his skill to the world - which he absolutely did on this incredible album.
For 1994, the production on this album is outstanding and it still sounds great 26 years later. The album is cemented with boom-bap production, catchy drum patters and a laid back feel for the majority of the album. There's also some nice samples scattered about, starting with the first track 'Intro', which tells a story of Biggie's life up until this point, using classic hip-hop samples (such as 'Rapper’s Delight' by Sugarhill Gang) and soul samples in the process to establish what era of time the story takes place in. It starts quite intense, before turning joyous after his birth - this sets the mood perfectly and is one of the best intro tracks ever. The beat on 'Gimme the Loot' is also great, and is a perfect example of why the simplicity of the beats on this album work, because the drum patterns used are just so catchy. 'One More Chance' has a more hard hitting style with a deep guitar base as Biggie talks about his sex life and big penis with some funny punchlines, "I get swift with the lyrical gift // Hit you with a dick, make your kidney shift". The hook works well on this track and as usual Biggie's flow and rhyme schemes make for a sonically enjoyable listen as well as a technically enjoyable listen. There seems to be a different style beat on the song 'Friend of Mine', with a faster tempo and a catchy African drum pattern as Biggie explains the reason why he's so hard on women - because he's had his heart broken before. With some good storytelling the whole upbeat tempo of the song comes off so smooth sounding to the ear.
As for Biggie's rapping skills - well - he's one of the best ever to put it simply. While his lyrics are straight forward enough, the bars he spits are always so detailed, honest and pack a punch to them thanks to Biggie's mean delivery, like on the track 'Warning', "And they wanna stick the knife through your windpipe slow" - just look how detailed that is, most rappers just say they're going to stab someone. In fact, that song is a prime example of the immaculate storytelling on this album as he tells the tale of some people planning on killing him, therefore meaning he needs to know what he's going to do to defend himself. With a catchy boom bap instrumental - it's a great song, my only issue with it is it's a bit slow moving at some points. Another example of his storytelling would be on the famous 'Gimme the Loot', where he talks about a train robbery, with some great bars it's a really enjoyable song to follow with it's bouncy yet smooth sounding flow. He then combines his storytelling and honesty/attention to detail on 'Everyday Struggle' as he talks about his life as a drug dealer over these heavy boom bap drums and a deep baseline. This song has a really catchy hook and great verses - what's not to like about this one. This album also see's Biggie supply us with good punchlines and metaphors at times, and of course some of raps most iconic lines such as the opening lines to 'Juicy', "It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine". Flow wise, you could make a case that he's the best ever. It just always sounds so smooth, never forced or choppy, as it it's melting over the beat like butter. The rhyme schemes as well clashing with this flow makes more one hell of a sonic experience - not to even mention how catchy the simplistic hooks are on this thing.
There aren't many features on this thing, but for the features selected they all do great APART from Lil Kim on the 'Fuck Me (Interlude)' - this interlude is just a bit weird and I'm confused as to why it's here. Luckily it's short so it doesn't kill momentum too much, but it's 100% the only bad part of this album - why do we need audio of Biggie & Lil Kim having sex? Anyway, Method Man hops onto the track 'The What' providing a great couple of verses with a solid flow and decent punchlines/metaphors, "I spark and they cells get warm" - reiterating just how deep people feel his music. Biggie as well on this song has funny punchlines as the rappers talk on gangsta rap topics of shooting people, as well as working for yourself as you get no handouts in life. The beat is laid back, almost lazy sounding (but still sounding good) as the chemistry between the rappers is apparent, and the hook delivers a nice and catchy message "Fuck the world, don't ask me for shit // And everything you get you gotta work hard for it". Diana King is featured on 'Respect' and helps this track become one of my favourites, as her Jamaican accent works perfectly to make this a catchy reggae style song - the aggression in her vocals too are great as she absolutely kills this track. Biggie's storytelling as per usual is on point as he explains his whole life story from his childhood to his arrest to where he is now over these catchy guitar strings. It's easily top 3 on this album.
As this is Biggie's debut album, it was important he let the world know his story - and that's exactly what he did. He covers everything that has happened in his life, starting with 'Intro' which literally begins with his birth, before moving onto 'Things Done Changed', where he talks about the state of the streets nowadays as to before the crack pandemic over this looped heavy baseline. He talks more about his drug dealing past on 'Machine Gun Funk', even comparing his rap life to his crack life over a bouncier and lighter beat. I do really enjoy the track, but I think it's a step down compared to the three songs that came before it. He also covers his troubles with women on this album. And of course he lets us know how the good life is now he's successful and made it on the iconic 'Juicy'. The bars are really detailed and go hard on this track over the amazing twinkling beat with a chilled guitar baseline, "Remember Rappin' Duke? Duh-ha, duh-ha // You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far". He begins by reminiscence his rise to the top before bragging about it, and even supplying us a great hook to keep us coming back. This song is a classic and amazing in every department - and is easily one of the best hip-hop songs of all time. Later on in the album he talks about his girlfriend who lives the same lifestyle as him (although in a slightly misogynistic way) on 'Me & My Bitch'. The whole track has a lighter feel and a love style instrumental, despite the fact it ends with his girlfriend dying. It's a nice song with some emotional lyrics, but it's not got as catchy as a hook or as smooth verses as some other tracks which knocks it down a few levels. The final song is 'Suicidal Thoughts' which ends the ready to die theme - with his death. Over this menacing baseline Biggie goes introspective as he talks to Diddy via phone about his suicidal thoughts and why he wants to kill himself. It's an emotional track which ends in him pulling the trigger, an eerie end to the album and a great set up for the album that was to follow titled 'Life After Death'.
To talk on some other tracks not mentioned yet, the title track 'Ready To Die' is a great track all about his life experiences such as his gangsta life and the fact he's ready to die. The whole track is laid back and an enjoyable listen with Biggie's typical smooth sounding flow over this boom bap instrumental. 'Big Poppa' has one of the more enjoyable hooks on this thing as he brags about his success, ability to get girls and his rapping skills. The instrumental is really chilled and laid back with a catchy baseline and the verses aren't the best on the album but they're solid enough to keep this track enjoyable to a high degree. 'Unbelievable' is one of the low points on the album mainly due to the hook which I didn't enjoy at all - the vocals just sound like she's straining for some reason. It's still a good song with enjoyable verses and a fine beat featuring a catchy piano - but the hook really knocks it down a few levels.
To conclude, Biggie's debut album is an incredible body of work that's near perfect. What stops it being a 10 is well firstly the 'Fuck Me (Interlude)', and secondly I don't think it does enough different within the tracklist to warrant an album way over an hour. I'm not saying it needs multiple styles of rap, just a bit more distinction between the tracks. Other than that, I don't have many issues with it. It's just filled with great rapping and chilled production that keeps you entertained for the whole run time.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Things Done Changed, Gimme the Loot, Machine Gun Funk, Warning, Ready to Die, One More Chance, Juicy, Everyday Struggle, Me and My Bitch, Big Poppa, Respect, Friend of Mine, Suicidal Thoughts
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: Unbelievable
OVERALL RATING: Solid 10/10
*REVISED SCORE: Review may not match favourite tracks and overall rating because I've since re-listened and changed my score.*