Is there Life After Death for hip-hop's most Notorious MC? Maybe so. Perhaps the most tragic thing about Christopher Wallace's untimely demise is that this two-disc set seemed to be a transitional moment in the career of the man who used to rap as Biggie Smalls. B.I.G. may have some unquestionably bloody lyrics, but at times on this set he seems to rise above the game, look down upon it, and say "This is pretty fucked up." He shows his traditional flair for uncomprising reality rap, while moving away from the materialistic Versace and Gucci trend his clones made so irritating.
Of course, no B.I.G. album would be complete without some party anthems and smoothed out R&B feel jams, and Mr. Wallace complies. The aptly titled Hypnotize has irked many hip-hop historians for it's twist on a Slick Rick quote for the chorus; but the beat is infectious thanks to tight production by unknowns D-Dot and Amen Ra. Fuck You Tonight features an even more explicit than usual R. Kelly and a very radio friendly Puff Daddy beat. Sky's the Limit is undoubtedly the next single, featuring Bad Boy crooners 112. Easy Mo Bee comes correct on I Love the Dough, where Jay-Z brags that he and B.I.G. "play Monopoly with real cash." Even the normal wack rapping of Mase sounds nice over the loop Puff provides for Mo Money Mo Problems.
Biggie hasn't forgotten his hardcore hip-hop fans either. Over a tight DJ Premier loop he delivers the stunning 10 Crack Commandments, a track sure to draw the ire of activists for outlining a success strategy for dope dealing. My Downfall features a still vocally strong DMC in a chorus cameo over some strong violins and an eerie singing reminescent of Method Man's duet with Mary J. Blige. Long Kiss Goodnight has a strong track courtesy of Wu-Tang's own RZA and Biggie delivers the goods -- though many have complained that one of the Wu-Tang members should have cameoed on this track. Even Biggie's Notorious Thugs duet with Bone-Thugz-N-Harmony is surprisingly good, with Biggie taking a turn at triplet cadence. Clearly, Biggie has material for the hardrocks and the radio jocks alike.
As usual with double disc albums though, this release leaves you feeling that a scaled back single album with only the best songs from both discs would have been a much better choice (not to mention more affordable). Some cuts are needlessly bloody or musically uninspiring, among them songs like Kick in the Door (unfortunately a DJ Premier dissapointment), Niggas Bleed, Miss U, and the hyperactive Miss U, featuring Lil' Kim. The guest raps from Puff Daddy could definitely be done without, and it would be nice to see more of the newfound spirituality Biggie professed in the interviews before his grim death. One friend even went so far as to describe this album as "Biggie shitting on your brain." I don't think I'd go quite that far, but don't expect roses and cream. If anything, Biggie proves authentic to the Brooklyn street roots he came up from, and sounds eeriely prophetic on cuts like Disc Two's closer -- You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You). Did Biggie's murderer understand the new wave of conspiracy theories he'd unleash? Regardless, B.I.G. fans and newcomers alike should find this to be a solid album, and will regret he didn't have the opportunity to take the game to another level with a followup album.
ORIGINAL HEADz UP! score: 4 out of 6 (converted to RapReviews.com)
TOTAL Vibes: 7 out of 10
Originally posted: March 27, 1997
source: HEADz UP!