“I ADD A LITTLE FUNK TO THE BRAIN”

Ready To Die (Remaster)-The Notorious B.I.G

Pros: Biggie’s flow, rhyming and storytelling ability, good production.

Cons: Subject matter can be disturbing, pointless skit.

Ready To Die by The Notorious BIG is the greatest gangsta rap album ever. Yes, it is better than The Chronic, Doggystyle and Straight Outta Compton.

But wait a minute. Is it as good as Illmatic which came out around the same time?

Well Illmatic was more diverse in certain regards and a tad more consistent. But I don’t really see it as gangsta. This one is gangsta although it does take breaks from the street rap. Also unlike the phony studio gangstaism of the likes of Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, this feels lived in.

Of course some people may point out that most of what the artist formerly known as Christopher Wallace raps about on here is fiction. To which I reply, Martin Scorsese wasn’t in the mafia. Does that mean he can’t make Goodfellas and Casino?

But whereas the aforementioned Wayne and Ross portray the street criminal life as something glamorous and a way to the riches, Biggie shows that it’s a dead end and celebrates success in rap as a ticket out of it.

Anyway I’m here right now to talk about the remastered version of Ready To Die, The Notorious BIG’s 1994 debut album and undoubtedly one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever.

I bought this remastered version about a year ago when I walked into a record store (Yes I’m one of the “Luddites” that still buys CDs from tome to time) with some extra money in my wallet. Stopped to gaze across the rap section and saw on sale the remastered version of Ready To Die. Decided it was a good time to replace my original copy of Biggie’s debut which got stolen at a party in the late 90s.

This remastered version contains all of the original 1994 album (although a couple previously unauthorized samples were deleted) plus two bonus tracks and a bonus DVD.

As for the album itself, how is it so great?

The primary reason for this is Biggie himself. Biggie could brag. A lot. And when you brag you better be able to back it up. Biggie sure could.

The elements of wordplay and storytelling on this album are fantastic. Listen to “Gimme The Loot”. Biggie plays two roles on it as he plans and executes a heist. Listen to “Warning” where he seeks revenge on someone who robbed him.

But like I said earlier, Biggie is not glorifying the gangsta street thug lifestyle. Listen to “Things Done Changed” where he shows the desperation to get out of it.

In fact, “Ready To Die” is a concept album of sorts. It follows a young man through early days in the ghetto, through the teen years as a crack dealer and finally to success in the rap game before the past comes back to haunt him. It’s like an aural movie of sorts.

So we get well-done “don’t f*** with me” raps like “Machine Gun Funk”. But amidst all the grit, there’s hope in the well-done Isley Brothers sampling make love rhyme “Big Poppa” and “Juicy” which, over a sample from the 1983 R&B #1 “Juicy Fruit” has Biggie reflecting on his previous street hustler life and his new found fortune in the world of rap.

All of this, combined with Biggie’s murder in 1997, make “Suicidal Thoughts”, the final song on the original album, extremely disturbing. The song flows as a conversation between Biggie and a friend, that ends with Biggie’s death. Full story. Well-done but with a downbeat ending (ala Menace II Society).

The remastered version contains “Who Shot Ya” which originally was on the posthumous compilation “Born Again” and “Just Playing (Dreams”. Both work well as bonus tracks or outtakes if we’re to continue with the movie analogy.

As for that aforementioned bonus DVD, it features live performances of “Juicy”, “Big Poppa”, “Warning”, “One More Chance” and “Unbelievable”.

So, this is without a doubt a classic albums, from my perspective (and the view of many others as well) anyway). However, I can also add that it isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you’re not a fan of hip-hop or can’t stand coarse language (the parental advisory sticker on the disc is DEFINITELY warranted) this isn’t what you’re looking for. But if you like hip-hop with humor, storytelling and unbeatable wordplay, then this is definitely essential.

Also, if you like this, definitely get “Life After Death”, Biggie’s second and final album (recorded prior to his murder). It’s without a doubt the greatest hip-hop double album of all-time.

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