It's impossible to discuss the second album from the Notorious B.I.G. without addressing his tragic murder that occurred just two weeks prior to the album's release. As such, Life After Death, from it's title to it's artwork to the toxic atmosphere under which it arrived, is inextricably tied to and informed by loss and tragedy. Even though the Biggie's sophomore album offered more optimism and sunshine (mostly via hit singles like "Hypnotize" and "Mo Money, Mo Problems") than his undeniably dark debut album, Ready To Die, it was and is still full of depressive, hateful and confrontational subject matter. It's greatness lies in the masterful way Life After Death balances the light and the dark.
But for every hit single like "Sky's the Limit" or widely-hailed album cut like "I Got A Story To Tell," there's a lesser-praised track that adds to the overall greatness of the album. Here are 5 of the tracks on Life After Death that may not get a lot of attention from casual listeners, but stand alongside B.I.G.'s best work.
"Miss U" with 112Prod. by Kay Gee
Had B.I.G. lived, it's safe to assume this bittersweet ode to fallen friends might've become a single. With it's 112-sung hook and melancholy lyrics about loved ones no longer with us, it's one of Life After Death's most sentimental moments. Echoing B.I.G.'s classic "Me & My Bitch" from his 1994 debut album, it's a look at the cost of the streets--without violent retribution and paranoia. Just love and sadness.
"The World Is Filled..." with Puff Daddy and Too $hortProd. by The Hitmen
The kind of laid-back groove that channels the West Coast without exactly mimicking it, this track is sandwiched between some of the more radio-friendly moments on Life After Death's second disc and the darkly fatalistic trifecta that closes the album. With B.I.G., Puff and Too $hort spitting some of their playalistic (misogynistic?) raps, it's a somewhat lighter moment on an album full of death and anger.
"Somebody's Got to Die" Prod. By The Hitmen
Might seem a little odd to consider the opening track on a classic album "underrated," but there are so many great story raps on Life After Death that the one that kicks off the album sometimes gets shorted. Starting immediately after the album's harrowing intro, the song is a first-person narrative depicting a vengeful plot, with Biggie rapping about "some kid named Jason" who has to be taken out in retribution for his killing a friend of the narrator.
"Last Day" with The LOXProd. by Havoc and Stevie J.
The LOX's first major appearance on a Bad Boy record was on this string-driven track on the first disc of Life After Death. The kind of straight-up East Coast mafioso vibe that was defining Mobb Deep and Raekwon albums, it's a lyrical showcase for B.I.G., Styles P, Sheek and of course, Jadakiss.
"My Downfall" with D.M.C.Prod. by The Hitmen
Life After Death ends with a string of songs dedicated to Biggie's ever-growing paranoia. "Long Kiss Goodnight" is blessed with a classic RZA beat; "You're Nobody Til Somebody Kills You" is the darkly appropriate epitaph for the album and the late Chris Wallace's legacy. But this starts that final triage of dark poetry with an assist from D.M.C., who turns his classic line into one of the most fitting hooks of Biggie's career.