There's really not much else you can say about the Notorious B.I.G. or his debut album, 'Ready to Die,' that hasn't been detailed or written at this point. Being that his magnum opus of a debut came out 23 years ago on Sept. 13, 1994, and that he died not even three whole years after that, we've had the better part of two decades to dissect his music, life, legacy and all other things associated with Brooklyn New York's favorite son.
Instead of giving a simple overview of the album, we've gone a step further and ranked 15 songs on the tracklist (minus the intro and interlude).
From the songs that don't necessarily deserve the classic title (as there are no truly horrible songs on Ready to Die) to the cream of the crop, we give the full rundown. This isn't a list of preferences, but one that showcases which tracks are truly the best on the album as it stands today. Let the debates begin.
The Easy Mo Bee-produced 'Friend of Mine' sees the black Frank White tossing women to the side left and right, passing them to the crew with no regard for feelings. While Big's flow on this is airtight and he drops a few witty bars, overall the song is a bit clunky in comparison to the rest of the album and could've been left on the cutting room floor if we were forced to let one track go.
The album's title track is better than average for most rappers, but for Biggie, it comes off as pedestrian and a bit mailed in. Besides the hilarious "My life is played out like a jheri curl" line, there's little to remember about this song other than the fact that it was on 'Ready to Die.'
Biggie shows a little love to his Caribbean heritage with the island-tinged 'Respect.' Jean "Poke" Oliver, one-half of the production duo Trackmasters, provides the beat and Big delivers three efficient verses. Initially thought of to be a slight blemish on an otherwise classic album, it has grown on listeners little by little since the project first dropped in 1994, and doesn't get the skip-button treatment as much as it did in previous years.
"So, you wanna be hardcore / With your hat to the back, talking bout the gat's in your raps / But I don't feel that hardcore appeal that you're screaming / Maybe I'm dreaming," Biggie raps. That hard-hitting couplet serves as the opening to the Easy Mo Bee-produced number 'Machine Gun Funk.' The record, originally Biggie's choice as the first single off 'Ready to Die' until Sean "Puffy" Combs intervened, showcases the Bed Stuy heavy's lyrical dexterity amid samples of Black Heat's 'Something Extra' and Lords of the Underground's 'Chief Rocka.'
Biggie crafts an ode to his main squeeze on 'Me & My Bitch.' Detailing their turbulent, but loving relationship, the plot takes a twist as he reveals that his wifey was murdered at the hands of his enemies. Co-produced by Bluez Brothers and Chucky Thompson, this indelible number showcases both Biggie's penchant for dry humor and vivid storytelling.
At the tail-end of the recording process for 'Ready to Die,' The Notorious B.I.G. enlisted DJ Premier to concoct a beat for the album at the last minute. Flipping a sample of The Honey Drippers' 'Impeach the President' and an infectious R. Kelly soundbite handpicked by Big himself, the Brooklyn Godfather puts forth his lyrical damage effortlessly.
The remix may get a majority of the props, but let it be no secret, the original album version of 'One More Chance' is more than worthy of your adulation as well. Riding an infectious sample of Debarge's 'All This Love,' Biggie details his prowess in the bedroom with humor and skill, riding the beat like an audio wave. And when you add in the hilarious voicemail at the beginning of the track, you have no choice but to consider this song golden.
Although we don't have it ranked among the top tier songs from the album, this track is undoubtedly one of the most important, as it excellently sets the tone and lays the foundation for what's next to come. Serving as 'Ready to Die's lead-off track, Biggie gives you a then-present image of Bed Stuy, Brooklyn -- a place filled with crack sales, murder and the disconnect between the older generation and the new kids on the block. Lines like "Little motherf---ers with heat wanna leave a n---- six feet deep / And we coming to the wake / To make sure the crying and commotion ain't a motherf---ing fake / Back in the days our parents used to take care of us / Look at 'em now, they even f---in' scared of us / Calling the city for help because they can't maintain / Damn, s--- done changed," and honest admissions like "S---, my mama got cancer in her breast / Don't ask me why I'm motherf---ing stressed / Things done changed," give you the honest truth about life in murderous New York during the crack era and a slight glimpse into his own personal adversities.
Casual fans of the Notorious B.I.G. may be more familiar with another humbling tale that will appear on this list, but the 'Ready to Die' album cut 'Everyday Struggle' delves beneath the surface and into the psyche of Christopher Wallace. Rapping "I know how it feels to wake up f---ed up / Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell / People look at you like you's the loser / Selling drugs to all the users, mad buddah abuser / But they don't know about your stress-filled day / Babies on the way, mad bills to pay / So you sip Tanqueray, so you can reminisce / And wish you wasn't living so devilish," the track sees the usually confident lyricist reminiscing on his days as a hand-to-hand crack dealer and the daily struggles that came with life in the trade. The Bluez Brothers beautifully rugged backdrop married with Big's verses are a match made in audio heaven, making this selection a favorite among the most diehard of fans of the late rapper.
At the time of the album's release, Method Man, considered the defacto frontman of Wu-Tang Clan and a formidable lyricist in his own right, was gearing up for the release of his own upcoming '94 debut, 'Tical.' But the rising star still took time out of his recording schedule to connect with Biggie on the Easy Mo Bee-produced 'The What.' The beat, slightly reminiscent of RZA's murky soundwaves, was perfect for a collab between the two, with the pair of rising virtuosos each bringing their A-Game to the audio dojo.
"When I die, f--- it, I wanna go to hell / 'Cause I'ma piece of s---, it ain't hard to f---in' tell / It don't make sense going to heaven with the goodie goodies / Dressed in white, I like black Timb's and black hoodies," Biggie rhymes on 'Suicidal Thoughts.' With those chilling opening bars, The Notorious B.I.G. proceeds to give listeners the audio version of what would be his last words if he ever decided to blow his own brains out. From saying his last goodbyes to friends to admitting to cheating on his baby mother with her own sister, Biggie lays it all out on the table with Puff's frantic adlibs and Lord Finesse's brooding track serving as the background. Although the song is the shortest non-interlude on the album, Big's flawless execution over 32 bars more than makes up for its brevity, making this one of the more noteworthy cuts from the album.
"Who the f--- is this, paging me at 5:46 in the morning, crack of dawn and / Now I'm yawning, wipe the cold out my eye / See who's this paging me and why," is easily one of the most recognizable openings in hip-hop history to even the novice fan. Produced by Easy Mo Bee, who utilized a sample of Isaac Hayes' 'Walk on By,' 'Warning' finds Biggie going through preemptive measures after being tipped off about a planned attempt on his wealth and well-being. Scoffing at his opposition with lines like, "There's gonna be a lot of slow singing and flower bringing / If my burglar alarm starts ringing / What you think all the guns is for? / All-purpose war, got the rottweilers by the door / And I feed 'em gunpowder, so they can devour / The criminals tryna drop my decimals," Frank White shows that he's definitely not one to play with on this classic.
While hefty rappers had been able to find popularity and be considered sex symbols before Biggie Smalls, when he dropped his monster of a second single 'Big Poppa,' co-produced by Chucky Thompson and Puff Daddy, his suave demeanor and charming slick-talk had the ladies buying in more than ever before. Laying down his finesse with slick lines like, "Straight up, honey, really, I'm asking / Most of these n----s think they be macking, but they be acting / Who they attracting with that line, 'What's your name, what's your size?' / Soon as he buy that wine, I just creep up from behind / And ask you what your interests are, who you be with / Things to make you smile, what numbers to dial," the Notorious B.I.G. was officially cemented as a certified star and the undisputed King of New York.
'Big Poppa' was a tough contender for the No. 2 spot of best songs on 'Ready to Die,' but ultimately, 'Gimme the Loot' edges it out for the runner-up slot. Biggie takes on the role of two stick-up kids, thirsty for a come-up. Controversial lines like "I wouldn't give a f--- if you're pregnant, give me the baby rings and the 'No. 1 Mom' pendant," and Big's flagrant lack of lyrical remorse aside, this track stands as one of the grittiest and the best efforts in the legend's catalog.
While a majority of the songs featured on 'Ready to Die' are all classics in their own right (we've come to love and cherish them during these last 20 years), one track has managed to stand the test of time and rise above the rest: 'Juicy.' And out of all the reasons for that distinction, one is that the song is universal. Aside from the retort to those who called the police on him during his crack-dealing days on the song's intro, the adversities and rags to riches come-up that Big details on the track can be felt by people of all creeds and ages across the world. Poverty, no luck with the ladies, wanting the finer things in life, on paper it sounds like the makings of a wholesome Hollywood story. In reality, they're just the dreams of a kid from Brooklyn and many others laid on wax and one of the most endearing songs hip-hop has ever produced. And if you don't know, now you know.