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His true legacy.
on 23 March 2008
Most modern music fans will now only remember Notorious BIG because of P Diddy's relentless plundering of his 'friend's' catalogue, and for the many mawkish tributes he's released. It takes an album like the epic (and disturbingly prescient) Life After Death to remind us that BIG was at one point hailed as the greatest rapper in the world.
Never as prolific as his greatest rival, Tupac, Biggie took a leisurely three years to follow up his classic debut Ready To Die. An amibitious double, it covered virtually every base, and, somewhat annoyingly, featured a considerably increased Puff Daddy quotient. Puffy's omnipresence is one of the album's very few annoying points - he appears on the majority of the skits, several of the songs, produces the album and at more than one point on the otherwise magnificent 'Long Kiss Goodnight' he actually TALKS OVER Biggie's rapping.
But Puff's production is what makes the album what it is. An altogether slicker, poppier, but also somewhat darker affair than its predecessor, Life After Death is also in many ways the better album in that it has more classic songs. The deliberately catchy singles 'Hypnotise' and 'Mo' Money, Mo' Problems' benefit from the pop touch Puffy brings to the table, while the stoner haze of the excellent 'The World Is Filled' is probably the album highlight, its effortless groove underpinning Puffy's best moment on the album, or probably anywhere else.
Somewhat heartwarmingly, at a couple of points he subtly alludes to the East Coast/West Coast rivalry without dissing anyone, but on 'Going Back To Cali' he even suggests that there's nothing wrong with the West Coast at all.
On the darker side of things, Biggie's more violent, blackly comic songs are even better, the spiralling, clattering beat of 'Notorious Thugs' scaling ever greater heights with verse after verse of new guest stars; the slow groove of 'What's Beef' addressing paranoia and rap rivalries with wit and grace; and the sprightly acoustic guitar that underpins 'I've Got A Story To Tell' bringing the first disc to a comfortable close.
It's an album that isn't perfect, but its over-reach, its grandeur and its shameless polish make up for the few times when the quality control sags or Puff Daddy shoehorns himself in too much. In truth, this is the second and last Notorious BIG album you need to buy.