For those lucky enough to be alive in those times and witness the moment as it happened, “Party & Bullsh*t” became anthemic in Hip-Hop circles, a guaranteed party-starter no matter which part of the night it rocked. Barbershops, the original hotbed of terrible takes and verbal dissent before social media’s rise, was ground zero for spirited discussions on Hip-Hop’s next big thing. Bigge’s name came up often but there was still a distinctly East Coast, and more specifically, New York bent that defined him as an artist at that time.
The year 1994 gave way to a number of classic debut albums: Nas’ Illmatic; Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik; Jeru The Damaja’s The Sun Rises In The East; The Beatnuts’ Street Level; M.O.P.’s To The Death; and Saafir’s Boxcar Sessions is in this decidedly rich collection of Hip-Hop releases. However, the debut of The Notorious B.I.G., now firmly in line with Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records imprint after a stint with Uptown Records, showcased a refinement few would have expected from the verses that came before.
Ready To Die‘s lead single, “Juicy,” built upon ’80s funk and soul band Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit,” was a triumphant rags-to-riches track that also visually introduced the artist by way of its glossy video treatment in a fashion some Hip-Hop observers viewed as unprecedented at the time. The song took hold of the radio in August of 1994, dually serving as a launching pad for R&B group, Total, who performed the hook. The song has garnered the adoration of fans and critics alike while still enjoying a solid run as a floor-packing jam.
The second single, “Big Poppa” is again another song that has endured over the past quarter of a century, with Biggie fashioning himself as a suave ladies man, and that was in turn followed with the album’s third and final single, “One More Chance.” A common thread to all these tracks was the omnipresent P Diddy and his adlibs across the length of the entire song, lending one to assume that these smoothed-out jams were all there was to The Notorious B.I.G.
Ready To Die was a rude awakening to anyone believing that based on the album’s big three singles it would stay in those lanes. Songs like the gritty “Things Done Changed,” “Gimme The Loot,” “Machine Gun Funk,” and “Warning” shook up expectations with ease. DJ Premier’s amazing chop work on “Unbelievable” was another display of the vocal gifts Biggie possessed, using a tone of voice that allowed him to dance over Preemo’s production. The final song, “Suicidal Thoughts,” is still as bone-chilling an album closer as any in recent memory, and haunts the mind long after it ends.