Notorious Soundtrack

Posted January 15, 2009

It’s been more than ten years since Biggie was gun downed in Los Angeles. At the moment he...

Notorious Soundtrack Album Review

It’s been more than ten years since Biggie was gun downed in Los Angeles. At the moment he drew his last breath he was instantly transformed from a rapper to an icon, from an artist to a legend, from a man to a myth. Ironically, violent death has a way of making musicians live forever (see Kurt Cobain and of course Tupac for more), but it also has a way of desensitizing us to their greatness. We’re so used to unquestioningly calling Biggie “one of the best rappers ever” that in our hearts we’ve forgotten just how dope he was.

Today the new biopic of Biggie’s life, the aptly named Notorious, opens in theaters, and if it somehow manages to breathe some cinematic life back into Big Poppa it will exceed all expectations. But even if the movie flops, and if it does it will be because America can’t get past the fact that Jamal Woolard (aka “that guy who got shot in the ass”) is playing Biggie, the Notorious Soundtrack may just get the job done. Hearing over an hour of the man’s music reminds us of two things: Biggie made some of the best hip-hop ever, and Puffy talking on a track was as annoying in 1995 as it is now. Some things never change.

The essential appeal of the Notorious Soundtrack is simple - it’s every Biggie hit on one album. It’s basically a glorified greatest hits album. All the usual suspects are there: Hypnotize, One More Chance, Juicy, but you don’t need me to talk about how great these songs are. In fact, if I say, “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke...“ and you can’t finish that line, stop reading this review. Now. Seriously, just stop. What’s more impressive is just how good the lesser known tracks are. It’s easy to forget now, but at the time it dropped tracks like Warning were considered cause for parental advisory stickers. On Warning Biggie showcases his storytelling skills, hitting every line with laser-aim precision over a classic old-school beat. Hey, mo money mo problems. It’s a similar story on What’s Beef. Even with Puffy giggling like a 14-year-old girl at the end of the track, What’s Beef is Biggie at his best, proving he can flip the cadence with astounding lyricism: “this rap Alfred Hitchcock, drop top notch, play hatin gone stop.” How could I possibly criticize a rapper who delivers a line like that? In fact, my only real problem with this album is its shocking lack of Big Poppa. A Biggie collection without Big Poppa is like pancakes without syrup, like sex without an orgasm. I might be angry about this one for a while.

Just in case you already own every Biggie album the fine folks over at Bad Boy have included a few unexpected surprises. One of the only non-Notorious songs on the album belongs to fellow NY resident Jay-Z, who delivers an A Milli-esque performance on Brooklyn Go Hard. Jay adopts a strangely off-kilter Jamaican accent for his verses, and absolutely kills it. Let’s be real: the only reason Hova doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Big and Pac is he didn’t get killed in his younger years. The other original track is Letter to B.I.G., a softly paced track featuring raspy verses from Jadakiss and a touching chorus from Faith Evans. It’s not the crossover hit that I’ll Be Missing You was, but it’s much realer. Both tracks are better than good, but neither are good enough to convince a reluctant buyer to purchase the album.

Hardcore fans, however, may be persuaded by the inclusion of three previously unreleased demos. Now these tracks were demos for a reason; they’re rough and of questionable audio quality, especially Microphone Murderer, but they’re also a fascinating look at a time when Biggie rhymed like an amateur Slick Rick (see Love No Ho). There are certain album’s that you have to – I repeat have to – own if you want to call yourself a hip-hop fan. This is not one of them; Ready to Die is one of them. Still, Notorious is a worthy tribute to a true MC who laid the foundation for an entire generation of artists. Biggie is an icon, a legend, a myth, but most of all he was a man, a man who just so happened to be one of the dopest rappers to ever grace the mic. Rest in peace Christopher Wallace.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted January 15, 2009
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