The Notorious B.I.G.: 10 Definitive Tracks

The Notorious B.I.G.

Today (March 9th) marks 20 years since The Notorious B.I.G. — debatably Hip-Hop’s greatest demigod — was tragically killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles (which is still unsolved to this day). Following the very crucial debut Ready To Die, B.I.G.’s sophomore release Life After Death was then released to the masses only a couple of weeks later; that album has since earned the very rare Diamond status as well as landed on virtually everyone’s ‘Greatest Albums’ list, Hip-Hop or otherwise. It can be said that the Brooklyn legend single-handedly spawned the careers of many of your favorite artists to date — JAY Z, The LOX, Ma$e, Junior M.A.F.I.A. (particularly Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease)…even Sean “Diddy” Combs (the man formerly/currently known as Puff Daddy who oversaw B.I.G.’s career from its inception) rose from Biggie Smalls’ death to prominence as one of Rap’s wealthiest moguls. Simply put, B.I.G.’s legacy remains lasting even two decades after his passing.

Naming B.I.G.’s best tracks is really a call for contentious debate; nonetheless, RESPECT. has put together ten of his more definitive cuts, along with notable lyrics and why these songs had such great impact. Feel free to add to the interminable discussion by leaving your response below. R.I.P. to one of the best that ever did it.

“Everyday Struggle” (from Ready To Die)

Essentially, “Everyday Struggle” is a first-hand account of a drug dealer’s rise to success in the face of adversity…from it’s core, the track simply spoke to everyone who’s having a hard time financially, from the soon-to-be-father who’s unsure of how he can support his child to the blue-collar worker exhausting themselves over pennies, living check-to-check to survive. “Everyday Struggle” was that perfect mixture of emotional vulnerability and — as we’ve come to know — impeccable storytelling by B.I.G.

I know how it feel to wake up f***ed up
Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell
People look at you like you’s the user
Selling drugs to all the losers, mad buddha abuser
But they don’t know about your stress-filled day
Baby on the way, mad bills to pay
That’s why you drink Tanqueray, so you can reminisce
And wish you wasn’t living so devilish, s***
I remember I was just like you…

“Hypnotize” (from Life After Death)

“Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can’t you see”…one of B.I.G.’s biggest singles ever chart-wise, “Hypnotize” did just that to anyone to listened, making the song a number one record for the artist (and the fifth time a posthumous record achieved that feat on the Billboard 100). It also came accompanied with one of the most expensive music videos ever made, directed by Paul Hunter and featuring B.I.G. and Puff on a highly stylized getaway from, well…they (DJ Khaled voice). Alongside the timeless “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems“, “Hypnotize” helped push B.I.G. into the Pop stratosphere; nonetheless, it certainly didn’t stop him from keeping things Mafioso Rap for the culture:

…a n***a rapping ’bout blunts and broads
Tits and bras, ménage à trois, sex in expensive cars
I still leave you on the pavement
Condo paid for, no car payment
At my arraignment, note for the plaintiff
“Your daughter’s tied up in a Brooklyn basement”
Face it, not guilty, that’s how I stay filthy
Richer than Richie, ’til you n***as come and get me

“Sky’s The Limit” (from Life After Death)

It was hard not to smile when you heard “Sky’s The Limit”, an inspirational record that saw B.I.G. continuing his raw raps about his life and how it stood as a testament to keep reaching for your dreams (it’s a marked difference from tracks like the aforementioned “Everyday Struggle”, which possessed a much darker, hopeless theme for obvious reasons). Adding in 112‘s vocals and Clark Kent‘s warm production (all probably part of Puff’s genius) made the track both palatable and very real for both B.I.G.’s core fanbase and the MTV generation…then came the bubbly, imaginative visual, which handled the elephant in the room (B.I.G. having passed prior to its filming) by turning everyone into kids. How could you not love this?

While we out here, say the Hustlers Prayer
If the game shakes me or breaks me
I hope it makes me a better man, take a better stand
Put money in my mom’s hand
Get my daughter this college grant
So she don’t need no man
Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it
And live the phrase “Sky’s the limit”

“Somebody’s Gotta Die” (from Life After Death)

One of the coldest, most edge-of-your-seat thrillers ever heard on wax, hands down. “Somebody’s Gotta Die” follows Life After Death‘s powerful intro (which acted as a bridge from B.I.G.’s debut) and got right into what was B.I.G.’s specialty — classic storytelling, right to it’s dark, twisted end. A hell of a way to kick-start an album.

Revenge I’m tastin’ at the tip of my lips
I can’t wait to fill my clip in his hips
“Pass the chocolate, Thai!”
Sing ain’t lie
There’s Jason with his back to me
Talkin’ to his faculty
I start to get a funny feeling
Put the mask on in case his n***as start squealin’
Scream his name out: “Ay yo, playboy!” – squeezed six, nothin’ shorter
N***a turned around holdin’ his daughter…

“Suicidal Thoughts” (from Ready To Die)

There’s so much to unpack from the final track on Ready To Die…”Suicidal Thoughts” saw B.I.G. calling Puff at an odd hour of the night, revealing that he’s going to commit suicide (and all the reasons why). Despite Puff’s pleas over the phone, the fictional end is ultimately inevitable — a difficult listen for many. Adding in Lord Finesse‘s haunting production, “Suicidal Thoughts” has a level of raw emotion and (perhaps, for B.I.G. at the time) brutal honesty not really seen much in Hip-Hop today. A poignant end to a classic album.

When I die, f*** it, I wanna go to Hell
Cause I’m a piece of s***, it ain’t hard to f***ing tell
It don’t make sense, going to heaven with the goodie-goodies
Dressed in white, I like black Timbs and black hoodies
God’ll prolly have me on some real strict s***
No sleeping all day, no getting my d*** licked
Hanging with the goodie-goodies lounging in paradise
Fuck that s***, I wanna tote guns and shoot dice

“Dead Wrong” (from Born Again)

While Born Again was a bit of a mess, the first release that contained zero input from B.I.G. did possess a gem or two — one of which was the Acid Rap-esque “Dead Wrong”, which saw what sounds like a Ready To Die-era B.I.G. rapping about rape, murder and even pedophilia (making the title even more effective). Adding in a longer version that features one of Eminem‘s best verses ever written, you have a guilty pleasure that’s hard not to bob your head to (in the privacy of your own home).

Biggie Smalls for mayor, the rap slayer, the hooker layer
Motherf***er, say your prayers!
“Hail Mary, full of grace,” smack the b***h in the face
Take her Gucci bag and the North Face off her back
Jab her if she act, funny with the money
Oh, you got me mistaken, honey
I don’t wanna rape ya, I just want the paper
The Visa, kapeesha? I’m out like The Vapors

“Juicy” (from Ready To Die)

For even fair-weather fans, “Juicy” is widely acknowledged as B.I.G.’s pivotal record, the one that put him on the radar as one of Hip-Hop and music’s biggest stars. Over Mtume‘s 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit” (we definitely got a glimpse of Puff’s sampling formula early), Biggie rapped about his (and Hip-Hop’s own) ascent to success from meager beginnings…this track wasn’t just definitive for the artist, it was so for the entire culture as well. SIDENOTE: It’s still crazy hearing that line about the World Trade Center…

It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine
Salt-n-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine
Hangin’ pictures on my wall
Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl
I let my tape rock ’til my tape popped
Smokin’ weed on Bambu, sippin’ on Private Stock
Way back, when I had the red and black lumberjack
With the hat to match
Remember Rappin’ Duke? Duh-ha, duh-ha
You never thought that hip hop would take it this far…

“One More Chance” (from Ready To Die)

“One More Chance” is pivotal because we saw it evolve from its original, more explicit version (which appeared on Ready To Die and was preceded by some interesting voicemails from various trysts) to the mega-hit that ripped sampled Debarge‘s “Stay With Me” (once again, Puff’s genius). Then, “One More Chance” merged with Marley Marl and Craig G‘s “Droppin’ Science” for a “Hip-Hop remix“, making the single even more suitable for your nearest dancefloor or house party — speaking of which, the video for the Debarge-sampled cut featured one of the most star-studded Hip-Hop celebrations seen on camera, thanks to appearances from Heavy D (R.I.P.), Total (whose vocals were featured on the track), Tyson Beckford, “Uncle” Luke Campbell, Changing Faces, Zhane, (wife) Faith Evans, D-Nice, Lance “Un” Rivera, Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah and more. As did “Big Poppa“, the flashy, Shiny Suit Man-precursor “One More Chance” put Biggie in a different light than darker, more sinister cuts on the album it shared space with.

She’s sick of that song on how it’s so long
Thought he worked his until I handled my biz
There I is, Major Payne like Damon Wayans
Low Down Dirty, even, like his brother Keenan
Schemin’, don’t leave your girl around me!
True player for real, ask Puff Daddy

“10 Crack Commandments” (from Life After Death)

Not only was B.I.G. a mastermind storyteller, he was also a great teacher — in this case, it’s not the best craft to learn, but it’s certainly quite eye-opening (a must-mention: he also gave equally-important wisdom on “What’s Beef“). Over a classic DJ Premier creation, B.I.G. spells out ten steps to successful drug-dealing, ‘For Dummies’-style, before revealing what would happen if his rules aren’t followed correctly. Truth be told, a couple of these rules could be used in any business setting:

Number 6: that goddamn credit? Dead it
You think a crackhead paying you back, s*** forget it!
7: this rule is so underrated
Keep your family and business completely separated
Money and blood don’t mix like two d***s and no b***h
Find yourself in serious s***

“Who Shot Ya?” (“Big Poppa” B-Side)

Save the best for last. “Who Shot Ya?” shook Hip-Hop for more than its dopeness and in-your-face lyricism (and that beat!): during its peak, many felt that the song was a shot at friend-turned-foe Tupac Shakur, who was infamously shot at Quad Recording Studios just two months prior. While no evidence of this was found, conspiracy theorists (including Pac) considered that robbery-shooting a setup orchestrated by B.I.G., Puff and their associates, all of whom were in the building when the crime occurred. Simply put, it added a serious amount of fuel to the East Coast-West Coast rivalry (even though the song was originally written for Mary J. Blige‘s My Life several months prior), making it one of the biggest pillars in a historic Hip-Hop arc…one that sadly led to the demise of two icons of the culture.

Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete
Hard to creep them Brooklyn streets
It’s on n***a, f*** all that bickering beef
I can hear sweat trickling down your cheek
Your heartbeat sound like Sasquatch feet
Thundering, shaking the concrete
Then the s*** stop when I foil the plot
Neighbors call the cops, said they heard mad shots

**********

BONUS: Craig Mack – “Who Shot Ya? Remix” (also featuring Rampage, LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes)

While this wasn’t his track per se, he certainly took it over…even alongside some very-talented peers. Maybe they shouldn’t have put his verse first.

More guns than roses, foes is shaking in their boots
Invisible bully like The Gooch
Disappear, vamoose, you’re wack to me
Take them rhymes back to the factory
I see the gimmicks, the wack lyrics, the s*** is
Depressing, pathetic, please forget it
You’re mad cause my style you’re admiring
Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring

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