Life After Death is the Notorious B.I.G.’s Bad; it’s considered a classic but sometimes can’t escape the shadows of its predecessor Ready to Die (Michael Jackson’s Bad couldn’t escape Thriller’s shadow.) Generally, Biggie’s debut album, Ready To Die gets the praise for his best work. But since the 21 years of his death on March 9th, 1997, Biggie’s legacy has rested on Life After Death, the two-disc opus that shined a light on his talent as a rapper.
He conquered flow and lyrics on “Kick In The Door.” A gangster tale appeared cinematic on “Somebody’s Got To Die,” while “Long Kiss Goodnight” would become an underrated diss track filled with vicious bars. And we can never forget the drug dealer/street anthem “Ten Crack Commandments,” in which Biggie spoke on the rules of the drug game as if he was a veteran human on earth.
But while the project had its grimier offerings, it shined brightest on the more marketable tracks. “I Got a Story To Tell” spoke to the players who moved so savagely they almost got caught. “Mo Money, Mo Problems” could be seen as Biggie’s catchiest track, while “F**kin You Tonight” is one of the few rap tracks that can be put on a slow jam playlist.
But it was “Hypnotize,” the lead single for Life After Death that helped define the album and Biggie’s legacy. As Stereogum pointed out here, he put the lyrics (“I put hoes in NY onto DKNY. Miami, D.C. prefer Versace”) and (“squeeze first, ask questions last,”) each into a record that would be his first No. 1 single.
Recorded at the age of 24, The Notorious B.I.G. unknowingly gave his final sendoff before he was killed 21 years old today. But in that process, he also showed that as a rapper he was ahead of his time. No rapper at the time could successfully blend street tales with catchy songwriting. The blueprint was laid out on Ready To Die. But tragically, we watched Biggie master it on Life After Death.