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Ready to Die

Ready to Die is the Grammy Nominated and Billboard Award Winning debut studio album by East Coast rapper The Notorious B.I.G., released on the Bad Boy Records label on September 13, 1994.

The partly autobiographical hardcore hip hop album gained strong reviews on release and became a commercial success, reaching quadruple platinum sales. It was significant for revitalizing East Coast hip hop at a time when the genre was mostly dominated by West Coast artists. In 2006, Time magazine named it one of the 100 greatest albums of all time. It was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance for "Big Poppa" at the 1996 Grammy Awards.

Background

Recording

The album was recorded in New York City (mainly in The Hit Factory recording studio) in two stages between 1993 and 1994. Biggie was signed to the Uptown Records label by A&R Sean "Puffy" Combs in 1992. The following year Biggie started recording his debut album in New York, after having made numerous guest appearances on label mates' singles the previous year. The first tracks recorded include the album's darker, less radio-friendly content (including “Ready To Die,” “Gimme The Loot” and “Things Done Changed”). In these sessions, XXL magazine describe an "inexperienced, higher-pitched" Biggie sounding "hungry and paranoid".

When Executive Producer, Sean "Puffy" Combs, was fired from Uptown having only partially completed the album, Biggie's career hung in limbo. After a brief period dealing drugs in North Carolina, Biggie returned to the studio the following year on Combs' new Bad Boy Records label possessing "a smoother, more confident vocal tone" and completed the album. In this stage, the more commercial-sounding tracks of the album were recorded, including the album's singles. Between the two stages, XXL writes that Biggie moved from writing his lyrics in notebooks to freestyling them from memory.

Music

Lyrics

The Notorious B.I.G.'s lyrics on the album were generally praised by critics, although they caused some controversy because of their violent representations and sexually explicit depictions. Many critics applauded his story-telling ability such as All Music Guide writer, Steve Huey, who stated "His raps are easy to understand, but his skills are hardly lacking — he has a loose, easy flow and a talent for piling multiple rhymes on top of one another in quick succession". He also went on to mention that his lyrics are "firmly rooted in reality, but play like [a] scene from a movie". Touré, writing for The New York Times, referred to The Notorious B.I.G., proclaiming that he stood out from other rappers because "his lyrics mix autobiographical details about crime and violence with emotional honesty, telling how he felt while making a living as a drug dealer". The album is also noted for its dark tone and sinister sense of doom. In the original Rolling Stone review, Cheo H. Coker declared that he "maintains a consistent level of tension by juxtaposing emotional highs and lows".

The lyrics on Ready to Die tend to deal with violence, drug dealing, women, alcohol consumption and other elements of Notorious B.I.G.'s environment. Biggie rapped about these topics in "clear, sparse terms, allowing the lyrics to hit the first time you hear them". The album contains a loose concept starting out with an intro that details the birth of Biggie, his early childhood, his adolescence and his life at the point of the album's release. Songs on the album range from homicide narratives ("Warning") to braggadocios battle raps ("The What," "Unbelievable"). The album ends with "Suicidal Thoughts," a song where The Notorious B.I.G. contemplates suicide and finally commits it.

Production

The production on the album was mainly handled by Combs and Easy Mo Bee, and it was generally well-received by critics. Rolling Stone described the beats as "heavy bottomed and slick," enhancing the lyrics but not standing in their own right. The production is mainly sample-based with the samples varying from the percussion of funk tracks to the vocals of hip hop songs. Steve Huey presented some criticism over the beats, stating that the "deliberate beats do get a little samey, but it hardly matters: this is Biggie's show" Cheo H. Coker depicted the beats as "heavy bottomed and slick, but B.I.G.'s rhymes are the showstoppers. The tracks only enhance them, whether it's the live bass driving a menacing undercurrent or [the] use of bluesy guitar and wah-wah feedback" and that the production is used to "push the rapper to new heights."

Songs

Content

Four singles were released from the album: "Juicy", "Big Poppa", "One More Chance" and "Warning". According to XXL the more commercial sound of the singles compared to the rest of the album was a result of encouragement by Combs during the later recording sessions in which they were recorded. "Big Poppa" was nominated at the 1996 Grammy Awards for Best Rap Solo Performance. The album boasts production from Easy Mo Bee, The Hitmen and DJ Premier. Guests on the album were minimal, with Method Man being the only featured artist, appearing on "The What."

"Juicy"

"Juicy" was released as the lead single on August 8, 1994. It peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 14 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and reached number 3 on the Hot Rap Singles. It sold over a 500,000 copies and the RIAA certified it Gold on November 8, 1994. Produced by Combs, it features predominate sample of "Juicy Fruit" as performed by James Mtume. All Music Guide's Steve Huey stated that, along with the other singles, it was an "upbeat, commercial moment", calling it a "rags-to-riches chronicle". Andrew Kameka, of HipHopDX.com, stated that the song was one of his "greatest and most-revealing songs" and went on to say it was a "Part-autobiography, part-declaration-of-success. It document[s] the star's transition from Brooklyn knucklehead to magazine cover story."

"Big Poppa"

"Big Poppa" was released as the second single on April 3, 1995 and like the previous single, it was a hit on multiple charts. It reached number six on the Billboard Hot 100, number four on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and number one on Hot Rap Singles. It sold over a million units and the RIAA certified it Platinum on May 23, 1995. Featuring production by Combs and Chucky Thompson of The Hitmen, it samples "Between the Sheets" by The Isley Brothers. The song was nominated at the 1996 Grammy Awards for Best Rap Solo Performance, but lost to Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise". Steve Huey named it a "overweight-lover anthem".

"One More Chance"

"One More Chance" was released as the third single on June 9, 1995. The single was a remix of the album track. It was produced by Combs and Rashad Smith and featured a sample from DeBarge's "Stay With Me". It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and Hot Rap Singles. It sold over a million copies and the RIAA certified it Platinum on July 31, 1995. Steve Huey labeled it a "graphic sex rap". Rolling Stone writer Cheo H. Coker had a similar view of the song, noting that it was "one of the bawdiest sex raps since Kool G Rap's classic, 'Talk Like Sex'" and continued, stating it "proves hilarious simply because of B.I.G.'s Dolemitelike vulgarity."

Reception

Initial

Upon its release, Ready to Die received strong reviews, and unlike other acclaimed East Coast hip hop albums released at the time (including the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Nas' Illmatic), such critical success was matched commercially, with sales driven by strong radio and MTV airplay for the singles "Juicy" and "Big Poppa". Rolling Stone praised Biggie's ability in "painting a sonic picture so vibrant that you're transported right to the scene". Q magazine wrote "...the natural rapping, clever use of sound effects and acted dialogue, and concept element... set this well apart from the average gangsta bragging". The album peaked at #3 and #13 on Billboard's (North America) Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums and the Billboard 200 album charts and was eventually certified quadruple platinum.

Retrospective

In retrospect, the album has been highly acclaimed. In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums. The magazine, which had initially scored the album 4.5 mics (out of five) in its 1994 review raised its rating to five. It is the third highest ranked hip hop album on the list (with Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell ranking above), but the highest ranking 90s hip-hop album nevertheless. The album was ranked #30 in Spin's "100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005".

Accolades

The information is taken from AcclaimedMusic.net and other website links below.
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Blender Magazine U.S. 500 CDs You Must Own Before You Die 2003 *
Dance de Lux Spain The 25 Best Hip-Hop Records 2001 #21
Ego Trip U.S. Hip Hop's 25 Greatest Albums by Year 1980-98 (1994) 1999 #2
Famoso Magazine U.S. 10 Must Have Albums 2007 *
Mojo UK Mojo 1000, the Ultimate CD Buyers Guide 2001 *
Mojo UK The Mojo Collection, Third Edition 2003 *
Pitchfork Media U.S. Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1990s 2003 #32
Q UK The Ultimate Music Collection 2005 *
Robert Dimery U.S. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2005 *
Rolling Stone U.S. List of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2003 #133
Rolling Stone U.S. The Essential Recordings of the 90s 1999 *
Spin Magazine U.S. Top 90 Albums of the 90's 1999 #27
Spin Magazine U.S. Top 100 (+5) Albums of the Last 20 Years 2005 #30
The New Nation UK Top 100 Albums by Black Artists #8
The Source U.S. 100 Best Rap Albums of All Time 1998 *
Vibe Magazine U.S. 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century 1999 *
VPRO Netherlands 299 Nominations of the Best Album of All Time 2006 *

(* ) designates lists which are unordered.

Track listing

All songs were written and performed by The Notorious B.I.G. except "The What". The list of samples for each track is only partial.

# Title Time Songwriter(s) Producer(s) Performer(s) Sample(s)
1 "Intro" 3:24 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs for The Hitmen *Interlude*

2 "Things Done Changed" 3:58 Christopher Wallace Dominic Owens and Kevin Scott
(remaster version) Darnell Scott
The Notorious B.I.G.

3 "Gimme the Loot" 5:04 Christopher Wallace Easy Mo Bee The Notorious B.I.G.

4 "Machine Gun Funk" 4:17 Christopher Wallace Easy Mo Bee The Notorious B.I.G.

5 "Warning" 3:40 Christopher Wallace Easy Mo Bee The Notorious B.I.G.

6 "Ready to Die" 4:24 Christopher Wallace Easy Mo Bee The Notorious B.I.G.

7 "One More Chance" 4:43 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs & Chucky Thompson for The Hitmen
The Bluez Brothers
The Notorious B.I.G., Total (additional vocals), Chucky Thompson (instruments)

8 "Fuck Me (Interlude)" 1:31 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs for The Hitmen The Notorious B.I.G., (Lil' Kim)

9 "The What" 3:57 Christopher Wallace
Clifford Smith
Easy Mo Bee The Notorious B.I.G., Method Man
10 "Juicy" 5:02 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs for The Hitmen
Poke
The Notorious B.I.G., Total (additional vocals)

11 "Everyday Struggle" 5:19 Christopher Wallace The Bluez Brothers The Notorious B.I.G.

12 "Me & My Bitch" 4:00 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs & Chucky Thompson for The Hitmen
The Bluez Brothers
The Notorious B.I.G., Sybil Pennix (voice), Chucky Thompson (instruments)

  • "Computer Love" by Zapp (Live Remix version not album version)

13 "Big Poppa" 4:13 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs & Chucky Thompson for The Hitmen The Notorious B.I.G.

14 "Respect" 5:21 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs for The Hitmen
Jean "Poke" Oliver
The Notorious B.I.G., Diana King (additional vocals)

15 "Friend of Mine" 3:28 Christopher Wallace Easy Mo Bee The Notorious B.I.G.

16 "Unbelievable" 3:43 Christopher Wallace DJ Premier The Notorious B.I.G.

17 "Suicidal Thoughts" 2:50 Christopher Wallace Lord Finesse The Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy (backing vocals)

18 "Who Shot Ya"* 5:19 Christopher Wallace Sean "Puffy" Combs & Nashiem Myrick for The Hitmen The Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy (backing vocals)

19 "Just Playing (Dreams)"* 2:43 Christopher Wallace Rashad Smith The Notorious B.I.G.

* denotes Extended Version Bonus Tracks

References

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