Saturday, August 15, 2009

483. Life After Death- A spookily appropriate title.

Album: Life After Death.

Artist: Notorious B.I.G.

Year: 2000

Genre: Rap.


1. Life After Death Intro
2. Somebody's Gotta Die
3. Hypnotize
4. Kick In The Door
5. Fuck You Tonight
6. Last Day
7. I Love the Dough
8. What's Beef?
9. B.I.G. Interlude
10. Mo Money Mo Problems
11. Niggas Bleed
12. I Got a Story to Tell
13. Notorius Thugs
14. Miss U
15. Another
16. Going Back To Cali
17. Ten Crack Commandments
18. Playa Hater
19. Nasty Boy
20. Sky's The Limit
21. The World is Filled...
22. My Downfall
23. Long Kiss Goodnight
24. You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)

I’d struggle to find two musical genres more poles apart than Country and Rap. Anyone who lists both Merle Haggard and Notorious BIG in their top five artists is an odd packet of biscuits indeed. If you need any proof of the gulf between these two musical genres The Hag and Biggie are pretty good men to study.

Merle Haggard spent his early years in and out of juvenile detention and finally ended up doing a three year stretch at San Quentin prison. He was clearly a bad, bad boy who spent most of his time on the wrong side of the law and it held him down later in life. The title track of Branded Man talks about how a criminal past is like a branding that can never be overcome. Haggard uses his songs to express regret for his crimes and remorse at how he let himself be led astray.

Notorious B.I.G (otherwise known as Biggie Smalls and a host of other names) also spent his youth in and out of trouble, mainly for dealing in crack cocaine, an enterprise he apparently began at the tender age of 12. But unlike Merle the work of Notorious B.I.G. doesn’t express regret, shame or any form of repentance. In fact many of the songs on Life After Death openly discuss his previous life and make it clear that he’s far from left it behind. Songs like Ten Crack Commandments even outline helpful tips for prospective drug dealers. (Apparently rule seven is: “Keep your family and business completely separated/ Money and blood don’t mix like two dicks and no bitch”.)

The songs on Life After Death feature constant references to guns, drugs, violence, death and are often punctuated with gunshot sound effects. Songs like Somebody’s Gotta Die weave extended narratives about retaliation for the murder of a friend. The talk on the album is tough which immediately made me cynical. There’s something about male ego-posturing that I find intrinsically hilarious and easier to mock than a vegetarian with bacon breath. The cynic in me believes most street-cred in art is mainly hot-air and image creation.

What gives Life After Death added weight is that by the time it was released the man who created it had been gunned down by an unknown assailant. The album was released posthumously and Biggie’s murderer is still (ironically) at large. Nobody knows who killed him, except presumably Notorious himself but he’s not telling because the only way to contact Biggie Smalls is through a medium (sorry)

Knowing this makes the album more poignant. When Biggie makes threats and talks about his enemies he’s not referring to that guy in the next office who stole his stapler. A song like Miss U might sound like a lament for a distant lover but it’s actually Biggie’s farewell to friends who were gunned down in his drug dealing days. The album ends with a song called You’re nobody till somebody kills you.

Life after death was a look into a world that I know precisely nothing about and language I didn’t understand. One song featured the repeated question “What’s Beef?” and I thought: “Ooh Ooh I know this one, I know this one! Beef is a meat derived from domestic cattle!” Turns out that according to Biggie: “Beef is when you need two gats to go to sleep.” Shows what I know. A gat, by the way, is a gun. Notorious BIG talks about gats a lot. He also talks about Beef and dissing a lot because apparently he was engaged in a feud with some other rappers at the time. I’m guessing the dispute didn’t centre around anything as mundane as a borrowed lawnmower returned in less than ideal condition.

But don’t go thinking that Biggie is all about violence. There are songs about love on Life after Death as well. Another is a sweet duet with Lil Kim which beings thusly…

[Biggie] Yeah... fuck you
[Lil Kim] Fuck you too!
[B.I.G.] Fuck you bitch
[Lil Kim] Fuck you motherfucker
[B.I.G.] You ain't shit anyway, fuck you
[Lil Kim] You ain't shit, you fat motherfucker
[B.I.G.] Yeah, whatever whatever
[Lil Kim] Whatever
[B.I.G.] You wasn't saying that when you was sucking my dick
[Lil Kim] You wasn't saying that when you was eating my pussy!
You a nasty motherfucker!

And it continues in that vein for an entire song. Romance might not be dead but its losing blood from multiple gat wounds and fading fast.

Early on listeners are treated to a tune called Fuck you tonight which features the repeated line “I’m fucking you tonight,” which is nothing if not blatant in it’s honesty. I tried to work out if there was really any distinction between I’m Fucking you tonight and the Rolling Stones’ Lets spend the night together and decided there was. Mick Jagger is making a suggestion whereas Biggie is effectively issuing a command. The woman’s opinion is irrelevant, which you get the feeling is his attitude to the female gender in general.

Life After Death is a brutal album that introduced me to a world I knew existed but knew nothing about. It’s an audio equivalent of an episode of The Wire only without the heart or McNulty. If Biggie was alive today and enjoying a comfortable middle age I’d be a lot more snide about this than I am now. As a posthumous release it’s a tragically inadvertent suicide note and evidence folder all rolled into one.

Highlight: To quote: “Just the overall vibe of the thing.” Really. The album creates an appropriately dark mood.
Lowlight: The between-track talking. Especially the “just woken up by my road manager” skit.

Influenced by:
A short and brutal life.
Influenced: Lots of tragic, middle-class, white boys who bling up and talk like they grew up in the hood.

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: “Im a PAC fan but this is just big to tha fullest. Ne one giving this album lower then 5 is wack. The production could be better but...............this should still be given 7 outta 5.
IF you dont have this............go listen to opera.”

-Did you get that? If you don’t own a copy of this album then you are hereby commanded to go and listen to some opera.

So does size matter? Can it get any bigger than Biggie or do you find Notorious Laborious?

1 comment: