Saturday, 10 March 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #94 - The Notorious BIG, "Ready to Die"

Biggie Smalls was a big, panda-eyed signifier for me of the transition from the Golden Age of Hip Hop to the slurry of the mid-Nineties onwards - Puff Daddy this, hip hop slaughter porn there. No time for the lad at all. Not least for inflicting Bad Boy Christing Entertainment on the world for a solid decade or so.

But it's his anniversary around now. And there was a bit of "Juicy" on Annie Mac's show on Radio One last night. A lot of talk about his easy flow: talk I've been hearing (and dismissing) that kind of talk for the best part of twenty year. And I've lost sight of the plan behind The 2kDozen 500: to try and edge me out of my comfort zone and glimpse new treasures with shiny ears.

I wonder to myself whether this will always be the trajectory: middle-class disapproval turns to nostalgia-blurred appreciation. Happened with NWA and Ice Cube. Happened with all kinds of guilty pleasures. Christ alone help me if it helps with Oasis. That would represent the final suspension of all critical faculties and the onset of brain death.

So what do I have here? Gritty skits about would-be assassins realising they've got red dots on their heads. Sex recordings with a woman and the "mafia-smoking motherfucker". Biggie choking on big chronic blunts and that, like he was coughing up a donkey's lung. I like the incidental music from the opening montage of Biggie's life - "Superfly" onwards - to the background of the skits.

"Juicy" and "Big Poppa" have both been rolled in the Puff Daddy shit, but reading the credits I see that most of the production by Easy Mo Bee. It's drawing on more soul samples than I'd remembered, more mellifluous and historically-minded, closer to Cypress Hill and that paranoid chiba skidding bass noise. The flow is interesting - sounds like a slightly blunted version of Ice Cube. More of a West Coast influence than might have been prudent to admit at the time. But no big bombastic wordplay or imagery, which at the time I to felt was a let-down, but I can appreciate the skills now, putting things plainly without having to stretch to strange rhymes.

"Respect" has a Jamaican flavour and I find out that his parents were both from the island. I suppose there was also some voodoo gangster chic for yardies in the Nineties, like in "Predator 2". But it must've been a nod to his folks. Ends with some gobbling - but the misogynist skit stuff (if I'm feeling very generous) seems tempered by some giggling. "Friend of Mine" and "Me & My Bitch" is the usual lazy thinks though. Sigh.

Then "Suicidal Thoughts" is a suitably lysergic, undercut of paranoia and self-pity. "When I die I want to go to fucking Hell/Cos I'm a piece of shit." Though if I had Sean Coombs mumbling in my ear I'd be tempted to end it as well. And so Biggie does. Big cow heart fades out, as the little one faded in at the beginning.

Rating: Tiptoe out of Slaughter Fashions

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