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From the vault: The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death

Biggie’s ambitious second record proved his last, and continues to vindicate its place amongst hip hop’s highest echelons


Originally released: 25th March 1997

Bad Boy Records

The legendary status of Christopher Wallace is undoubtedly cemented in the Hip-Hop hall of fame, with almost every rapper you can think of taking inspiration from the Brooklyn-born icon. His real-life tale of rags to riches, recently documented on the big screen, is one to truly admire.

Biggie’s rap career, although relatively short-lived, was laced with controversy following THAT infamous feud with Tupac which inevitably led to the loss of two Hip-Hop greats. However prior to this, his critically acclaimed debut album, Ready To Die, which boasted classics such as ‘Juicy’ and ‘One More Chance’ reached No.13 in the Billboard Charts. And with the scene still in its ‘Golden Era’ he threw on those famous Versace shades, stepped into the studio and recorded one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time.

Life After Death, the final studio album recorded by Biggie Smalls, is a classic rap record that truly captures the environment it was created in. Each song and carefully constructed skit help to piece together the puzzle of the man some claim is the greatest rapper to ever do it. His innate ability to glorify extravagance whilst capturing the intensity of his struggle, elevated his position within the Hip-Hop hierarchy. And with an over-excited Puff Daddy in the background ready to throw in ad-libs at random, he couldn’t lose.

The two-disc album begins on a sombre tone, as the Brooklyn rapper was tragically murdered two weeks before the album was originally set for release. However the mood is soon lifted as the recognisable deep tones of Biggie are heard gracing classics such as ‘Hypnotize’ and ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’. Interestingly, weaved between the clever word-play and tales of the hood, there are subtle references aimed at big names such as Nas. The Notorious B.I.G. was not one to shy away from conflict and this is a strong theme portrayed throughout the album.

Debatably, Life After Death indicated a change in the style of Gangsta Rap as its more upbeat sound gained commercial success. However, regardless of the radio-friendly production, none of Biggie’s unmistakable gritty style was compromised.

The ability to apply the true essence of Hip Hop to every scenario is what earned B.I.G. a position above many of his peers and undoubtedly a place amongst rap royalty.