The Notorious Soundtrack

2009-03-02 12:20
Biggie hit the Hip-Hop scene at large in '94. A ferocious, inimitable emcee, his lyrics resonated with the markers of a passionate hunger, a steely focus, and – ironically – celebratory, semi-bitter materialism. His vision was brutally unique and stood out for its complex contradictions. As Ready to Die and Life after Death showed, he could be both playful and despairing – insightful, yet unnervingly misanthropic. And it was with this (and a flow neater than a perfect game of Tetris!) that Biggie went on to captivate the imagination of his generation: Hip-Hop kids who – much like him – had spent their childhoods staring at death and squalor through the dusty windows of Brooklyn tenements.

The Notorious Soundtrack does well enough in pointing to the different aspects that made up B.I.G the emcee. The first three tracks point to the more commercially palatable Biggie. Features include Bone Thugs 'N Harmony on "Notorious Thugs" and Lil' Kim and Puff Daddy on "Notorious B.I.G". The tracks have the kind of smooth, symphonic, high-quality production that came to characterize a lot of rap in the late 90's. Lyrically, we're introduced to Biggie the high-rolling but pessimistic gangsta and Biggie the "slicker than your average" playa.

The next tracks, "Juicy" and "Party and Bullsh*t", throw you slap-bang in the middle of the early 90's, the Golden Era of hip-hop with a lyrical focus. "Party and Bullsh*t" is boom-bap at its best: hard bass, snapping snares and rugged&raw rhymes spat viciously over a drum-kick-drum-drum-drum-kick rhythm. "Juicy" on the other hand has the graininess, but none of the frenzy. A reflective track, it's one of Biggie's most well-known songs and is widely regarded as a classic. It follows the line of the rags-to-Hip-Hop-riches story and all at once throws light on Biggie's gift for honest storytelling, witty writing, and memorable lines.

"Birthdays used to be the worst days, now we drink champagne when we thirsty."

The rest of the album follows closely along these lines, shifting between Biggie’s known and accessible public face, and the lesser known, bleaker and darker witness of "Frank White", the lyrical King of New York. The Soundtrack also offers tracks which don't feature B.I.G and act more as tributes. These include the recent Jay-Z and Santogold hit, "Brooklyn Go Hard" and Jadakiss and Faith Evan’s unreleased "Letter to B.I.G".

But the best gems on this album are made to appeal to both Biggie-rookies and the choir I've been preaching to: the last three tracks are Biggie's previously unreleased demos.

Not a bad ending to a solid, balanced album.

If you don't already own Ready to Die or Life after Death, then this soundtrack will give you a taste of what you've spent the last 15 years missing out on. And even if you do, you still walk away with a sharp glimpse of a teenage B.I.G rhyming his way into legendary status.
The story is well known by now. March 9, 1997: Christopher Wallace is slain by an unknown shooter at a traffic light in LA. An investigation ensues, but soon fizzles out in a heap of paperwork and frustration. The Hip-Hop community mourns en masse and now – over a decade later – the Brooklyn-bred emcee is still regarded as one of the best to ever step up to the mic.

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