Ready To Die: 25 Years Later
The Bronx created hip-hop. Harlem gave it that flare. But every borough revolutionized hip-hop in it’s own way. Brooklyn, however, turned hip-hop on its head and created a budding rivalry through two heavy weights in the game on each coast. Before all that, The Notorious B.I.G. dropped Ready to Die, his debut album, 25 years ago.
Before The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie debut, documented footage of him spitting a freestyle showed the potential he carried. To this day, he is regarded as a legendary figure through his lyrical and emotional rhythmic patterns ranging from intimidating to deep/dark and to charming. He was a master at illustrating stories with what he rapped about and had extraordinary swagger in his flow.
B.I.G. was always an Emcee. But the man knew how to sell with singles like the awe inspiring “Juicy,” and the charming “Big Poppa.” Albums come in different variation. Some artists create a whole narrative with them where every track is part of the story, but Ready to Die, was unlike that, it was a thematic powerhouse. Like the title said, the album has a lot of centralized theme of death, as well as the sensationalized version of the perpetual ideology of the American Dream.
Death is looming over B.I.G. since the album flaunts the many sins of an ex-drug dealer trying to show us his reality.
In life you make enemies along the way, and in crime ridden areas his past could come at any point and bite him in the ass. This is reflective on the track “Everyday Struggle,” where he details the life of a drug kingpin, which I use loosely. He may have been a well-known dealer in the area, but he was no Frank Lucas.
Unlike Lucas, B.I.G. knew the model revolved around the hustle and even that was a bit too much. It creates escalating paranoia in the hustle, like as if any minute someone was knocking at his door ready to shoot as he opens the door. It could be coming from either enemy, another dealer in the area or the police on a drug raid. The latter symbolizes the death of freedom due to incarceration. As he would rap on the track, “I’m seein’ body after body and our mayor Giuliani ain’t tryin’ to see no black man turn to John Gotti.” As the crackdowns became bigger, the struggle became realer than the boogieman as a child. Nobody in NYC wanted to relive the struggle they had for years trying to stop the Gambino family.
On the self-title track, B.I.G. reflects on how he is ready for death. He weaves a tale of the collective sins he has committed along the way, hating on the world and everybody around him.
On “Warning,” B.I.G. makes light on the facet we call an American Dream that to him, it could lead to shit hitting the fan. He invokes lines about people “trying to stick him for his paper,” which means kills for the money. At times we may have these fictionalized ideas that the American Dream revolves around no worries and living a lush life. On the track, he brings up certain materialistic items that others heard about like a Lexus and Rolex watch. This was used by him as a way to say that the green eyed monster takes control because these items may be representative of the dream.
But of all the tracks that stand out the most “The What,” is high on that pedestal. On it, B.I.G. goes toe to toe with Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan. B.I.G. comes in at his most raw unlike other tracks where the dark gut-wrenching lines come off with slight shock, because the instrumentals get the spotlight at times. When the instrumentals don’t, there are tracks like “Suicidal Thoughts,” that continue to show that he is ready.
You do so much fucked up shit, regrets cloud your judgement of the future. But acceptance of death is another level to it all.
It is easy to say Ready to Die is a definitive classic, but as masterful as the album is the legacy it left makes more waves.
As hardcore hip-hop albums go, it revolutionized the future by making it more marketable. He wasn’t the only one to contribute to this. This also stemmed from singles being made into a vinyl record and the B-sides containing the singles radio stations can’t always play. It was easier for the west to blend that into radio airwaves because a lot of the time we, as a society, listen to the sound more than the lyrics.
Representation was lacking in the east in a distinct way. There was A Tribe Called Quest, amongst a few other acts that changed that backwoods apartment-funky-sound that made you boogie or rebel in a Kangol hat to a golden age of Jazz rap. B.I.G. brought street credit to the east by adding gritty realism and retooling the funk-sound written within the instrumentations. It is noted that west coast artist clearly had hardcore content in the mix but it was more about representing realism of the community. Unlike B.I.G. who on “Gimme the Loot,” he raps, “Then I’m dippin’ up the block and I’m robbin’ bitches too / Up the herringbones and bamboos / I wouldn’t give a fuck if you’re pregnant.” Comparatively, he was about that life that came along like a freight train except he’d go about showing a no fucks to give attitude about your situation when shit like this was happening.
The bigger difference is that you don’t recognize the grit and hardcore rap-content of the west as much as you recognize their influence in sound. They had gangster rap and G-funk, while the east had lyricism.
This became more prevalent in subsequent years. B.I.G. laid a huge foundation that has people reminiscing every summer. This is because Ready to Die is one of the best throwback summer albums. For people older than this album, and significantly so, remember living in NYC sitting on a stoop with a tape deck stereo playing it.
Today, 25 years ago, Ready to Die was released. The legacy will live on, no matter which way you see it.