Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Notorious B.I.G.

  • Ready to Die [Bad Boy, 1994] A-
  • Life After Death [Bad Boy, 1997] A
  • Born Again [Bad Boy, 1999] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ready to Die [Bad Boy, 1994]
As a white person in an integrated, how do we say it, nabe, I should breathe a sigh of relief that pithy Christopher Wallace seems content to exploit his own people--"I been robbin' motherfuckers since the slave ship," or, if you prefer, "I be beatin' motherfuckers like Ike beat Tina." As a male person, I should be grateful he doesn't want to pimp my kind either. But because I live a lot farther from the edge, these things don't make me feel better at all--I'm outraged when anyone gets robbed, beaten, or pimped, descendants of slaves especially. Hence I'm not inclined to like this motherfucker. But the more I listen the more I do. Wiping the cold out of his eyes at 5:47 a.m. or pulling his gat as the wrong guy comes down the street, he commands more details than any West Coast gangsta except carbetbagging Ice-T. His sex raps are erotic, his jokes are funny, and his music makes the thug life sound scary rather than luxuriously laid back. When he considers suicide, I not only take him at his word, I actively hope he finds another way. A-

Life After Death [Bad Boy, 1997]
Biggie's murder made it too easy to romanticize intimations of mortality that don't truck with any Tupac-style martyr complex. Equally devoid of morbidity and joie de vivre, Biggie is far more sardonic, self-deprecating, and tough-minded, "ready to die" in the cast-a-cold-eye sense. Although his moments of warmth for family and comrades seem real enough, he proves one funny son of a bitch on the love-man parody "#!*@ You Tonight," the achingly lyrical slow-falsetto showcase "Playa Hater" ("Open the door/Lay on the floor/You've been robbed"), and the tall tale about being caught in some bitch's crib by her Knick boyfriend ("one of those six-five niggas, I don't know"), done first as a rap and then as a story for his boys. Where Cali hides behind funkamysterioso, Puffy Combs's chart-friendly r&b hooks rub comically against Biggie's unoratorical street style, with its trademark Schoolly D cum Butt-head "huh huh," as the likes of RZA, Bone-Thugs, and Lil' Kim add flavor. In short, way more fun and somewhat more moral than the look-ma-no-hands unaccountability promoted by showbiz outlaws from Mobb Deep to Westside Connection. A

Born Again [Bad Boy, 1999] Dud