Life After Death: Revisiting The Notorious B.I.G.'s swan song 20 Years later - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death

A couple of weeks ago, Bad Boy Records founder Puff Daddy posted a couple of Instagram videos of rappers such as Fabolous, Pusha T, Jadakiss, TIP, and more spitting some classic verses made famous by his late friend and hip hop legend, The Notorious B.I.G. Seeing those videos was just another reminder of why one of Brooklyn’s finest finds his way into a plethora of top 5 MCs lists. Though the 20th anniversary of Biggie’s death — on March 9th, 1997 — is not the only thing we remember about him this month. This Saturday, March 25th, marks 20 years since the release of his second and final studio album, Life After Death, a hip hop classic that showed the growth in his artistry and would strengthen the legendary MC’s legacy for decades after his untimely demise.

“I like this young man, because, when he came out, he came out wit the phrase, he went from ashy to classy.” – from “Sky’s The Limit”
“Life After Death” did many things for The Notorious B.I.G. By receiving widespread critical acclaim, it helped his final studio album go diamond, but the production, Biggie’s skills as an MC, and his creativity showed how much he grew as an artist from his debut Ready to Die, another hip hop classic. When Biggie introduced himself to the world on September 13th, 1994, he was a black-Timbs-and-black-hoody-wearing kid from Brooklyn who was filled with so much anger and depression that was caused by his poverty-stricken community. It’s the reason why his delivery on a majority of “Ready to Die” sounds very aggressive: because it was fueled by rage and frustration from growing up struggling every day with poverty. Three years later, as B.I.G.’s income increased from the huge success of Ready to Die, those negative feelings started to decease, creating a new life for him. With this new life comes a new feeling, which brings us to his sophomore album Life After Death, an album that was best described by Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone magazine as “a conscious continuation of Ready to Die.”
“Now the year’s new, I lay my game flat / I want my spot back, take two.” – from “Long Kiss Goodnight”
Life After Death was the evolved form of Ready to Die. It transformed B.I.G.’s character from a fat hungry stick-up kid to a groomed mafioso gangster named Frank White, who still provided the same dark malicious feeling, outgoing personality, and MC skills. With the help of an amazing team of producers such as Puffy, D-Dot, Clark Kent, DJ Enuff, The Hitmen, Havoc, DJ Premier, Easy Moe Bee, RZA, and more, Life After Death was still able to provide listeners with the same cold-hearted emotions that can be found on Biggie’s debut. The creativity in Life After Death came from the freedom of B.I.G. being able to show his personality with a song like “Playa Hater,” where we find both Biggie and Puff showing their sense of humor by terribly singing on the track.
Life After Death showed that Biggie still possessed the skills to be claimed the nicest MC. He was still able move his listeners with get-money anthems like “Hypnotize,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and street motivation music like “Sky’s the Limit.” Whether making diss tracks to his peers like “Kick in the Door,” “Long Kiss Goodnight,” or creating a beginner’s guide for drug dealers like “10 Crack Commandments,” B.I.G.’s wordplay was phenomenal. If Life After Death is Biggie with money, then it shows because his style now had more variety. Think of it as wardrobe, he now has the finances to try different looks.
That’s why there’s a plethora of features on the album such as R. Kelly, The Lox, Jay-Z, Ma$e, and more, all inspiring B.I.G. to try new things, which gives us a song like “Notorious Thugs” where the New York MC is matching the cadence of the hip hop Cleveland group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. And finally, “Life After Death” displayed Biggie’s greatest skill as MC, cohesive storytelling. Songs such as “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” “Niggas Bleed,” and “I Gotta Story to Tell” are perfect examples of how whether fiction or nonfiction, his ability to combine hypnotizing words and plot twists is what draws fans from all over the world to hear the tales of the hip hop page master. Sadly these would be the last pages we would get to hear from Brooklyn storyteller.
“I spit phrases that’ll thrill you / You’re nobody til somebody kills you” – from “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)”
Life After Death strengthened The Notorious B.I.G.’s legacy by showing that he had the ability to grow as an artist. It showed that he was willing to try new things but still keep the raw talent that made everyone love him in the beginning. It also makes his fans think of what he would’ve done musically if he was still alive today. What would Biggie sound like if he received production from producers like Kanye West, Just Blaze, Metro Boomin, or Zaytoven? We may never know, but what we do know thing is that “Life After Death” shows why Rolling Stone considers it to be one of the greatest 500 albums of all time and why both hip hop greats such as Jay-Z & Nas  both mention The Notorious B.I.G. when asked “Who’s the best MC?”

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