The Tao of BIG: The 5 Most Poignant Bars on ‘Ready to Die’

The Notorious B.I.G— a gifted wordsmith, an ingenious storyteller…and a prolific cultural critic? Released in 1994, Big’s debut album, Ready to Die, offers stunning insight into the psychology of the troubled young Black male. Big’s stark candor and impeccable flow not only cause us to nod our heads to the beat; it also inspires deep introspection as he waxes poetics about the harsh realities that continue to effect young people of color in the present day, making it one of the most socially and politically relevant Hip-Hop albums even 16 years after his untimely death.

“Things Done Changed”

If I wasn’t in the rap game/
I’d prolly have a key knee deep in the crack game/
Because the streets is a short stop/
Either you slinging crack rock or ya got a wicked jump shot

Big’s desire to be involved in dealing or rapping as a source of income speaks to his innate understanding of how impoverished/working class people of color are disadvantaged socio-economically, lacking above-ground employment, viable community networks, and, due to these circumstances, are rarely afforded the opportunities to make it beyond their neighborhoods. The lyrics also shed light on the growing educational gap for young Blacks living in poverty: as a result of the cutting back of educational services and community programs in poor Black neighborhoods, Black males are especially the least likely to attend higher education, making them more likely to fall into crime to support themselves. In four bars, Big tackles the perils of economic poverty, political neglect, and the prevalence of institutional racism effortlessly.

“Me and My Bitch”

When the time is right, the wine is right, I treat ya right/
Ya talk slick, I beat ya right/

Big’s culturally-learned femiphobia (the fear and disdain of the female) is highlighted in this verse, but more specifically, his lyrics speak to the fragmented intimate gender dynamics between young Black men women. The use of violence to “correct” his woman when she gets out of line is the outcome of living in the misogynistic culture in America, where Black men adopt the values and concerns of the white majority, which has always practiced sexism and domination towards women (Black women, in particular). Despite Big’s best intentions to maintain a love relationship with the woman in question, his way of thinking and behaving towards her during their challenges are a reflection of patriarchy in mainstream society, cultivating an unhealthy romantic bond between them that ends in tragedy.

“Everyday Struggle”

I know how it feels to wake up fucked up/
Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell
People look at you like you’re the user/
Selling drugs to all the losers mad Buddha abuser But they don’t know about the stress-filled day/
Baby on the way mad bills to pay/That’s why you drink Tanqueray/
So you can reminisce and wish/
You wasn’t living so devilish s-shit/

Despite Big’s hustler persona, he refrains from ever completely glamorizing being involved in the drug trade. In this verse, the rapper puts a human face on crime by reflecting on his own wasted talent. It is in this moment that the listener is allowed to see those involved in a more sympathetic light.

[ALSO READ: Brooklyn Stand Up: 5 Things That Would’ve Made Biggie Proud]

“Machine Gun Funk”

Bed-Stuy, the place where my head rests/
50 shot clip if a nigga wan’ test/
The rocket launcher, Biggie stomped ya/
That’s why I pack a nina, fuck a misdemeanor

From 2008 to 2009, it was reported that the leading cause of death among young Black men was gun violence. “It is young Black and Hispanic men in the inner city, who bear the burden of America’s gun romance,” journalist David Cole writes. Big’s fascination with guns in the following bars echoes this statement; Machine Gun Funk’s third verse bar is a chilling ode to the power and sexiness that automatic weapons have for many Black male youth in America . As the country comes to grips with the debate of gun control, Big’s casual allegiance to busting shots remains a chilling reminder of the allure of weaponry for a forgotten percentage population who otherwise feeling invisible, vulnerable and powerless.

“Suicidal Thoughts”

When I die, fuck it I wanna go to hell/
Cause I’m a piece of shit, it ain’t hard to fuckin’ tell/
It don’t make sense, goin’ to heaven wit the goodie-goodies/
Dressed in white, I like black Tims and black hoodies/
God will probably have me on some real strict shit/
No sleepin’ all day, no gettin my dick licked/
Hangin’ with the goodie-goodies loungin’ in paradise/
Fuck that shit, I wanna tote guns and shoot dice

Unable to confront his demons, Big’s lyrics point to his grueling self-doubt, self-loathing and a heartbreaking lack of self-love. In a society where suicide is the third leading cause of death among young Black men 15-24, Suicidal Thought’s lead in bars exemplifies the culmination of Black male pain, a result of stress and social inequality finally taking its toll. The words demonstrate how a lack of emotional outlets and a desire to erect a cool pose stifles African-American youth, as Big justifies the route of hell as a righteous punishment and death his ultimate destiny.

While Big is not the archetypal conscious rapper, Ready to Die reflects the experience of those who are poor, Black, and frequently disenfranchised.  One must wonder if he was still living if he would be surprised at how much of his rhymes rang true with the current generation. If one thing is for sure, he rapped about what he knew: “I make music about what I know. If I’d worked at McDonald’s, I would’ve made rhymes about Big Macs and fries.”


Lil Loca submitted this story through AHH’s new “Content Producer” program. If you have what it takes to make great content learn more HERE on how to write for us.

  • solo0ne

    i wasn’t about to read all this shit

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  • hoeyuno

    What about ” you look so good, Id suck your daddies sick”… why did he have to say that?? That’s the only rhyme he could fit in there???

    • Technically, Mr. (Got caught with a Transvestite) Cee wrote that lyric & insisted it be put in there.


      • hoeyuno

        Ha ha for real???

      • :: PAUSES ::

        I couldn’t make that ‘chet up!

        “Money & Blood don’t mix, like 2 Diks, find yourself in some serious ‘chet!”

        ^^ Double Entendre

  • Vinsanity

    16 years today damn it. R.I.P vaped out bumping Biggie now.

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  • Samideen Nichols

    one the best lyricist ,rest in peace,

    • firehawk17

      people keep saying one of the best lyricist…BIG is overrated.. i can name 20 rappers better lyrically.. where does the myth of this great lyricist come from? his flow is way better than his words.. they werent deep.. didnt strike emotion..there wasn’t intricate word play, basic metaphors, poor structure in word usage..but he made it sound good.. BIG is dope dont get me wrong but when people say one of the greatest lyricist is just far from the truth

      • EB

        Name them

      • atreu

        well ill go ahead and say nas for one hands down ,chino xl,ras kass,talib kweli and despite how people feel about him almost NOONE can mess wit canibus on the mic

  • $11625525

    There’s a line missing from the machine gun funk quote… AHH Rides Again, rushed journalism!

    • Lil Loca

      There are no lines missing from Machine Gun Funk. Those two lines were
      specifically chosen to emphasize my point about gun violence. If you
      don’t believe me, please do the research on the specific bars. But no, there is no missing line from that quote at all.

  • Reblogged this on The Music Business Revisionist and commented:
    Amazing writing on B.I.G. Gone but not forgotten.

  • gunnstarr

    16 years later and am still not a fan

  • After listening to Ready to Die many times, it’s amazing that gun-toting, drug dealing, poverty, economic hardships were never glamourized as much as it is today. Lyrics focused on survival (ironic and contrary to the album name) and pointed out a sad reality then and now. When did it become cool to openly be happy to create punchlines revolving around violence toward someone else? When then “trapping” become an occupation? Why is this the corporate formula to success in mainstream rap? When did having the most money become the barometer to measure success?

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