Notorious Soundtrack (Album Review)

 

 

In Hip-Hop, death is not the end, but a beginning. The untimely passing of a Hip-Hop artist inevitably ensures their work takes on a transcendent quality, whether or not the art justifies the perception change. Christopher Wallace, one of the culture’s biggest legends, is no different.

 

Before The Notorious B.I.G.’s highly anticipated life story hits theaters on January 16, the all-time great emcee’s music is once again repackaged for a new generation of Hip-Hop listeners. However, this time the Notorious Soundtrack (Bad Boy) delivers gems for veteran and novice fans alike.

 

The first half of the disc is a refresher course in B.I.G. 101. Such staple classics featured here include the Bone-assisted “Notorious Thugs,” “Hypnotize,” “Juicy,” and Biggie’s first 1993 single “Party And Bullsh*t.” While B.I.G.’s abbreviated catalogue is loaded with radio hits, the arrangers for this project wisely incorporated street anthems like the storytelling classic “Warning.” That balance clearly details for the uninitiated why Biggie was able to deftly maneuver the line between Diddy’s commercial sensibilities (“One More Chance Remix”) and Big’s hardcore boom-bap roots.

 

Jay-Z turns in his best lyrical post-American Gangster track in “Brooklyn (Go Hard).” Kanye West reworks Santogold’s “Shove It” into a sinister yet triumphant melody, while Jay crafts vivid images of the combative history of his New York borough. In particular, the BK mogul constructs a skillful second verse that not only holds a double entendre of legendary ball player Jackie Robinson’s name, but also references baseball as an extended metaphor for Shawn Carter’s past illegal exploits. And Santagold extends her talents past routine hook duties by concluding the track with a reggae-tinged third verse.

 

Jadakiss and Faith Evans team up for a heartfelt open conversation to Christopher Wallace entitled “Letter To B.I.G.” Jada uses the song to update Biggie on the lowering credibility of today’s Hip-Hop artists (“And everybody the king now / You ain’t gotta be nice/ Getting’ shot is the thing now”) and the statuses of his former team (Lil’ Kim, D-Roc, Cease etc.). Ironically, Jada’s frustration with the lack of sincerity in today’s mainstream Hip-Hop echos the same complaints he rapped on his first Biggie tribute, The Lox’s “We’ll Always Love Big Poppa.”

 

The remaining previously released tracks come courtesy of the seminal Life After Death: “Kick In the Door,” “What’s Beef,” and “The World Is Filled.” Over a decade later, the songs still retain their lyrical potency and overall enjoyment. “What’s Beef” held a morbid irony in 1997 following the senseless slayings of Tupac and B.I.G. In 2008, the ironic twist now comes in reference to the embarrassing deluge of manufactured “YouTube beefs” polluting the culture.

 

Without question, the highlight of Notorious is the ending trio of unreleased demos from Biggie in “Microphone Murderer,” Guaranteed Raw,” and “Love No Ho.” These freestyles reveal B.I.G.’s early skill set before making the necessary compromises to become a superstar just a few years later.

 

Aside from some questionable omissions from Ready To Die (“Unbelievable,” “Everyday Struggle,” “Me & My B*tch”), Notorious provides a serviceable overview for those who aren’t well-versed on the eternal King of New York. While not an essential pickup for those who lived the era or hardcore B.I.G. fans, Notorious is still a blissful albeit somber trip down memory lane.

 

Jay-Z

“Brooklyn (Go Hard)”

 

Jadakiss Featuring Faith Evans

“Letter To B.I.G.”

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