"We are overwhelmed with grief by the death of a great artist, a
family member and our friend, the Notorious B.I.G." - Bad Boy
THE 24-year-old rapper Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie
Smalls, was shot to death early in the morning of March 9 in a drive-
by shooting in Los Angeles.
The murder set off a wave of intense media speculation about the
state of rap music. Six months after the murder of rapper Tupac
Shakur, some wondered if Biggie's death was a retaliatory strike, the
latest chapter in what's called rap's East Coast-West Coast rivalry.
Perhaps it's so, perhaps it's not. Biggie was an East Coast
rapper who was associated with Bad Boy Entertainment honcho Sean
"Puffy" Combs, while the late Tupac was aligned with the West Coast
head of Death Row Records, kingpin Marion "Suge" Knight.
Much has been made in the past about the bad blood between these
parties, and now, as the dust settles, the sight is pretty grim:
Knight is currently in prison, Tupac is dead, Biggie is dead. Puffy
Combs is the only principal left standing in this particular drama,
and I imagine the guy must be feeling sort of shaky in the wake of
all that has transpired.
But for now, I'll put aside more speculation about retaliation and
East Coast-West Coast rivalries, and instead focus on what hit me
hardest when I got the news about Biggie's death: We lost an
important artist this week, and that's no sentimental hype.
Ironically, Biggie's new album, "Life After Death . . . 'Til
Death Do Us Part," is scheduled for release on March 25. As of press
time, an advance copy was unavailable, so I can't attest to its
quality. But what I can speak to is the quality of Biggie's 1994
debut CD "Ready To Die." It's an album of such power, intelligence
and emotion it still knocks the socks off most hip-hop offerings,
and, frankly, most current offerings in any genre.
"Ready To Die" is an explicit album and comes with a parental
Biggie told frank stories, fraught with human contradictions. At
times, the language is extremely harsh, but it's not an album that is
gratuitous in its use of violent and sexual imagery.
With his sleepy eye, Biggie cast a hard look upon his own life and
came up with a concept album that follows the short life of a hard-
core street hustler from birth to death by suicide.
Biggie emerges as a poet on this disc, and believe me, that's a
word I rarely use in connection to someone in popular music.
On the stunning song "Things Done Changed," the lush, symphonic
music (which recalls an Isaac Hayes mood for the '90s) provides a
back-drop as Biggie furiously laments the death of the old
neighborhood. The dread builds as he runs down all the contemporary
pressures that have driven him to the boiling point. …