Friday, January 16, 2009

Big, black and beautiful as ever

So the reviews are in on the highly anticipated biopic "Notorious." As expected, they're mixed - the producers unabashedly said they were making a movie for his fans. I'm not sure that's what I was looking for, but we're all free to make our own movies about Biggie, I suppose.

However, when it comes to the Notorious One's music, there's no need for debate: Christopher Wallace was one of the game's greats. His lasting influence on hip hop can not be denied, even if your last name is Shakur or Knight and you were raised deep in the heart of Compton.

That said, now is as good a time as any to humbly submit a top 10 list of my favorites from Big. Yes, the list is in my order of preference. I'm almost certain you, my thoughtful reader, will have some suggestions:

10. I Got a Story to Tell - One of Biggie's greatest strengths was his skill as a storyteller. Too often, great underground lyricists (i.e. Canibus) fail to live up to the hype because they can't put together an interesting story. 16 bars of unconnected nonsense, you know? Not Big. "Her brain racin, she's tellin me to stay patient/She don't know I'm, cool as a fan/Gat in hand, I don't wanna blast her man/But I can and I will doe."

9. One More Chance (remix) - Not only did I love the remix, but I loved the video. It was like the BET Awards came to Brooklyn. Years later, I can still appreciate that cameo from Patra. And the original album version was hella raunchy. No way that ever would have gotten any radio play. The remix was just more proof of Puffy's evil genius.

8. Suicidal Thoughts - Even today, I can't think of another star hip-hop artist (with the possible exception of Eminem) who so openly talked about the struggle with their inner demons. This was just uncharted territory at the time.

7. Everyday Struggle - Also see No. 8. I think I once heard or read that Biggie said this was his favorite song on "Ready to Die." For several months, it was mine too. The beat, with a sample from "Either Way" by Dave Grusin, was just golden.

6. My Downfall - This is the one of two songs from "Life After Death" to make this top 10. This says nothing about Biggie's sophomore effort and everything about my preference for his classic debut album. I could have done without Puffy screaming all over the track. The intro was funny, yet still ominous.

5. Real Niggas - One of the first songs I ever heard from Big - it came off a Bad Boy mixtape that one of my friends had bought on the streets of New York. Probably Canal. Regardless, Biggie flexed his considerable lyrical skill over a number of Death Row beats. Just killed the track.

4. Juicy - Not much to say about this one. It's obvious, right? The ultimate hip-hop tale of rags to riches.

3. Who Shot Ya? - I still refuse to believe this was in any way about Tupac. The supposed connection just doesn't make any sense. Big just dropped some hardcore Brooklyn shit. He can't help it if someone's feelings got hurt.

2. Gimme the Loot - Bananas. I about flipped when I figured out that Biggie performed all the verses in this joint - I actually thought it was the dude from Lords of the Underground.

1. Unbelievable - The quintessential Biggie song. Everything is here; nothing is missing. DJ Premier truly brought out the best in him. Get ready to die, tell God I said hi/And throw down some ice, for the nicest MC/Niggaz know the steelo, unbelievable. I could listen to this on an endless loop. And at times, I've done just that.

Honorable mentions: Big Poppa, Hypnotize, What's Beef?, Get Money, Dead Wrong, Warning, The What. You know, the problem with a top 10 is that there's only 10 spots.

Even today, it's remarkable to think about how much influence Big had in a relatively short amount of time.

At the age of 30, I now know that 24 years ain't about shit. You haven't even gotten started, you haven't experienced anything, you have no real stories to tell. Even if you're a small-time crack dealer in Brooklyn or a fast-rising East Coast rap star or even some desk flunky working overnight hours at The Associated Press bureau in Dallas.

At 24, the story of your life has yet to be written. At least for most of us. And yet there's Christopher Wallace, not just another victim of gun violence yet still a statistic.

I can't wait to see "Notorious." I don't want to see how it ends. It's hard not to think he and we were all robbed of a proper finale.

13 comments:

avery said...

oooooh WHEE!! yup. we will be tagging in!

Jack T. said...

The "One More Chance" remix was that song. Not just the song of the summer, not just the song coming out of every barbershop (my barber would put the clipper down and rap the whole first verse), but that song where you couldn't find 3 black people under 20 on a corner who weren't blasting it. People have been chasing that song ever since it came out.

blackink said...

@Avery: Come with it, bruh. I figured you were already on deck with this one. I know my list is gonna look crazy to some peeps.

@Jack: Tell me about it. Back in the day, I had the damndest time buying the "One More Chance" single down here in Houston. You know, the olden days when you simply couldn't download the song and had to depend on BET, Yo! MTV Raps, or your local radio station to bless you with a spin.

But whenever I caught it, man, it was just nuts. I loved everything about that song. Especially the hook.

Cami said...

niiice post! and good song list. i heard 'armed and dangerous' en route to work. lovin it!

avery said...

Jack, I ain't gon lie, I hated that song. I was far more enthusiastic about the ruff/rugged/raw Biggie from Warning or The What. I thought the One More Chance remix was better than the album version, but I didn't like the album version too much none in the first place. From that summer, Biggie's verse on The Points was gettin it done for me.

blackink said...

@Cami: Much thanks. I think this post looks like I put more effort into it than I really did.

You know, I struggled with whether to consider joints like "Brooklyn's Finest" or "The Points" on the list. But since they're weren't specificially Biggie songs, I sorta passed. In that way, it made things much easier for me.

And I loved "Warning" and "The What" and, damn, how do you leave off "Big Poppa"? If Biggie had actually recorded a third album, I might have had to go with a Top 15. But that still doesn't do anything to clear up confusion about the order of the songs.

@Avery: I agree about the album version of "One More Chance." It was missing something. But I couldn't help myself from liking the remix.

As a bit of a tangent, I actually was trying to put together a list of artists who openly clowned Biggie and his "drugs, jewels, Versace" persona. I can only come up with three so far, only one from the West Coast, believe it or not.

avery said...

off the top of my head, i can only think of De La on Stakes is High. Who else you got?

blackink said...

I'm also thinking about The Roots' "What They Do," the OGCz "No Fear" and, of course, Tupac's "Hit 'Em Up." I kept thinking Dogg Pound's "NY, NY" might qualify but if there's a legit diss of Biggie and the East Coast in there, I can't find it.

No real surprise since Kurupt is actually from Philly.

Esquire said...

I always thought Kurupt's whole flow on NY, NY was meant to be sort of making fun of the east. Like the intro to the song with the two guys going back and forth saying "Yo. God. Peace God." etc.

Esquire said...

Oh, and while I can't pick at your list, my number one track will always be Kick In The Door. The Mad Rapper intro, everything. Just love it.

"Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns
As I crush so-called willies, thugs, and rapper-dons
Get in that ass, quick fast, like ramadan
Its that rap phenomenon don-dadda, fuck poppa
You got ta, call me, francis m.h. white.."

I could listen to that on repeat, all day. Greatest subliminal diss song of all time? Maybe....

blackink said...

@Esq: Feel free to pick at the list. I'm sure I deserve it.

You know, I love "Kick in the Door." No doubt. But for whatever reason, "Life After Death" never resonated with me like "Ready to Die."

I actually loved it more when he slipped the line into his verse on "Get Money." Niiiice.

And I need to go back and re-listen to "New York, New York." I missed the "Yo. God. Peace God" lines. My bad.

Zen said...

No 10 Crack Commandments?

blackink said...

Zen: You know, I was thinking hard about whether or not to put it in the Top 10. But I don't really listen to that joint much anymore. And that was part of my unofficial criteria, I suppose. Gotta love DJ Premier on the 1s and 2s, though.