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KN Anniversary: Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death 15 Years Later

Locating Life After Death’s impact some 15 years after its release presents a difficult task. Faced with how much of the mythic folklore surrounding the album is rooted in Biggie’s untimely death and how much stems from the album’s quality feels largely impossible. However, looking at the album from a sonic standpoint, the starkest takeaway is that when compared to Ready to Die, it showcases B.I.G. in a different light. The double album represents a compromise of sorts with Christopher giving us a variety of stylistic changes from his mostly hardcore East coast debut, infusing a noticeably more pop sensibility. Herein lies the really interesting legacy for this album, again speaking from a musical standpoint—Life After Death is one of the first ‘gangster’ rap albums to fully integrate a Top 40 pop formula, cementing Christopher Wallace as one of the game’s most important cultural icons.

In terms of the music, the album is largely all over the place mixing and matching extraordinarily introspective thoughts about mortality with grandiose braggadocio. For every “The Last Day” there’s a poppier counterpart like the infinitely radio friendly “Hypnotize.” With an obvious nudge from Diddy, it is B.I.G.’s willingness to take risks (whether with new production styles or singing on the track), the variety of guest artist appearances, and the undeniable talent for telling stories that make Life After Death an album that, despite its length, never feels stale. Sure, some of the tracks feel a little more skipable than others (“Playa Hater,” for example), but Biggie was one of raps biggest stars for a reason; his charm shined through on every track, even if he simultaneously threatened your life or playfully sung extremely off key.

Few artists can jump from a song with R. Kelly to one with the LOX to another with Jay-Z and still come off as undeniably cool and in his element. And no matter the medium or the message, Biggie always managed to reify his position as a larger-than-life rock star icon. His enduring legacy is similarly bloated, more than any singular contribution that he made in terms of songwriting or delivery. Biggie took the world by storm with his charismatic nature, thoughtfulness, and undeniable star quality. And 15 years later, these features remain as the standouts on Life After Death, sadly reminding us that we were robbed of one of Hip Hop’s preeminent storytellers far too soon.

Nottinghamers…as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of Life After Death, share with us your favorite track from the album in the comments. 

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About Alex Edelstein

Alex is a Senior Staff Writer for Additionally, he works as a research associate at Columbia University on a project titled “Artist Identity Expressed Through Rap Lyrics,” interviewing artists and producers about issues of authenticity in hip hop. Originally from Detroit, Alex currently calls Brooklyn home, with stops in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Budapest along the way.
  • Arasia Magnetic

    Ten Crack Commandments was my shit. So was Sky’s the Limit. His storytelling on Sky’s was crazy…….especially when he spoke about them butter crunch cookies. 

  • BZA

    You’re Nobody, Till Somebody Kills You… My favorite the day I got the double cassette, and my favorite still today.  R.I.P. B.I.G.

  • Djpetejackson

    I always saw this album as the beginning of the end of hip hop as i loved it.
    Pop was the order of the day after this.
    Some bangers and lots of radio friendly rubbish.
    I’m just saying.

  • Blkman77070

    What’s Beef. That song is just laid back and mad him sound like a someone whose been thru a lot and dropping knowledge on his boys at a poker game. Too many artist dying to soon from drugs and not watching their health.

  • Arasia Magnetic

    @150b13467233d794c56a96ef27606913:disqus Yeah, I agree. Like most double disc albums, this one had a lot of fille. Had it been just one disc, I think it would’ve been a lot better. I do not think it would’ve been as good as Ready to Die but it still would’ve been better than it was. Some of those songs were just awful. That song with R. Kelly? GAHBAGE.

  • Thomas

    Me skips nothing on this album. B.I.G.’s progression from RD to LAD is amazing. The flow, deliverly, story telling were perfected.

  • Arasia Magnetic

    Come on Thomas. Do you really listen to Fucking You Tonight???? 

  • Arasia Magnetic

    And Nasty Boy? That is probably the worst song of his career! 

  • Alex Ivan Edelstein

    I listen to Fucking You Tonight. it’s hilarious. but I NEVER listen to Nasty Boy. 

  • Llh12347

    I would like to her the original One More Chance.  How do I do that?

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