Apple Music 100 Best Albums

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Ready to Die

The Notorious B.I.G.


Rapping about crime and culture, elevated to divine art.

By naming his debut Ready to Die, Christopher Wallace bluntly encapsulated both his fearless, take-no-prisoners lyrical style and his sense that death could come for him at any time. While hardly the first to rap about the pleasures and pitfalls of drug dealing, Biggie Smalls elevated the form to a divine, brutally honest art.

From the autobiographical “Things Done Changed” onwards, the 22-year-old spoke directly, without distillation, about Brooklyn crime and culture. The costs of the hustle are laid bare on the stick-up-kid anthem “Gimme the Loot” and the closer “Suicidal Thoughts,” which ends with the sound of him killing himself.

But against the backdrop of violence and death, Big mixes in moments of aspiration and confidence, too. On the breakthrough single “Juicy,” he professes his love of hip-hop through a deeply personal come-up narrative so exemplary that few, if any, have come close to matching it since. Street-hustler rhymes softened by glossy, radio-ready production made for a blueprint that JAY-Z, 50 Cent, and rap stars of today still follow.

Ready to Die stands the test of time because the story still is the same story.”

DJ Mister Cee