March 9, 2022

Track by Track: Biggie’s Life After Death, 25 Years Later

Celebrity Remembering Biggie
Track by Track: Biggie’s Life After Death, 25 Years Later

We Lost Biggie 25 Years Ago, Let’s Remember His Life After Death.

25 years after the death of hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls we are revisiting the life of Biggie’s album Life After Death track by track. This 24 track album is a hip-hop masterpiece that explores the themes of life and death, selling drugs, and the reality of America in the 1990s. Life After Death is widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time by outlets like The Source, Rolling Stone, and many more. 

Life After Death was released posthumously just two weeks after Biggie’s tragic death. 

Let’s break down Life After Death, Track By Track:

Life After Death   

The album Life After Death begins with an intro track that goes by the same name. The intro takes audio from Biggie’s hit Suicidal Thoughts and underscores it with a dramatic pianos and strings reminiscent to a soap opera scene. Diddy then can be heard calling out “Ayo Big” then speaking about how he and Big were “supposed to rule the world,” saying Biggie has “too much living to do,” just before a heart monitor fades out. 

Somebody’s Gotta Die

The heart monitor fades into Somebody’s Gotta Die and the sound of rainfall joins a smooth piano beat with boom bap drums. “Somebody gotta die. If I go, you got to go” repeats throughout the chorus – one of dozens of references to Biggie’s death that are peppered throughout this album. Obviously, this album was recorded long before Biggie’s death – however he consistently alludes to death, his own death, and the death of others.

Sombody’s Gotta Die is a song about revenge that also loosely tells the story of getting specific revenge against a man named Jason. Big had the ability to weave in and out of a narrative, storytelling format within his songs that hasn’t been seen since his passing. 

Hypnotize 

This is one of the Notorious B.I.G’s most famous songs, recapping it feels foolish. Young readers may be surprised to learn that Hypnotize was released as the first-single for Life After Death and came out just five days before Biggie was killed. The infectious hit charted both the hip-hop charts and the US Billboard Top 200. 

Since its release, Hypnotize has remained a staple. It is used in blockbuster films like Into the Spiderverse, MMA fighter Connor McGregor walked out to it, and it continues to be sampled by and inspire other artists. 

Kick In The Door 

This track features a rant about hip-hop done by The Mad Rapper as the intro and then subtly samples a Martin Lawrence sound byte. Kick In The Door is not the most popular Biggie track, but it’s a quintessential Biggie song filled with East Coast references from Howard Homecoming to Great Adventure to Frank “Most High” White. Turn on Kick In The Door to make the gas face and nod your head. 

“It’s ill when MCs used to be on cruddy shit
Took home Ready to Die, listened, studied shit
Now they’re on some money shit, successful out the blue”

Fuck You Tonight (ft. R Kelly)

This track is a canceled classic. Fuck You Tonight is undeniably a good song, however the life after Biggie’s death has been turbulent and unkind to R. Kelly. As good as this song is, it’s hard to listen to R. Kelly sing about sex after all that we’ve learned about him since this songs release 25 years ago. 

Last Day (ft. The Lox)

Brooklyn and Yonkers come together for an all-New York collab. The members of The Lox – Styles P, Sheek Louch, and Jadakiss have a much harsher delivery than Biggie, however the group compliments Notorious well. By no stretch of the imagination is Last Day the most successful or lauded song off Life After Death, but I’m sure it’s somebody’s favorite. 

I Love The Dough (ft. Jay-Z & Angela Winbush)

“Brooklyn Style Baby” is screamed out during the intro and before the beat drops, and it couldn’t be a more accurate ad lib. Two of the greatest rappers of all-time go back and forth over a groovy disco beat sampling I Love You More by Rene & Angela. 

This is a song worth revisiting that fans may have forgotten about, although it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out how good a Jay-Z and Biggie song is. 

“Roll shakers in Vegas, you can’t break us
Lost chips on Lakers, gassed off Shaq
Country house, tennis courts on horseback”

What’s Beef

This track has longevity and continues to add value to the rap game long after Biggie’s death. Biggie’s flow on this track has been mirrored time and time again as artists imitate “ha ha ha ha check out this bizarre.” This track is sampled by Kanye on Late, Out Here Grindin’ by DJ Khaled, and was revisited by HOV on Meek Mill’s What’s Free

What’s beef?
Beef is when you need two Gats to go to sleep
Beef is when your moms ain’t safe up in the streets
Beef is when I see you
Guaranteed to be in ICU, one more time
What’s beef?

B.I.G (Interlude)

This interlude is reminiscent of the early 90’s rap sound and brings Slick Rick to mind. This is a quick little 48 second track. On B.I.G, Biggie spells out what his name stands for. 

Mo Money Mo Problems (ft. Mase & Diddy)

This is Biggie’s most popular mainstream hit off of Life After Death and perhaps of his entire career. Mo Money Mo Problems has one of the most prolific samples in hip-hop in using I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross. This song received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1998, but was defeated by I’ll Be Missing You by Diddy – which is a song about Biggie.  

Mo Money Mo Problems has been a dominant pop culture force for a quarter of a decade, both as a song and as a mantra. 

N***as Bleed

Elaborate rhyme patterns and masterful storytelling are spread throughout this album, but on this song Biggie paints a vivid, yet  violent picture of his reality. 

“Took it to trial, beat it
Now, he feel he undefeated, he mean it
‘Nothing to lose’ tattooed around his gun wounds
‘Everything to gain’ embedded in his brain”

I Got a Story to Tell

This is as close to a love song as you’ll find on this album. Biggie raps over a soothing guitar beat that is way ahead of its time – acoustic guitar has just recently became common place in mainstream hip-hop, but Biggie did it perfectly 25 years ago. 

On I Got a Story to Tell BIG mentions sleeping with a woman who dates a player on the New York Knicks, while he was playing against the Jazz. According to TMZ, Biggie was referencing former Knicks Power Forward Anthony Mason. 

I Got a Story to Tell is one flawless verse sandwiched between an intro and outro.

Notorious Thugs

There are few words that get me more excited than “It’s Bone and Biggie Biggie.” It’s very difficult to make an amazing six minute rap song, but if anyone can do it – it’s Biggie Smalls. 

Krayzie, Layzie, and Bizzy Bone all have verses on Notorious Thugs, and if you listen closely you can hear Diddy in the background. This is a quintessential 90’s hip-hop collaboration – which Life After Death is choc-full of. Notorious Thugs is the first track on the back half of the album.

Miss U

In a bit ironic of meta-commentary this is a song that Biggie wrote about the murder of a close friend. According to Genius, many hip-hop fans thought that this song was about Tupac, but Lil Cease who’s lightly featured on Miss U has denied that claim. 

Biggie’s tendency to speak about the nature of life and death poignantly throughout his music serves as a serendipitous omen after his passing. The things that Biggie discusses on Miss U are probably how Biggie’s friends felt when he passed.

Another (ft. Lil Kim)

Another is a soundtrack for toxic relationships. If you and your partner are constantly fighting and cheating, turn up Lil Kim and Biggie. Very few artists would be comfortable being called a “fat motherfucker” on their own album – but Biggie was one of a kind. 

Going Back to Cali

This is just one of a number of timeless classics on Life After Death. Obviously, this track was a commentary on the east coast-west coast beef that permeated the 1990’s rap scene. 

Going Back to Cali has had an extensive life after Biggie’s death – living on in films and television that reference LA. This song peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 200 Charts. Something I’ve always appreciated about Going Back to Cali is Biggie’s ability to adopt the LA style and rap over an LA beat in a way that feels authentic.

Ten Crack Commandments

Ten Crack Commandments is my favorite song on Life After Death. It’s a song with a clear and obvious concept, executed flawlessly. It’s worth noting that if you were to take “crack” out of the lyrics and concept – most of the commandments work well as general rules to live by. 

Source Magazine explained the Ten Crack Commandments in layman’s terms: 

  1. Never let anyone know how much money you have.
  2. Never let anyone know what your next move will be.
  3. Trust no one.
  4. Don’t use what you sell.
  5. Never give credit.
  6. Never sell out of your home.
  7. Keep family and business separate.
  8. Never park your stash on your person.
  9. If you’re not being arrested, never be seen communicating with the police.
  10. G.C.G.C. (Great Consignment, Grave Confinement)

Playa Hater

This is perhaps the most unique song on Life After Death. Biggie sings like Biz Markie over what can only be described as a slow alternative rock beat. It’s worth revisiting this song if you haven’t heard it in a few years.

Nasty Boy

Biggie gets sexy on Nasty Boy, which features Kelly Price on the chorus and subtle ad libs by Diddy. This song is a fun little bop, but it’s easily overshadowed on a 24 track album with some of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time. 

“Sex is drama, head is trauma
Ripped pajamas, I’ma stay ’til tomorrow
Satisfyin’ all my needs twice
With whipped cream, handcuffs and ice”

Sky’s the Limit (ft. 112)

Sky’s the Limit is an utter masterclass in storytelling. On this track Biggie explains different parts of his life – the first verse focuses on being poor, the second focuses on his social life, and the third focuses on his life’s trajectory and trapping. 

This song is beloved by Biggie fans and climbed to 26 on the Billboard Hot 200 when released with Going Back to Cali. 

The World Is Filled… (ft. Diddy & Too $hort)

“The world is filled with pimps and hoes,” sang Bad Boy vocalist Carl Thomas. The World Is Filled… is one of the lesser discussed Biggie songs, but it created tons of trends that have been replicated through the years. 

Diddy puts his own spin on the Scarface mantra, “first you get the money, then you get the power,” by spitting maybe his best verse “now first come the cash, then come the ass, then come big blunts with big chunks of hash.” Similarly, Biggie drops his gem “I’m a pimp by blood, no relation” which has been reused and reinvented time and time again.

My Downfall (ft. DMC)

The end of Life After Death gets pretty eerie as Biggie reenacts death threats and leans into the theme of death that permeates the album. DMC of RUN DMC provides some light support on the chorus. Although there are a few songs sampled here – the most prominent sample you can hear is “You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. 

“Benz sped off, ain’t no shook hands in Brook-land
Army fatigues bring fatigue, to enemies, look man
You wanna see me locked up, shot up
Moms crouched up over the casket, screamin’ “BASTARD!””

Long Kiss Goodnight

It is often debated about whether or not this song is a subliminal diss towards Tupac, despite Pac’s name never being mentioned. Diddy says it’s not about Pac, but Lil Cease said it was.

According to Genius “the title is inspired by (the) 1996 Geena Davis action vehicle The Long Kiss Goodnight.” Regardless of if this is about Pac or not – it’s still fun to hear Big talk his shit, but it can be hard to listen to – knowing what we know now about his death.

“My nine flies, baptize rap guys
With the Holy Ghost, I put holes in most
You hold your toast shaky, slippin’ tryna break me”

You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)

It’s poignant that the final track on Life After Death is You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You).

However the title of this track is not true to Biggie Smalls, he was larger than life while he was alive and was the definition of “somebody” while he was alive. 

The final words spoke on the album Life After Death are “I don’t wanna die, God tell me why.”

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