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If Biggie were alive today, the Brooklyn legend would be celebrating his 47th birthday. In just 24 years of life, The Notorious B.I.G. churned out one of the most impressive debuts in hip hop history with Ready to Die, propelled New York back onto the radio, and landed himself squarely in the G.O.A.T. conversation. Posthumously, his Life After Death double-disc album was one of only seven hip hop records to go diamond. During his tragically short career, Biggie gave us many iconic moments—shredding up each beat he touched with his signature flow and delivery. Though his consistency on the mic has made finding errant bars nearly impossible, let's take a look at some of The Notorious B.I.G.'s most underrated verses.
1 | "You Can't Stop the Reign" (second verse)
Even the most devout hip hop heads often forget that legendary NBA center Shaquille O'Neal had a fairly successful career in rap, as well. The Diesel's 1996 effort You Can't Stop the Reign has a star-studded guest list (JAY-Z, Rakim, Mobb Deep, DJ Quik, Bobby Brown, etc.), but Biggie's overlooked verse on its title track stands head and shoulders above the rest. The Bedstuy emcee sounds so menacing over this silky beat that you'd envision him sipping Cristal with one hand and aiming his Beretta with the other. Even the King of Pop Michael Jackson recognized how special this verse was, featuring it on the track "Unbreakable" from Invincible—his last studio album.
2 | "Suicidal Thoughts"
The closing track of Ready to Die, this song remains one of the most innovative in the history of hip hop. In this chilling verse, Wallace raps about the societal and personal factors leading him to contemplate suicide and reject religion, including that he's "a piece of shit" and doesn't deserve to go to heaven. This song is indicative of the negative self-image of "hardened criminals" and takes up the mantle of classic hip hop record "The Message"—in which Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five candidly addressed mental health; it has also influenced later tracks on the subject matter such as Kid Cudi's "Day and Night" from Man on the Moon and Kendrick Lamar's "u" from To Pimp a Butterfly.
3 | "Long Kiss Goodnight" (first verse)
This verse is emblematic of the crushing, nasally delivery that has made Biggie so notorious. The rhyme scheme is hypnotic and the conviction resounding in his every syllable. Though it's difficult not to assume the late Tupac Shakur is the player hater he's addressing, we can also deduce that he's taking jabs at Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan. (The legendary group did not enjoy the same commercial success as Biggie due to its lack of crossover appeal.) Taking aim at two legends in one seething verse? That's just the half of his war path.
4 | "My Downfall" (first verse)
It is often said that prophets and gifted artists are able to predict their own death. While Frank White would surely reject the title of "prophet," it is unsettling how closely this track mirrors the late emcee's untimely demise. After fending off death threats delivered by a heavy-breathing foe on the other end of the line, Biggie angrily hangs up the phone. After the energetic introduction by his partner Sean "Love" Combs about the danger of "jealousy", the emcee delivers bars that would have made his enemies wonder if they'd finally bitten off more than they could chew. Sadly, Biggie would live out this scenario and lose his life in Los Angeles. Paying homage to his friend, Jay-Z later repurposed the bar "Apologies in order/ to Tianna my daughter" in his song about Blue Ivy on 2013's Magna Carta Holy Grail.
5 | "Somebody's Gotta Die"
Ok, you got me. This track's verses are too delectable to leave one course off of the meal. The Life After Death intro picks up right where Ready to Die left off, with Wallace now in the hospital after parking a bullet squarely in his temple. As Sean "Love" Combs laments over facing life without his brother, the sound of him flatlining grows louder. After Biggie's metaphorical death in the song, the sound of pouring rain is accompanied by a thunderous, head-knocking beat. The emcee flips seamlessly back and forth between precise storytelling and threats that come across as promises—salivating at the idea of avenging his friend's murder.
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