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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Music Review – “Ready to Die” still relevant years later

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September, 18, 2019 | Victor Allison | reporter

On Sept.13, Rhino Entertainment will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of “Ready to Die,” a classic hip-hop album by The Notorious B.I.G., with a limited-edition box set.

It will include some nifty repackaging, vinyl and untold stories from the closest confidants of the legend. It’s a great way to celebrate the classical work of a music icon.

It’s also a morbid reminder that the Brooklyn MC, who was murdered at the age of 24, has now been dead longer than he was alive.

But more importantly, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what made him great.

“Ready to Die,” which is more like a ghetto youth’s suicide note, is in many ways a hip-hop trope.

Its 17 tracks doused in anarchic violence, sexism and destruction.

It’s the kind of stuff that critics would use as “exhibit A” to explain rap as a harm to greater society. But for those initiated into the stresses of ghetto life, it’s the rage that makes it so compelling and the deeper subtext to it that separates it from the “senseless” violence that hip-hop gets a bad rap for.

The autobiographical-style delivery not only gave hip-hop a genre touchstone, but reinvented the way in which it talked about the struggle.

Before “Ready to Die,” hip-hop spoke about the struggle, but those songs were usually cursory surveys of the landscape. This album on the other hand, traps the listener into the victim’s mind where the only escape happens at the end of the album.

Songs like “Things Done Changed” binds us into and lets us explore a nihilistic and self-destructive mentality, one that permeated the streets of early ’90s New York City, where a growing underbelly used violence to satisfy their needs.

In “Ready to Die,” the Brooklynite rapped about being teased as a kid for his clothes.        

It’s not conscious rap by far, precisely because it’s not preachy, but it effectively demonstrates how internalized hate can turn into rage, and that rage into destruction.

Although at moments, the album sounds like a modern lawless Western, what “Ready to Die” presents is not a motherless psychopath on killing sprees but a human being triggered by circumstance.

When he speaks of canceling his own life in the song “Suicidal Thoughts,” it’s almost impossible not to hear the pain of a crushed, fatigued soul.

Usually gangsta rap eschews talk of depression, because it’s too busy trying to look macho, but Biggie leans into it.

I can name several better MCs more lyrical and more introspective than The Notorious B.I.G., because what makes him great is his unparalleled vulnerability that shows the pain without preaching.

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