Wednesday, August 25, 2010

#424: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 2- Robert Johnson

Listened to: MP3

…Yeah. Look, Robert Johnson was one of the most innovative and important men in blues and rock and roll history. However, I fail to understand why this is on the list (as well as volume 1) when you might as well just make room for another classic album, and just do this.

Would Replace with: King of the Delta Blues Singers by Robert Johnson

This is the CD you can find almost anywhere when looking for the two albums recommended on RS’ list, and it has almost every track you could want by Robert Johnson. The history of rock as you know it starts here. Any great blues guitarist learned their licks off this album, compiling some of the greatest guitar playing from a guy who only lived to 27 (the original club member). Legend has it Johnson sold his soul to the devil to get his skills, and a track like “Hellhound On My Trail” makes you believe it. The album is a true classic, and since you can’t god damn find the original King of the Delta Blues volumes on CD, maybe it’s time to just embrace this mix of both. Robert Johnson’s recordings are totally worth the listen. I just find it convenient that they can be on one album.


Next up, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan by...well...Bob...Dylan.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

#94: Bitches Brew- Miles Davis

Listened to: CDI’m gonna lay this out on the line. To go track by track and analyze jazz, especially Miles Davis, is a sin. I’ll simply say this album is a masterpiece, and essential for any fans of experimental jazz. For those not acquainted with jazz at all, this will certainly not be a spring board, but for those who truly dig jazz, this is a classic. Miles let’s all his inhibitions go on this track, laying down some of his most brilliant improvisations. Filled with rock rhythms, fantastic studio edits (like the intro to the album, edited 19 times), Miles revolutionized modern jazz. It’s like by the end of this album, Herbie Hancock was born. This album is what happens if a true genius is given full range. The first time I heard this record, it’s style repelled me. Now I consider it a master work.

I could compose an essay on how innovative it was, or pick it apart compositionally, but it possesses such a magic, a mastery, that I’d rather just encourage you to listen to it with an open mind, and fully appreciate it’s brilliance. But for once, I encourage you not to sit and listen, but rather to go out. Drive. Run. Whatever. Be active, and let Bitches be the soundtrack. Nothing’s better than driving through the mist while disc one plays, being the soundtrack to your visceral experience. I keep this review short not because I have nothing to say, but that Miles Davis music is like sex. The more talking there is, the less fun it is.


Next up, #424: King Of The Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 2 by Robert Johnson.

#318: Back Stabbers- The O’Jays

Listened to: MP3I am unashamed to admit that before writing this, the only song I was familiar with on this album was “Love Train”, but Back Stabbers is considered to be the quintessential Philly soul album, and since this list has been a godsend when it comes to finding good music in genres I’m not too well acquainted with (soul, R&B, etc.), so I looked forward to giving The O’Jays a whirl. The album opens on “When The World’s At Peace”, a spirited, funky opener that takes no time setting the tone or the album, with full, rich instrumentation and a fantastic stereo mix (you really notice it on this album). I find myself looking at the run time of the track and being thankful it’s over 5 minutes long. For those of you listening while reading, don’t dare try saying you’re not dancing even a little bit to this track. I love the way the track fades out at the end, with that echo. The second track, the title one, keeps the rich, full feel from before, with a full orchestra and a vibe that makes it feel like it belongs on the Shaft soundtrack. It’s got a groove that’s unavoidable, and as I say that, I realize the whole album does, whether it be the slow, soulful “Who Am I” or the upbeat dance groove of “Love Train”, Back Stabbers truly is as spirited and full of life a soul album as you can get. I’m amazed at how rich and full the album feels. Certain parts just send shivers down your spine. I mean it when I call this album a masterpiece of producing, if nothing else. Definitely give it a listen.


Next up, #94: Bitches Brew by the legendary Miles Davis.

#111: Court and Spark- Joni Mitchell

Listened to: MP3I remember first hearing Joni Mitchell’s voice and thinking “That’s the sound I’ve been looking for”. Joni has a gorgeous voice for folk music, and a gentle lilting tone. So you can imagine when she wanted to make an album that was heavily rock and jazz influenced, her producers must have been just filled with joy. But thankfully they had faith in Joni, and the world now has Court and Spark.

The album opens on the title track, a song that’s melody recalls the Blue-era Joni, but the instrumentation is much more full, with a rock drum beat and a almost music-hall sounding piano, making the track a good transition for folk-Joni fans to get into this new era. The next track is Joni’s biggest hit, “Help Me”, a fantastic old-school rock track with just the right twist of Joni’s spirit. This track could have been a Ronettes hit reworked by Ms. Mitchell, and it possesses such a life within it, especially during that “Didn’t it feel good?” bridge that evokes Marvin Gaye and the classic Motown feel. Is there any question why this is the track that brought Joni into the mainstream?

The next track, “Free Man In Paris”, written about famous producer David Geffen after a trip Joni and he took to Paris with the legendary Robbie Robertson and his brother, is like an all-star track. Not only is it one of Joni’s best tracks melodically, but it features David Crosby and Graham Nash on back-up vocals (yes, that IS why those harmonies sound so good) the Jose Feliciano on electric guitar. The drumbeat alone on this track should make it a classic, but every element comes together on this track, proving Joni with a full band is just as good as Joni with an acoustic. “People’s Parties” is a great track that sounds like an old-school Joni solo song that added a back-up band, and that back-up band is a perfect fit. Joni’s voice just floats above the music, reminding you that you don’t have to be howling to put soul into your music. A track like “Same Situation” seems to prove without a shadow of a doubt how much female singers today, ranging from the obvious Aimee Mann to I’ll-go-so-far-to-suggest Kelly Clarkson owe a debt to Joni. Sure, Aretha and Tina get all the credit, but look at the way Joni crafts her voice around each note. There’s passion without fury there. And it’s beautiful.

“Car On A Hill” features some gorgeous choral harmonies showing Joni was definitely having fun in the studio on this one. This track is a real Steely Dan-esque, laid-back rock track, and Joni pulls it off with flying colors. “Down To You” begins as a gentle piano ballad in the vein of classic Joni, which while not in keeping with the “new” image the album creates for her, is a nice departure. But slowly it builds with little flickers of other instruments coming in like fireflies on a summer evening. While other tracks may be more popular, I think “Down To You” is by far the album’s most ambitious track, and it succeeds in most if not all of it’s ambitions.

“Just Like This Train” has the same feel as “People’s Parties”, that idea of it being a classic Joni song with a band added, while “Raised On Robbery” is the exact opposite. You can’t imagine this track without the band behind it, especially when part of that band is part of The Band, since the electric guitar on this track is played by the legendary Robbie Robertson. Without a doubt, “Raised On Robbery” is the heaviest rock track on the album by a long shot, and must have been a shock to the system to any first time listener (I remember it sure as hell was to me), and yet Joni can do this track just as well as the softest, most lilting tracks on the album.

“Trouble Child” goes back to the Steely Dan vibe, and Joni does some of her best slides and really displays her vocal agility in a non-diva, non-irritating way. The album closes on “Twisted”, a Lambert, Hendricks & Ross track featuring, yes, you’re reading that right, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong doing the spoken bits. This is the jazziest song on the album, and shows Joni could have had a great future in this genre just as much as folk. Admit it, this track is practically perfect, and for a folk singer, it’s incredible. It just proves Joni has no label other than “genius”.
Bottom line, this album is fantastic, and a true insiration as to what a musician can achieve with an open mind and great taste. Totally worth the listen. I truly hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.


See you guys next for #318: Back Stabbers by the O’Jays

#433: Another Green World- Brian Eno

Listened to: MP3

Who’s super-psyched for primarily instrumental music from Brian Eno? So, ok, that sounds less fun than I think it’s gonna be. Look, if readers have been taught anything by this, it should be that preconceived notions about an album’s quality should be abandoned. So, set aside all your doubts, and open your mind as we move into Another Green World.

If you had any fear this album wasn’t gonna be some interesting, fun compositional brilliance, the opening track “Sky Saw” should set you straight. From Eno’s free form lyrics to the distorted sliding notes, the opening song sets the tone for an album that’s genius should be recognized from the outset (despite being panned by some critics in it’s early days). Each track s a unique soundscape, with Eno using notes to create an impressionist painting on your ears. The album cover does a lot to set the tone of the album. This is the kind of album that should be accompanied by Rothkos or Magrittes. It’s true modern art, without being pretentious. Each track, from the fun, colorful, upbeat “St. Elmo’s Fire” to the bleak, damp, brooding Francis-Bacon-esque “In Dark Trees”, Eno crafts universes of sound that exist within these tracks, and the instrumentals conjure more images in the mind than even the finest poet’s lyrics.

There is not a track out of place on this album. It is a masterpiece to whom modern day bands like Grandaddy and Sigur Ros owe a remarkable debt. This is an album to lay down on the stereo, turn of the lights, lie back and dream. The world Brian Eno builds within your mind will shine so beautifully you’ll never want the album to end. Definitely worth a listen.


Next up, #111: Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monthly Recap: “March 2010”

Here’s a really delayed re-cap the albums that were allotted for March 2010 (though some reviews were a tad delayed).

March 1st, 2010: #337: CrazySexyCool- TLC
Bottom line: A solid R&B album, a great time capsule from the 90’s. The only downside is Waterfalls is the best track by a long shot.

March 2nd, 2010: #220: New Orleans Piano- Professor Longhair
Bottom line: “In conclusion, though, definitely look this album up, readers. If this is truly the sound of New Orleans, then I sure as hell know where I’m headed as soon as I get some money.”

March 3rd, 2010: #416: The Mule Variations- Tom Waits
Bottom line: Without a doubt Waits’ darkest and most brooding album. So good I bought the vinyl. The highlight of course is “Take It With Me” for those who don’t enjoy Waits more experimental music, but the album is truly a classic and should rank much higher.

March 4th, 2010: #298: Master of Reality- Black Sabbath
Bottom line: A solid album from one of the masters of metal. Worth the listen.

March 5th, 2010: #473: A Rush Of Blood To The Head- Coldplay
Bottom line: “Compositionally set-off by the September 11th attacks, Martin really comes into his own on this album, and it shows. I’m sure most of you have already dismissed Coldplay, but I encourage you to give this album a spin, and open your minds. You’ll find you like it more than you’d like to admit. From start to finish a classic.”

March 6th, 2010: #147: Dreams To Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology- Otis Redding
Bottom line: Totally unnecessary. There is no reason for two Otis Redding compilations on this list. So many truly classic albums were ignored to make room for a compilation of tracks that are mostly on other albums on the list. Otis wasn’t Christ, despite how RS treats him. This album was replaced by a true neglected classic, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco.

March 7th, 2010: #286: Los Angeles- X
Bottom line: Possibly the best punk album of the 80’s. A brilliant debut from a band that should have conquered the world.

March 8th, 2010: #338: Cheap Thrills- Big Brother And The Holding Company
Bottom line: Some of Janis Joplin’s finest work. Her vocals set the air ablaze, and she truly left Big Brother with a bang. A classic of 60’s rock. For any chick serious about rock, the past two days (March 7th and 8th 2010) should have been viewed as a lesson.

March 9th, 2010: #121: Moby Grape- Moby Grape
Bottom line: “Essentially this album is a summary of what the San Francisco 60’s sound was. It’s the best things about The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and The Byrds all put together. However, this album lacks the significance or following of any.” Replaced it with a truly brilliant album, The Sounds of India by Ravi Shankar.

March 10th, 2010: #444: Criminal Minded- Boogie Down Productions
Bottom line: Despite the very convincing argument by josh, I found this album lacking any truly special spark, and though it should be replaced by the much more landmark album Endtroducing…DJ Shadow.

March 11th, 2010: #177: One Nation Under Groove- Funkadelic
Bottom line: “Overall, this album is highly worth looking in to. Give it a listen one day, it’s only a half an hour or so, and I promise you, you won’t be bored.”

March 12th, 2010: #273: The Slim Shady LP- Eminem
Bottom line: “Eminem established a whole unforgettable personae on this album, while crafting instant classics like “My Name Is” and “Guilty Conscience”, proving that you can make it in rap by not taking yourself seriously at all. I recommend this album highly, if for nothing else than to get a time capsule of the decade in which I came of age, and if you dislike songs about violence, or songs with obscene language, well…grow some balls. This album is a classic, and I’m pretty sure will stand the test of time.”

March 13th, 2010: #498: Tres Hombres- ZZ Top
Bottom line: One of ZZ Top’s best, if for nothing but La Grange, and a great album for any guitar enthusiast.

March 14th, 2010: #408: Time Out Of Mind- Bob Dylan
Bottom line: “It’s criminal that this album is ranked so low on this list, as to me, it really is one of the best of Dylan’s career. He started a new chapter in his life, and even if this is the only highlight, it’s a fantastic place to end. Seriously, get this album, it’s highly worth the purchase.”

March 15th, 2010: #62: Achtung Baby- U2
Bottom line: A true classic that everyone should hear at some point in their lives. U2 at possibly their best.

March 16th, 2010: #360: Siamese Dream- Smashing Pumpkins
Bottom line: “Siamese Dream definitely deserves a place on the list. It’s one of the most daring hard-rock albums of the 90’s, and perhaps of all time, and Corgan’s sense of composition, especially incorporating orchestral instruments, cannot be rivaled. Please give this one a listen.”

March 17th, 2010: #445: Rum, Sodomy, and The Lash- The Pogues
Bottom line: A great album, unique and full of life. Also great to drink to. Just sayin’.

March 18th, 2010: #74: Otis Blue- Otis Redding
Bottom line: “Without a doubt, Otis blue is one of the greatest albums ever recorded, a landmark in soul and music in general, and should be ranked even higher than 74.” A true staple of soul music.

March 19th, 2010: #394: For Your Pleasure- Roxy Music
Bottom line: “This was an incredible album to experience, and it is ranked criminally low. Everyone should give this album a listen, it’s highly worth it, and I look forward to more Roxy Music to come.”

March 20th, 2010: #44: Horses- Patti Smith
Bottom line: “I’m not going to tell you to listen to this album. Rather, I’m demanding any serious reader of this blog go out and buy it. You’ll be a far better person for it. Horses is one of the greatest albums of all time, and no human being should go without hearing it.”

March 21st, 2010: #363: Ray Of Light- Madonna
Bottom line: “So, yeah, I’m unashamed to admit that Ray Of Light is a great album, integrating electronic dance music without getting repetitive or annoying. Madonna proves on this album she’s more than just a pop singer, that she is a truly gifted and talented artist. I recommend giving this album a listen, you might be surprised how current it still feels, despite being 10 years old.”

March 22nd, 2010: #172: Every Picture Tells A Story- Rod Stewart
Bottom line: “Personally, I don’t get it. It’s a good album, but I don’t think it’s great or mind-blowing. However, it’s clearly culturally significant, and when compiling a “Greatest” list, it’s got to be different than a “Favorites” list, and if this album is as significant as all it’s supporters seem to think, and it’s not unbearable (it’s actually quite enjoyable on the third or fourth listen) then it deserves to stay. However, I’m not buying it being #175.”

March 23rd, 2010: #435: To Bring You My Love- PJ Harvey
Bottom line: “To Bring You My Love is the type of album one should aspire to make. It’s craftsmanship is flawless, it’s compositions and performances incredible, and it all works as a cohesive piece of music. Harvey on this album created not just a phenomenal collection of songs, but a remarkable simplistic symphony. I cannot reach out of the computer screen and force you to listen to this, but know that I would if I could.”

March 24th, 2010: #105: Rocket To Russia- The Ramones
Bottom line: The review was really brief, but Rocket To Russia is a great punk album infused with surfer influences and furious spirit. Totally worth checking out if you’ve already heard and loved the Ramones’ debut album.

March 25th, 2010: #464: The Blueprint- Jay-Z
Bottom line: “It’s an undeniably enjoyable album, and the portrait of a truly gifted artist at his best, and it brought a little light to a New York ravaged with tragedy (it came out on 9/11). I recommend it highly to anyone looking for a good album for a long ass drive with the windows all the way down and the bass all the way up” I’ll now go so far as to say one of the greatest rap albums of all time.

March 26th, 2010: #325: Slowhand by Eric Clapton
Bottom line: “I truly and deeply recommend this album. If you go on looking for heavy rock and roll, you’ll be let down, but if you want to put on a record with some of the best guitar playing of all time, and don’t mind it being gentle and smooth, then you can’t do better than this.”

March 27th, 2010: #219: Loveless- My Bloody Valentine
Bottom line: “It’s not my cup of tea, though I will admit certain tracks, like “When You Sleep” and “I Only Said” were enjoyable. Maybe I’ll get Nick Young to come back and explain the album’s greatness better, but for now, let me say it’s worth listening to for the significance, if not so much the music.”

March 28th, 2010: #405: Rid of Me- PJ Harvey
Bottom line: “So, in conclusion, Rid Of Me is another great album by PJ Harvey that I recommend, however, I would choose To Bring You My Love or Stores From The City, Stories From The Sea over it.”

March 29th, 2010: #69: Superfly- Curtis Mayfield
Bottom line: “Look no further than Super Fly for funk that works at it’s best. I absolutely recommend this album.” Truly one of the all-time great film soundtracks.

March 30th, 2010: #315: Surfer Rosa- The Pixies
Bottom line: “Surfer Rosa is a genius album, and maybe some folks won’t dig it, but if I’ve turned at least one person on to these guys, I’ve done my job on this blog. So give Surfer Rosa a listen. I don’t think you’ll regret it.”

March 31st, 2010: #83: I Never Loved A Man The Way Love You- Aretha Franklin
Bottom line: “This album contains some of the greatest soul songs ever composed, and performed by one of the greatest and most influential soul singers to ever live. It’s virtually flawless, and THE definitive Aretha album. This is a shining example of a gifted performer at her peak. For those who only see Aretha as the woman with the funny things on her head at various ceremonies, do yourself a favor and look this one up. A true classic."

#104: Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music- Ray Charles

Listened to: MP3Considered by many to be Ray Charles’ finest album, I looked forward to finding out why Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music is so revered. It doesn’t contain of Charles’ well-known hits, so the average CD-shopper would probably dismiss it. Indeed, were I not aware of the album’s significance, I’d only pick it up to hear Charles’ take on “Bye Bye Love”, a song All That Jazz has made into one of my favorites. I’m happy to report, by the way, that on that track, and most of the others on this album, Charles fails to disappoint. It’s undeniable that Ray Charles had one of the most soulful voices in musical history. He felt everything he sang, and every word and note had some special meaning to him. Even on a more gentle track like “You Don’t Know Me”, a song Charles made popular though not on of his own, each note possesses that raspy genius. I typically hate those old backing vocal sounds from Elvis tracks and stuff from that era, but on this track, Charles just seems to float above it all. This track is a time capsule whose contents are still fresh upon opening. “Half As Much” is a country track that Charles turns into a Sinatra-style swing tune. It’s amazing to see how much creative control Charles exercised over this album, considering his race and the time period. It’s a testament to what a one of a kind talent the man was. The sax solo in “Half As Much” alone makes the track worth a listen.

“I Love You So Much” is a decent song made so much better by Ray’s jazz style crooning. He’s considered a pioneer of R&B and soul, but tracks like this show you how he could do any genre of music. Charles was a true master of music. “Just A Little Lovin’ (Will Go A Long Way)” brings in that soul you’ve been hearing so much about, even though on this track Ray sounds kinda like that Bill from School House Rock. “Born To Lose” is the first track on the album that kind of under-whelms me. This track, while good, lacks the spark of the other songs. There’s not nearly as much life in this one as the others. But, hey, 1 “eh” track for 5 amazing ones? I can deal.

The second side of the album eases into “Worried Mind”, another ballad that seems to possess a little more soul than the previous track. If nothing else, one has to appreciate the piano solo. “It Makes No Difference Now” keeps the same tone as “Worried Mind” but the pacing picks up a bit. Yeah, that’s all I have to say. The second half of the album doesn’t start out with the same great kick as the first side. Yet another slow ballad, “You Win Again” is…nice…but Christ what I wouldn’t give for “What’d I Say” right now. The first side of the album had such variety. And each track on side 2 is good, it’s just…bleak. This album is still brilliant, a guaranteed classic, and rightfully deserves it’s place on this list. But…I could really use some R&B. Hell, not even Ray’s R&B. I’ll take Jamie Foxx (the other Ray Charles)’s shitty auto-tuned R&B. “Careless Love” is a traditional song Charles adds a swing to and gets a little closer to an upbeat track. This track is another song that’s ok, but made much better by Ray’s vocal styling. It’s still far too slow, though. Is ONE more swinging tune too much to ask? At the time, this music was groundbreaking, and deserves respect. Now, however, some of it just fall flat.

“I Can’t Stop Loving You”, a country track Charles makes his own, picks it up a bit, with a lively string section, but it’s still sorta...dragging. I’m not gonna lie, after a whole album side of slow, you may spend this whole tracking half enjoying Ray’s voice, and half waiting for the Hank Williams classic “Hey Good Lookin’” knowing (or at least hoping) that will be somewhat upbeat. And finally, after an album side of slowness, we finally get the rocking Ray I’ve come to love. There’s his spirit, his energy, his sense of rhythm and soul. Finished with his tracks of weeping, Ray rocks out and sets your soul afire for the final 2 minutes of the album.

Ray proved many things with this album. 1) Great R&B doesn’t need 20 minute obnoxious vocal riffs (I’m talking to you American Idol), 2) Great music is great music, an a country classic can become a soul staple in the right hands, 3) An incredible album in 1962 can still be an incredible album today, and 4) Ray Charles is a legend. And after this album, I shouldn’t have to explain why any further.

By the way, if you enjoyed this album as much as I did, be sure to pick up the CD re-release with the three bonus tracks. “You Are My Sunshine” alone is worth it.

Bottom line: Definitely give it a listen. Sure, the second half drags a bit, but this right here is a true classic, and the best album Ray Charles ever put out. It should be a staple of anyone’s record collection. Yes, I said record. I’m off to o buy the vinyl later today.


Next up, a total change of tone. #433: Another Green World by Brian Eno.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

#311: MTV Unplugged In New York- Nirvana

Listened to: CD

The final words of the iconic Kurt Cobain are truly haunting ones, whether those last words are his infamous suicide note or this, the final album by Nirvana, the soundtrack to MTV Unplugged In New York. Though it’s hard to listen to this album and separate it from the tragedy surrounding it, or the poignant visuals of Kurt surrounded by candles and lilies, the album, in it’s own right, is brilliant. Comprised mostly of acoustic arrangements of lesser-known Nirvana tracks (the album opens with Kurt describing “About A Girl” as “off our first album. Most people don’t own it.”) and covers (the most memorable of these being David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” and a chillingly lingering “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”), Unplugged proves Nirvana was one of the great bands of the 90’s, and indeed in rock history. The use of acoustic (if at times amplified and distorted) instruments showcases Cobain’s songwriting talents, and his howling yawps during songs like “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” makes you miss a man you may not been have been alive to know.

It is unfair to review an album like this so briefly, but the truth is there is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. The album is worshipped by most critics, and tracks of it are staples on alternative radio. Most of these tracks are so ingrained in my memory and my life that to try and explain why this album is a classic is like trying to explain why eating is good. Haunting is the word I keep going back to, but to listen to a man bear his soul like that on record, to know that he crafted a funeral on stage and eulogized himself, you can’t avoid feeling the shivers down your spine.

When I write long reviews, it’s my attempt to convince you that these albums are worth their place on the list. But simply listen to the track “Pennyroyal Tea”, and you’ll see I need make no further argument. This album is a true classic worth not only listening to but owning.


Next up, #104: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#483: Life After Death- The Notorious B.I.G.

Listened to: MP3

After seeing a small white boy walk past me yesterday wearing a Life After Death t-shirt, I felt it was high time I got back in the game. One of the quintessential rappers of the genre, Biggie Smalls, only released one album in his lifetime, the classic Ready To Die. Life After Death was intended to be his stellar follow-up, a double album featuring some of the biggest rappers in the game, among them Puff Daddy, Nas and Jay-Z, but Biggie was tragically shot two weeks before it’s release. It’s almost universally agreed that this is the album that solidified Biggie as a legend in the field, sparked a movement to more radio-friendly sounds in gangsta rap, and proved to be one of the most significant albums in rap history.
I can’t think of a better album to come back on.

The album begins with the intro “Life After Death (Intro)” which samples Biggie’s own “Suicidal Thoughts” (off of Ready to Die). It’s a reminder of how old rap albums used to be, with a sense of fun (The “Previously on…”) and a sense of drama (The soulful music and the ambulance sounds). The intro is also sadly ominous, starting the whole album on the idea of Big’s passing. The sound of “Biggie”s heart beat ceasing leads into the beat for the first song on the album, “Somebody’s Gotta Die”, a revenge track . “Somebody’s gotta die, if you go then I go.” is a chorus that keeps no secrets about Big’s philosophy on whether or not to turn the other cheek. A point of interest for anyone unfamiliar with the song is Notorious B.I.G.’s declaration of his desire to make this shooting as, well, as safe as a shooting can get. “See niggas like you do ten year bids/Miss the niggas they want/And murder innocent kids/Not I/One niggas in my eye/That's Jason/Ain't no slugs gonna be wasted”. See, a conscientious killer.

Now, I apologize for the length, but as we approach the track “Hypnotize”, I went to my usual source of fun facts, Wikipedia, and before someone changes it, I felt I should repost the synopsis of the song, as whoever wrote it earns my ultimate respect. So, without further ado, Wikipedia’s synopsis for “Hypnotize, the Grammy-nominated first single (I‘ll only ad that it samples on of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, “Young Lust”):

“The song begins with a narrator who is ill; generally in a worse way than other black men whom do not think their defecation possess an odor, pink alligators and residents of Detroit. However, the narrator wishes nothing but good tidings for the ruffians of Brooklyn.
Amongst his friends, if they display no characteristic of mental illness, the narrator states his willingness to be around them most evenings.

Mental illness plagues our narrator. He appears to suffer to schizophrenia. Early in the tale, he refers to himself as “Poppa.” “Poppa” has always worked well in a crowd, demonstrating little social awkwardness. He states he’s possessed these traits since he was a child, when he often wore Underroos brand undergarments. “Poppa” is affable, and chooses not to engage in fisticuffs with people that may disagree with him, deciding instead to turn the other cheek to their slanderous comments.

“Poppa” is also desirable by the women in the neighborhood, who will approach to two young gentlemen in the story, stating a desire to fornicate with them. The young gentlemen are “Poppa” aka Christopher Wallace and his associate Sean Combs, referred to in this instance as “Puff”, a shortened appellation of his self-applied nickname “Puff Daddy.” Mr. Wallace analogizes his friendship with Mr. Combs to the partnership of David Michael Starsky and Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchison. The fictitious duo were made popular by the eponymous police officer drama aired on ABC from 1975 – 1979.

Should Mr. Wallace discharge three rounds of ammunition at one’s cherry red BMW M-3 automobile?

Other male siblings of the narrator have been putting on a pantomime show recently, involving an elaborate visual display without speaking. Mr. Wallace on the other hand is more inclined to be vocal, and wishes to do so with his peers, a group that includes people of Cuban descent who are religious. Mr. Wallace carries with him a weapon, routinely asking those in close proximity if they would the relieve him of the burden of this firearm. If so, then said persons should display the firearm in a rather ostentatious manner. This trait and others form the common behavioral patterns of Mr. Wallace’s neighborhood, and he is well aware of it.

In addition to his bouts with multiple personality disorder, our narrator—now called “Biggie” by a chorus of unnamed females—appears to have vision problems, and thus is unable to witness the success of his hypnosis upon the women in this entourage. The women postulate Mr. Wallace’s hypnotic success is most closely correlated to his outsized personality, which in turns leads him to a very lucrative position relative to his peers.

Mr. Wallace is a keen observer of the high-end women’s fashion of the time and has noticed women—referred to in this instance by a derogatory name given to females that are employed as prostitutes— in different parts of the country have an affinity for specific brands. According to Mr. Wallace, women in New York primarily wear DKNY, a brand made popular by Donna Karin. However, women in Miami and Washington, D.C. have stated a preference for Versace, at the time being headed up by the late Gianni Versace. The women residing in Philadelphia seems to have a desired to accumulate more wealth in addition for their likes of Moschino fashions, according to the observations of Mr. Wallace. Universally accepted and purchased by women who possess a derriere is clothing made by Coogi.

Mr. Wallace now has a question for the audience. He would like to know who among us is really excrement. The reason for his question is the homosexual behavior of his male siblings. This is not the case for our narrator’s alter ego Frank White, a reference to the Christopher Walken character in the 1990 movie “King of New York.” Our narrator in his persona of Mr. White drives a Lexus LX 450, with tinted windows. Said vehicle is well suited for discrete encounters with the opposite sex, says Mr. White, aka Mr. Wallace, aka “Poppa,” aka “Biggie.”
In general, Mr. Wallace notices most of the people who belong to an organized crime syndicate prefer to save their inquires until after the discharge of a firearm.

Instead Mr. Wallace is here to sing songs of verse set against a syncopated beat about topics such as marijuana, females, mammary glands, brassieres, sexual encounters with multiple partners simultaneously and fornication in an automobile.

Despite his obvious wealth and privilege and a hedonistic lifestyle, Mr. Wallace will still leave one on the pavement. He also has excellent fiscal discipline as he does not have a mortgage on his condominium nor does he owe any money on his main mode of transportation, his automobile.
Mr. Wallace now finds himself in some unspecified legal difficulties and must appear at arraignment. While in the court, he asks his attorney to pass a note to the plaintiff, which reads: “Your daughter’s tied up in a Brooklyn basement.” This rather bizarre legal maneuver was successful. As the legal proceedings advanced from arraignment to trial, the jury in Mr. Wallace’s case has reached a verdict of “not guilty.” Mr. Wallace will now be able to save his money for more leisurely pursuits, until such time as one of his male siblings can reach him.

Again, the women in the narrator’s repertoire inquire about Mr. Wallace’s poor vision. One may speculate that his lack of vision is related to glaucoma, a degenerative eye condition, which some doctors will prescribe marijuana to help alleviate pain. The women in the entourage, however, are still under a hypnotic trance induced by Mr. Wallace’s personality and wealth.

Mr. Wallace’s wealth allows him to accumulate many of the trappings of a millionaire lifestyle. He consumes escargot and drives an automobile that has a maximum speed of 160 miles per hour. In the event said automobile is involved in an accident, Mr. Wallace has the means to purchase a newer version, rather than filing a claim with an insurance company, paying the necessary deductible and waiting for the automobile to be repaired. Often times, repaired vehicles have a lower resell value. The time involved might also slow down the daily activity of his associates, which are quite busy, often times, the group is on the “run run run,” a reference to The Crystals’ song of 1963.

By this point, the narrator is aware that audience is feeling under the weather. One potential cause of the general malaise may be witnessing Mr. Wallace’s prolific sexual activity. Once he engages in conversation a woman, he’ll give her a writing instrument, provide her a phone number to call and arrange for an encounter at 10 pm. Said encounter results in fornication upon a Persian rug. Later, Mr. Wallace will sodomize the unnamed female at her place of employment, ejaculating into her anus, while not speaking. Other times, Mr. Wallace will vocalize his request that said female disrobe in an unhurried fashion. Once undressed, Mr. Wallace will engage in a sexual fantasy involving a Star Wars Episode IV fetish. His penis is the color one would expect an African-American’s penis to be.

The tale concludes with the narrator roaming about the neighborhood, collecting debts. For some debtees he suspects may have funds in a secure location, he’ll kindly request they reveal the location of their lock box.

All of this is rather remarkable considering Mr. Wallace has been unable to see for some time. Yet, his powers of hypnosis are strong. The women in his support troupe continue to testify to his remarkable hypnotic feats.”

We then move on to “Kick In The Door”, featuring The Madd Rapper (In one of my favorite what-I-hope-is-a-joke-jokes {you have to at least spend a second confused} on the album), in Biggie’s full-on attack on Nas, Ghostface Killa, and basically any other rapper who’s gotten “too big for their britches”, which is the term I’ll go with unless there’s a way I can sound even whiter. This track has one of my favorite beats on the album, a hip-hop modification of “I Put A Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. It’s well known that Biggie was a big influence on Eminem, and that fact is obvious on a track like this. The beat, the rhythm, it’s clear Shady learned his attack moves from one of the masters. After “Kick In The Door” is the ever-eloquent “Fuck You Tonight” featuring R. Kelly, and I promise not to make any piss jokes while we talk about this track, so…let’s just move on. Though I will say for the record, only R. Kelly could make “You must be used to me spending’/ All that winin and dinin/Well I’m fuckin you tonight” sound like sweet talk.

“Last Day” features The Lox, a hip-hop group featuring Jadakiss and two other guys whose names you’ll forget immediately after reading this, which is a shame, ‘cause these guys have a great flow. The track as whole features a dark, eerie tone, sending shivers down your spine hearing the hook talk of living till their last day, and knowing Big’s last day occurred before the world even hear this track. It’s points like this on the album you have to imagine what it was like buying this album upon it’s release, and having it first sink in that he was gone. This track also features one of my favorite Biggie lines “You still apoligizin, analyzin, my size and your size and/realizin, a fist fight would be asinine/You just pop wines I must pop nines/Genuine steel piece, nozzle in your grill piece”.

The next track, “I Love The Dough” features Angela Winbush, and none other than HOVA himself, not to mention a synth playing “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart. Sadly, while the beat is good, this track is under whelming. You come to expect more when two titans come together. Even if it’s not as memorable as “California Love” by Pac and Dre, it should at least be a sick cut, like “Renegade” with Jay and Em. Instead, you get a bland hook, dull rhymes, and a passionless Jay-Z. Biggie can be laid-back in his rhymes and make it sound sly, but someone like Jay-Z just sounds lazy if he’s not spitting fire. Luckily, the next track finds Big matched with somebody in his same chill style (a laid back delivery in the vein of Erik B. and Rakim) in “What’s Beef?” featuring Puff Daddy. The track may seem like another gangsta rap call-out, but at heart it’s a stark and brooding rumination on the world of hip-hop beefs and rivalries, as two men in the heart of the game sit back, resigned to the darkness of their chaotic kingdom. After a brief interlude (“The B.I.G. Interlude”) Puff rejoins Biggie on the track everyone remembers off the album.

The Grammy nominated (and should have been Grammy winner if it weren‘t for Puff‘s tribute to Bigge) “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” is undoubtedly one of the most famous, most popular, and most influential songs in the history of rap music. The song’s theme is apparent in the title, but it’s the unique soundscape of the track, it’s use of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out”, it’s funk-infused bass line, it’s undeniable dance-appeal that allowed it to have mainstream appeal without lyrically losing any of it’s gangsta edge. Many have written in many ways about the negative impact of wealth and fame on their lives, especially in music, it being the theme of albums by such extremes as Eminem and Lady Gaga) but no piece of art has proven more anthemic of the idea then “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems”. Biggie’s rhymes seem to move with an ease and agility on this track, as if he knew this would be the track to stand out in his legacy.

That track is followed up by the more generic rap track “Niggas Bleed”, and perhaps it’s a better track than I give it credit for, but anybody who’s read my reviews before will know how I feel when a truly remarkable track is followed by a bland one. It’s got a good flow, and after the first minute it begins to grow on you, it’s almost operatic sense of drama escalating as the gunshot sounds and laughs come in, and after you;ve forgotten the feelings you;ve gotten from “Mo’ Money…” you starty to really enjoy the track, including the sense of humor displayed in the ending. Disc 1 ends with “I Got A Story To Tell”, a track about Big’s favorite activities, “beatin’ up niggas and fuckin’ hoes”. This track also features one of the numerous references to the number 112 (Another song mentions room 112, and I’d point the rest out for you, but why not play lyrical Where’s Waldo?).

Disc 2 opens with “Notorious Thugs”, and I’ll be honest, them saying “Biggie” gets grating after the first 10 seconds. The track features Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and has Biggie spitting one of the fastest flows I’ve ever heard him utter. If nothing else, this track has to be applauded for the normally chill Notorious B.I.G.’s lyrical agility, not to mention the fire spit by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on the second verse. This track is a great example of word acrobatics, and for any readers with the attitude of “anybody can rap, it takes no skill”, I dare you to try and lay down a track like this. Get back to me on that.

Up next is “Miss U” featuring 112, which opens with Biggie telling a story of a “nigga” that “just got moked out”, and the song is dedicated to “all the niggas that died in the struggle”. The track is a somber story, not of people dying, but of the people who lost someone they love. “Damn, they lost a brother - they mother lost a son/Fuck, why my nigga couldn't stay in NY?/I'm a thug, but I swear for three days I cried/I look in the sky and ask God why/Can't look his baby girls in the eye/Damn I miss you .” The second verse, where Big tells the tale of “Drew” is heart wrenching as well, but it isn’t until the end that you realize this track is also an unintentional apology to all those loved ones Big himself was leaving behind.

Lil’ Kim, who is featured on my favorite skit on Ready to Die, comes in to lay down some rhymes on “Another”, a track that sounds like an 80’s club-hit, you know, until you hear the lyrics. It’s fun track, and totally undercuts the beauty of “Miss U”, which might have been Biggie’s goal, not wanting to get too emotional all at once. Listen to Lil’ Kim’s verse on this song, and maybe a lot of you will revise that attitude that women can’t rap (despite the undeniable patriarchy of the industry, Kim held a good rep in the field until that whole prison and Dancing With The Stars thing). Though it should be noted Biggie couldn’t sing for shit.

“Going Back To Cali” is partly Biggie’s reflection on the east coast/west coast beef going on that ultimately resulted in he and 2Pac’s untimely demise. “If I got to choose a coast I got to choose the East/I live out there, so don't go there/But that don't mean a nigga can't rest in the West.” He admits to only having a beef with “those that violate me” and seems to be trying to bridge the gap between the two sides. Who knows what effect this track may have had, had it come out before those bullets were fired. “Ten Crack Commandments” is an interesting track from a sociological perspective if no other, as B.I.G. lays out ten rules for selling crack, such as never telling anyone how much money you’ve accrued and “Keep your family and business completely separated”. Musically, the track is nothing special, but as a window into the world of crack dealers and the life, this track is invaluable.

“Playa Hater” is a track that probably should have as much substance as the instrumentation alludes, but instead it’s an empty little joke Biggie warbles through. The track is followed by the equally under whelming “Nasty Boys”, which is just an irritating 5 minute waiting period before “Sky’s The Limit”, one of the best tracks on the album. Much like “Juicy” on Ready To Die, “Sky’s The Limit” features Biggie chronicling his upbringing. Fun fact: Spike Jonze directed the music video. Ok, maybe that’s only cool to me. Following up “Sky’s The Limit” is “The World Is Filled…”, which again suffers from being a bland track following a great one. However, the next track, “My Downfall” featuring rap forefather DMC, is one that can’t be missed, if just to hear two eras of hip-hop come together.

The final two tracks on the album really close it out right. First, “The Long Kiss Goodnight” has a great little piano thing going on while Big spits sick, violent rhymes, and the final track “You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” is not only a terrifyingly ominous ending, but it features a collaboration with his widow, the lovely Faith Evans. The track is as somber a goodbye as Biggie could offer us, and a dark, misty conclusion to the posthumous masterpiece that is Life After Death.

Bottom line, listen to Ready To Die before this to get a real feel for the talent and potential that was Biggie. But for any rap fan, this album’s essential.

Next album up, one of my favs, another great artist of the 90‘s final album, #311: Unplugged in New York by Nirvana.