20 Albums 20 Years Later

Notorious B.I.G.'s 'Life After Death' Taught Us About The Struggles Of Fame, And We're Still Learning From It Today

Notorious B.I.G.'s "Life After Death" turns 20 this year.

Even 20 years after its release, Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death is still an eerie self-fulfilling prophecy.

The rapper, whose real name was Christopher Wallace and went by the nickname Biggie Smalls, died in a drive-by shooting just two weeks before the release of his second studio album.

Death has always been a surrounding theme of Biggie's music. His first album, Ready To Die, was a retrospective on his environment, and how easily his emotions will lead him to depression and wanting to die. Life After Death is a follow-up to his surroundings after catapulting into fame just three years prior.

The album cover — a stark contrast from the infant resembling him that appeared on Ready To Die — is Biggie posing next to a hearse. Overall, the album centers the complexities and drama that ensues with fame and Biggie's increasing concerns for his own safety.

In the weeks leading up to his death, he touched on these topics in interviews. During his final interview at the KYLD radio station in Oakland, Calif., Biggie discussed how fame has its drawbacks from the moment you reach the top.

"It's not just with rappers," he said. "People want to attack anybody that's a large figure."

Biggie's commitment to telling stories through his music helped inspire a new generation of rappers from the likes of Lil Wayne to 50 Cent, and also made an impact on his peers such as Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes.

Today, Life After Death has gone 10-times platinum, and it's one of the few rap albums to have ever gone diamond. 

"Hypnotize"

If you go to a party or turn on the radio, chances are you'll hear "Hypnotize" playing from time to time. It's a quintessential 1990s rap song about being an unattainable and superior rapper with the materialistic goods to back it up, a theme that still exists in modern-day hip-hop.

There isn't a second where the average listener doesn't feel the urge to dance and sing along. Who doesn't know girl group Total's Pamela Long's unforgettable hook of "Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can't you see? / Sometimes your words just hypnotize me"?

Although "Hypnotize" might not seem like it fits into Biggie's overarching death theme, its place on the album is to demonstrate what "the good life" looks and sounds like it's from someone who's experiencing it. But like anybody who's committed to being a storyteller, it's not long until the album shifts away from that narrative and focuses on its drawbacks.

"Kick In the Door"

Calling out rappers and diss tracks are nothing new these days, but in 1997, people like Biggie were just getting started. In "Kick In the Door," he targets rappers such as Nas, Jeru the Damaja, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah, and alludes to the different kinds of drama that circles through this particular group.

As no stranger to this concept, Biggie takes a similar approach to using words as a weapon when he references Tupac Shakur, and the East Coast-versus-West Coast rap battles of the time in other songs like "Long Kiss Goodnight" and "Going Back to Cali." 

"Mo' Money Mo' Problems"

This single was another iconic song off Life After Death. To this day, the song's title is still used as a reference in pop culture. By sampling Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out," listeners get a taste of something they're familiar with until they hear Biggie's take on the song's beat.

Similar to what Biggie explores in a song called "I Love the Dough," "Mo' Money Mo' Problems" is self-explanatory. As he's gone up in the ranks as a performer and made millions of dollars, his problems have only escalated. All Biggie ever wanted was to make music, as he stated in his final interview. Instead, all he's experiencing is drama with other rappers, worrying about his safety, and other day-to-day issues. These thoughts are exemplified in the song's hook, "I don't know what they want from me / It's like the more money we come across / The more problems we see." The rise to fame with subsequent drama is nothing new in 2017, it just has a new face. People who rise to fame through social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram run into similar issues when they reach peak popularity. "Sky's the Limit," another track on Life After Death, provides listeners a bit of advice when dealing with newfound fame: "Just keep pressing on" and don't let negativity ruin your success. 

1997 was a turning point for hip-hop fans. With Biggie's death only six months after Tupac's the previous year, fans had a lot to mourn. 

But Life After Death was the unexpected goodbye album the community needed in order to move forward. It helped say farewell to the East Coast and West Coast rap feud that plagued the 1990s at that point and allowed future rappers to enjoy more friendly competitions between their peers. The album then welcomed people like Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, who had a major role in bringing Life After Death to critical acclaim as a producer. Diddy went on to release his debut album, No Way Out, that July and paid tribute to Biggie in his hit single, "I'll Be Missing You." Despite losing a close friend, Diddy's rise to musical success that year only helped pave the way for future generations of rappers to learn the stories of their predecessors to inspire and influence them along their own journey.

Life After Death is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify.

Cover image: Bad Boy Records

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