Sunday, November 16, 2014

Song of the Day: Notorious B.I.G. - Juicy (1994)

Even though they were both NYC rappers, Biggie could not have been further apart from Nas in 1994. Nas was all about the realism of life on the streets, with the minimalist, non-conformist soundscapes to match. Biggie had a much more produced sound that relied far more heavily on samples transforming his raps into pop-ready sounds, with choruses that were often sung instead of rapped. In terms of subject matter, Biggie was rapping about a life that had already transcended the streets and resulted in stardom. He may have been ready to die, but until that happened--sooner rather than later, as it would turn out--he was getting "up close and personal with Robin Leach." 

"Juicy" is my favorite song from Ready To Die, and it might be the quintessential Biggie song. Like Biggie himself, literally and metaphorically, the song is larger than life. I used to think of it as a rap origin story, but that's not really true. It's not about how Biggie became who he was, but rather how he reacted to who he became. It's the second act of the story, the middle third of Scarface, when power has been consolidated, but not quite yet abused. This is when he's still prepared to say "damn right I like the life I live, 'cause I went from negative to positive." That wouldn't remain the case for long. 

Sonically, Biggie's best tracks were far more adorned than the Nas stuff we looked at yesterday, but that ornateness didn't feel out of place, because everything about Biggie at the time was meant to be decadent. Where Biggie really transcends the opulence of the songs is with his legendary voice, which is one of the best vocal weapons in rap history. Only a voice that powerful and dominating could rhyme "worst days" with "thirsty" and not have the listener wonder whether it works or not. Instead of hearing that line and thinking something like "Oh, I'm not so sure about that," our minds immediately go to "daaammnnnn." It's the rare level of command over craft that turns questionable decisions into deliriously transcendent ones. 

While Nas was about capturing existing reality, Biggie was about creating a new reality through sheer force of conviction, talent, and personality. I'm much more interested and engaged by the achievements of Nas, but there's an undeniable power to watching someone succeed at such massive and unwieldy ambitions. 

Check out the Song of the Day Archive!!

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