And so was written the MC genealogy of the late Notorious B.I.G.: Grandmaster Caz was the father of Grandmaster Melle Mel, Grandmaster Melle Mel the father of Kool Moe Dee, Kool Moe Dee the father of Slick Rick, Slick Rick the father of L.L. Cool J, L.L. Cool J the father of Kool G Rap, Kool G Rap the father of Kool Keith, Kool Keith the father of Rakim, Rakim the father of KRS-One, KRS-One the father of Chuck D, Chuck D the father of Ice Cube, Ice Cube the father of Redman, Redman the father of Nas, Nas the father of Snoop Doggy Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg the father of the Notorious B.I.G.
It was the Notorious B.I.G. who became the all-time king of hip-hop lyricists. Then he was killed — March 9, 1997. And the hip-hop nation was taken into Babylonian exile.
There are times on Born Again where it seems reprehensibly callous of Puffy Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment to allow a posthumous Biggie to spit bars more than two years after his death. There are any number of arguments for why this compilation was a bad idea.
Puffy‘s ship is sinking. Former platinum Bad Boy groups like Total and the L.O.X. have already sailed away on escape dinghies, the L.O.X. docking recently at Ruff Ryders’ safety port. Moneymaking Mase has retired to follow his spirit, pursuing a bachelor‘s degree at a Clark-Atlanta University. Faith Evans is reportedly unhappy at the label, as are newcomers like rapper Black Rob and crooner Carl Thomas, whose albums are perpetually pushed back. Puff himself debuted his sophomore album this summer at No. 2, directly under New Mickey Mouse Club alumna Christina Aguilera, who’s since sold 3 million more albums than Puff Daddy‘s Forever. Dropping Born Again, then, seems exploitative.
After Jimi Hendrix’s Curse of 27 death (think Morrison, Joplin, Basquiat, Cobain . . .), postmortem albums such as War Heroes and Rainbow Bridge at least featured unearthed compositions and fretwork from a guitar god who revolutionized rock. Biggie Smalls was not as workaholic-prolific as Hendrix, or even Tupac Shakur. The B.I.G. lyrics that do remain are therefore placed sparingly all over Born Again, a tactic masked by guest appearances from Mobb Deep, Eminem, Ice Cube and over a dozen others. By the end, producers resort to alternate vocal tracks to provide Big‘s presence on “new” songs: “Tonight” was formerly “Long Kiss Goodnight,” from 1997’s Life After Death; “I Really Want To Show You” was once “Everyday Struggle” from Big‘s debut, Ready To Die.
Even Biggie’s former lady in waiting, the ever-spellbinding Lil‘ Kim, has voiced regret over Born Again, telling MTV News that Big’s rhymes would‘ve been on another level in 1999 and that she couldn’t stand 100 percent behind its release. (I was there at the record-release event when she said it, though her account has mysteriously disappeared from MTV‘s online archives. Hmmm . . .) F’r instance, Big missed the Southern hip-hop explosion of No Limit soldiers and Cash Money millionaires. Chances are he would‘ve flipped his flow to conform to the particular back-that-ass-up boogie of “Hope You Niggas Sleep” with the Hot Boys, just like he did with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on 1997’s “Notorious Thugs.” Instead, his characteristically clever lines (“When the burner catch a bodyI got styles like karateJujitsu, when I hit youThen I split you”) are cut and pasted by Cash Money producer Manny Fresh from an original backing track of Easy Mo Bee‘s.
All of this makes a listener want to answer Puffy’s “He won‘t stop ’cause he can‘t stop” mantra with the observation that Big won’t stop ‘cause Puff won’t let him. Nevertheless, with precedents from Hendrix‘s War Heroes to 2Pac’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Born Again was inevitable. With the Notorious B.I.G. swiftly being deified as The Greatest MC Who Ever Lived (perhaps deservedly — “Could it be my hardcore metaphorMakes sweat pour on the bedroom floor”?!), who won‘t want to hear him rhyme one mo’ ‘gain?
The rest of the complaints seem too obvious to get into. You’ll be saddened by the loss of an MC who would‘ve become legendary without the legacy of an untimely death, naturally. You will beam a bittersweet, million-watt smile at effortlessly witty couplets like “My rappin’ tactics are drasticStretch ya motherfuckers like Mr. Fantastic” (from one of the best Born Again tracks, “Let Me Get Down”). Or, “Actor needs chiropractorFor cracked jaw” (from “Dangerous MC‘s”). Or “You can’t touch my richesEven if you had MC Hammer and them 357 bitches” (from “Come On”). By the end, you too will conclude that Biggie would‘ve released an album much superior to this, had he lived.
Thus, from Grandmaster Caz to the Notorious B.I.G., there were 14 generations in all. The Notorious B.I.G. was the father of Jay-Z, Jay-Z the father of Canibus, Canibus the father of . . .