The Notorious BIG

ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS: Life After Death Bad Boy/ Arista 78612-73011- 2
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The Independent Culture
Detectives investigating the murder of Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious BIG) needn't bother searching here for clues to the portly rapper's demise. I mean, where would they start? That title, maybe - a hopeful corollary of his unflinching debut Ready To Die? The hearse on the cover with the number-plate that reads "BIG"? Or perhaps the closing track of this seemingly endless double-album, "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)"? Talk about tempting fate - Biggie couldn't have begged more for a bullet if he'd gone and painted a gigantic bullseye on his considerable chest. Still, at least he is now, by his own definition, somebody, albeit with the accent firmly on the latter syllable.

Parallels have already been drawn between the fates of Biggie and his sworn enemy, Tupac Shakur: both celebrated lives of delinquent hedonism, both released double-albums, and both got shot dead. The two deaths are probably unconnected, apart from the violent milieu they shared, but the one positive side-effect is likely to be that we won't have to plough through any more rap double-albums, given the 100 per cent mortality rate now associated with them. Which is something of a mercy, if Life After Death is anything to go by. Presumably inspired by a desire to equal his rival's excess, the BIG has over-reached himself badly here with a more than usually repetitive litany of prehistoric attitudinising, accurately signalled through titles such as "I Love the Dough", "Somebody's Gotta Die" and "#!*@ You Tonight", the closest the silver-tongued smoothie gets to romance.

There's little of the panache that the likes of Ice-T, Ice Cube, Snoop and the various Wu-Tang Clansmen manage to bring to their crime rhymes. Biggie's approach, like his thick, clotted vocal style, is blunt and to the point, dealing out threats, explanations and advice in the same flat, dulled inflection. And what advice: drawing on his substantial personal experience, "Ten Crack Commandments" is a cynical run-down of rules for effective drug-dealing - don't give credit, don't get high on your own supply, don't even trust your own mom, etc. But why bother at all if, as he claims in "What's Beef?", it brings the kind of paranoia that renders sleep impossible unless you've got at least two guns to hand. How smart is that?