Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Notorious B.I.G.: Life After Death [Bad Boy, 1997]
Biggie's murder made it too easy to romanticize intimations of mortality that don't truck with any Tupac-style martyr complex. Equally devoid of morbidity and joie de vivre, Biggie is far more sardonic, self-deprecating, and tough-minded, "ready to die" in the cast-a-cold-eye sense. Although his moments of warmth for family and comrades seem real enough, he proves one funny son of a bitch on the love-man parody "#!*@ You Tonight," the achingly lyrical slow-falsetto showcase "Playa Hater" ("Open the door/Lay on the floor/You've been robbed"), and the tall tale about being caught in some bitch's crib by her Knick boyfriend ("one of those six-five niggas, I don't know"), done first as a rap and then as a story for his boys. Where Cali hides behind funkamysterioso, Puffy Combs's chart-friendly r&b hooks rub comically against Biggie's unoratorical street style, with its trademark Schoolly D cum Butt-head "huh huh," as the likes of RZA, Bone-Thugs, and Lil' Kim add flavor. In short, way more fun and somewhat more moral than the look-ma-no-hands unaccountability promoted by showbiz outlaws from Mobb Deep to Westside Connection. A