- The album that reinvented East Coast rap for the gangsta age, Ready to Die made the Notorious B.I.G. a star, and vaulted Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy label into the spotlight as well. Today it's recognized as one of the greatest hardcore rap albums ever recorded, and that's mostly due to Biggie's skill as a storyteller. His raps are easy to understand, but his skills are hardly lacking -- he has a loose, easy flow and a talent for piling multiple rhymes on top of one another in quick succession. He's blessed with a flair for the dramatic, and slips in and out of different contradictory characters with ease. Yet, no matter how much he heightens things for effect, it's always easy to see elements of Biggie in his narrators and of his own experience in the details; everything is firmly rooted in reality, but plays like scenes from a movie. A sense of doom pervades his most involved stories: fierce bandits ("Gimme the Loot"), a hustler's beloved girlfriend ("Me & My Bitch"), and robbers out for Biggie's newfound riches ("Warning") all die in hails of gunfire. The album is also sprinkled with reflections on the soul-draining bleakness of the streets -- "Things Done Changed," "Ready to Die," and "Everyday Struggle" are powerfully affecting in their confusion and despair. Not everything is so dark, though; Combs' production collaborations result in some upbeat, commercial moments, and typically cop from recognizable hits: the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" on the graphic sex rap "One More Chance," Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" on the rags-to-riches chronicle "Juicy," and the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets" on the overweight-lover anthem "Big Poppa." Producer Easy Mo Bee's deliberate beats do get a little samey, but it hardly matters: this is Biggie's show, and by the time "Suicidal Thoughts" closes the album on a heartbreaking note, it's clear why he was so revered even prior to his death. [An 18-track version was released on LP.] ~ Steve Huey
Rolling Stone (5/13/99, p.73) - Included in Rolling Stone's "Essential Recordings of the 90's."
Rolling Stone (12/11/03, p.128) - Ranked #133 in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums Of All Time" - "Almost single-handedly, Biggie shifted the focus back to East Coast rap."
Rolling Stone (11/3/94, p.96) - 4 Stars - Excellent - "...With his prodigious, often booming voice overwhelming the track, he sweeps his verbal camera high and low, painting a sonic picture so vibrant that you're transported right to the scene..."
Spin (9/99, p.132) - Ranked #27 in Spin Magazine's "90 Greatest Albums of the '90s."
Q (12/94, p.153) - 3 Stars - Good - "...the natural rapping, clever use of sound effects and acted dialogue, and concept element (from a baby being born at the start to the fading heartbeat at the end) set this well apart from the average gangsta bragging..."
Uncut (p.128) - 4 stars out of 5 - "A funky, hard-nosed chronicle of a death foretold."
Vibe (12/99, p.162) - Included in Vibe's 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century
Vibe (6/02, p.109) - Ranked #5 in Vibe's "Top 10 rap albums" - "...Fans knew that from this debut that Biggie was indeed a born winner..."
The Source (10/94, p.79) - 4.5 Mics - Slammin' - "...READY TO DIE, the debut from Brooklyn's own Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.), echoes the attitude in full Ghettovision color, showing us that the true `American way' is to hustle for yours..."
Village Voice (2/20/96) - Ranked #38 in Village Voice's 1995 Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll.