Editor’s note: In this recurring column, music writer Chris Duncan suggests two albums to listen to this week. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @chr_dunc, and your pick might appear in next week’s Two Albums To Listen To.
Life After Death — The Notorious B.I.G.
Originally scheduled for a Halloween release in 1996, Biggie Smalls’ highly anticipated sophomore album Life After Death was delayed until March 1997 for further production.
As ambitious as it is expansive, there’s never a dull moment on this double LP. Life After Death’s hits, including “Mo Money Mo Problems” and “Hypnotize,” feature heavy pop influences from Puff Daddy. There was still material for fans of Biggie’s street tales, but Combs’ production guides this album.
Biggie’s lyrics show that he doesn’t believe in his supposed competition with Tupac Shakur. During “Notorious Thugs,” on which Biggie calls the “so-called beef with you-know-who” “bullshit.” Yet, on other tracks, Biggie doesn’t ignore the feud. In “Long Kiss Goodnight,” Biggie actually finds himself on the offensive when he mentions rumors that Shakur was raped four times during his prison term at Riker’s Island.
His sophomore release would go on to become Diamond-certified, meaning the album sold more than 10 million copies. Unfortunately, The Notorious B.I.G. would never see the immense success of Life After Death — he was shot four times in a drive-by shooting while in Los Angeles a couple of weeks before the album’s release.
Tracks to listen to: “Hypnotize,” “Notorious Thugs,” “You’re Nobody (‘Til Someone Kills You)”
All Eyez On Me – 2Pac
After charges of sexual abuse, Tupac Shakur found himself broke and in jail, unable to post bail. Desperate to get out, the rapper struck an agreement between Death Row Records’ Suge Knight. In exchange for posting Shakur’s $1.4 million bail, Shakur agreed to make three albums under Knight’s label. All Eyez on Me, released in February of 1996, serves as the first two of those three albums.
Instead of taking the same political approach that dominated his previous releases, 2Pacalypse Now and Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., Shakur opted for an unbridled and unapologetic celebration of his thug life, rarely reminiscing about the past. Focusing on the future of his reign as king of West coast hip hop, Shakur creates some of the most honest, yet deranged dreams a human could imagine.
This volatile yet compelling version of Shakur is supported by his plethora of guest features, including verses from Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, George Clinton and more. By this point in his career, Shakur’s music had stopped his repeated attack on The Notorious B.I.G. Instead, adopting a care-free attitude, Shakur sounds positive he’s already won the war.
Shakur’s success didn’t prevent him from making more mistakes. His role in the assault of a member of the Compton Crips in Las Vegas supposedly provoked a shooting just a few hours later that resulted in Shakur’s death.
Tracks to listen to: “How Do U Want It,” “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” “Life Goes On”