January 12, 2006

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The Notorious B.I.G. Duets, The Final Chapter
Bad Boy Records, 2005
C

When listening to Notorious B.I.G.’s latest release, Duets, The Final Chapter, the movie Cocktail comes to mind.

“Bury the dead, they stink up the joint,” wrote Doug Coughlin in his suicide letter to Tom Cruise.

Perhaps if we hadn’t heard far too many posthumously produced Tupac Shakur albums in the past decade we wouldn’t sigh at the release of Duets.

Truth be told, there are great songs on this album. “Living the life,” featuring Snoop Dogg, comes to mind.

But, like “Living the Life,” many of these songs barely include the slain rapper, except for the occasional “uhh” or “what.” And all too many times, when Biggie does rap, all we hear is the same lyrics we heard from his Life After Death double album or his Ready to Die debut, sampled over different beats. “Spit Your Game” is a great example of this. It features Bone Thugs n Harmony. If you remember, Bone Thugs n Harmony and Biggie collaborated on Life After Death’s “Notorious Thugs,” a rhythmic hip-hop song with one of Biggie’s best raps. “Spit your game, talk your shi-t, grab your gat, call your click, squeeze your clip, hit the right one. Pass that weed, I gotsa light one.”

This album differs from Tupac’s many posthumously released albums in that Duets is labeled as the final chapter. Between songs, Biggie’s son, daughter and mother talk about their lost family member. But these spoken-word interludes confirm that this is nothing more than a tribute album.

Duets, like Tupac’s post-death releases, is filled with too many samples and too many remixes.

B.I.G. just did not have enough material left in a secret vault to create fresh tracks. This leaves Duets sounding like a chaotic compilation disc, with a subtle guest appearance by Biggie.

This album is nothing compared to what Biggie did when he was alive. Life After Death was like Michael Jordan’s jump shot to win the NBA finals the first time Jordan retired. Duets is Jordan dropping a fly ball in a Chicago White Sox uniform. It’s Michael Jordan, so we’ll watch, but it isn’t good.

This is Biggie, so we’ll listen. We’ll like some if it. But let’s be honest. Is this really Biggie who made this album?

Perhaps the most impressive element of Duets is the artists that appear.

When Biggie was alive, would you have imagined Snoop Dogg and Puff Daddy (excuse me, Diddy) on the same album? They’re not on the same track, but it’s obvious that hip-hop has come a long way in the 10 years since Biggie and Tupac died.

Those two giants were instrumental in keeping hip-hop alive, and evolving it to a different level.

Since then, folks like Eminem have come along. Most recently, Kanye West has put on the superhero hip-hop cape.

A decade after Tupac and Biggie’s demise, it’s time for hip-hop fans to let dead people rest. If you want to hear a Biggie tune, break out Ready to Die. The same goes for Tupac. It’s time to evolve from the past. Biggie was huge, in more ways than one.

But let’s just hope this really is the final chapter.

— Richie Victorino