The first time I heard Ready to Die, Puff [Daddy] played it for me. I remember sitting with Puff at Bad Boy on 19th street [in NYC], when he closed the door and played me the cassette. It was much more raw than the final version, but it was still incredible. I remember leaving Puff's office and being blown away. I had a contemporary who was a great friend of mine, Mike Kyser, who was head of promotion at Def Jam at the time. I remember calling him--and he remembers it too--and I go. “I just heard one of the top five albums of all time.” He’s like, “Hip-hop albums?” I’m like, “No, top 5 albums like, ever.” My perception hasn’t changed. I still get excited to listen to it. I can drive somewhere and listen to it—from first cut to last cut—thinking of being on the road with Big and the moments that we had, the private moments, the things he let me in on when he had just recorded the album and things were getting hectic.
We took a road trip to a radio station up in Providence—it was just me and Big in the car, two in the morning going to some radio station, and he’s like, “I can’t front, Puff’s the reason that the album’s so good.” At that time, you didn’t really know. You knew what Puff was about but you didn’t know how technical and how visionary he was. Big was just like, “Man, I went and did my thing, but he helped me connect everything and he made it into a movie.” To hear that, at the time, was like being let it on something people didn’t really know. Big wouldn’t have made something that was accessible without Puff. Puff was the visionary, but they made a great team. Big’s skills were so raw and he had so much talent, but he needed Puff next to him to give him the lanes to go down. Once he went down them, he just crushed it.
"I still get excited to listen to it. I can drive somewhere and listen to it—from first cut to last cut—thinking of being on the road with Big."
First "Juicy" came out, then "Unbelievable" and "Big Poppa," but when "One More Chance" hit, that was a moment in hip-hop. They had just changed the way the Hot 100 Charts reported to include single sales. The next week, "One More Chance" by Big debuted at No. 5 and tied Michael Jackson for the highest debut ever. It was the remix that Puff and Big did that killed it, though. They made it accessible to radio. I remember that moment, and then I remember taking him up to Hot 97 for the first time when we got back from the road trip. It was like Michael Jordan in the NBA finals; It was that kind of hysteria over this guy. It wasn’t like that a few months earlier. He was cool and he had so much respect, but now he was becoming the pride of Brooklyn and the pride of New York. Everyone was like, wow, this guy is a superstar.
Ready to Die is just pure skill and brilliance. What Biggie brings to it is so much; The samples have something to do with it, but the bigger part was that people discovered how talented this guy was. He was doing poetry. I remember reading about a poet laureate saying that what Big was doing on records takes poets years to master—the cadence of delivery and different syllables and rhymes within rhymes within a rhyme within a sentence. He was doing things by accident, or on purpose, that came so easy to him. I think that really captured people’s imagination. Every time you listen to the record you can hear something different that he did lyrically or stylistically that stands out that you didn’t catch. The album’s been out for 20 years and I’ve probably listened to it a few thousand times, or maybe a hundred thousand times. You listen to it until you know it by heart, but then I discover the little nuances that get me so excited. On "Gimme the Loot," where he’s going back and forth in different voices and rhyming to himself like it’s storytelling—it’s like a visual movie. 20 years later, you can listen to the album and find something new that you love.
Read the stories from our Notorious BIG Icon Issue: