The Notorious B.I.G. was primed for big things with the follow-up to his landmark debut Ready to Die. Over the course of a year, Biggie developed a super-sized double album of rhymes reflecting his life and meteoric rise to success - with plenty of score-settling along the way. Slated for release at the end of 1996, it was pushed back to March 25, 1997, after the rapper was injured in a car accident that shattered his left leg and temporarily left him wheelchair-bound.
Of course, the world knows how the sad story continued: just 16 days before the album's release date, after leaving a party in Los Angeles, the man born Christopher Wallace was killed in a drive-by shooting - only 24 years old. The tragedy of losing such a prodigious talent, of course, meant Life After Death became a memorial to his talent and a sales juggernaut, spending a month atop the Billboard charts and kicking off a year of Bad Boy Records' global dominance, with songs by and about Biggie reaching No. 1 that year.
There's a lot to love about Life After Death, but these five tracks are not to be missed.
"That Brooklyn bullshit, we on it..." Life After Death's lead single, built off a riff from Herb Alpert's chart-topping "Rise," was one of the year's biggest summer jams, brimming with Biggie boasts in that inimitable as only he could spit them.
"Mo Money, Mo Problems"
Biggie doesn't show up until the last verse of the album's second chart-topper, and indeed, it was initially slated to go to either Ma$e or Puff Daddy's upcoming albums. Co-producer Stevie J told XXL about the moment that changed. "Ma$e came to me in the studio one day with this 'I’m Coming Out' sample," he said. "So we laid the track first but nobody knew who was gonna get it. And then when Big came with the “B-I-G P-O-P-P-A!” What!? That was Big’s joint. Everybody felt that."
"I Got a Story to Tell"
Recently given a second look as the title to the new Notorious B.I.G. documentary on Netflix, "I Got a Story to Tell" is an eye-popping anecdote about a real-life encounter with the girlfriend of one of the New York Knicks. (Puff later confirmed the player's identity as the late Anthony Mason.)
"Going Back to Cali"
While tracks like "Long Kiss Goodnight" were believed to be digs at Death Row Records and Tupac Shakur, "Going Back to Cali" was an attempt to smooth over the East Coast-West Coast tension with an ode of sorts to the Golden State. "All I got is beef with those that violate me," he reassures California listeners.
"Ten Crack Commandments"
Biggie's stream-of-conscious delivery and street knowledge made this one of Life After Death's standout tracks. It was reportedly inspired by an article in The Source with a beat created by DJ Premier for a Hot 97 promo Puffy praised while guest hosting a show. "He goes live on the radio like 'yo Premier, if you’re out there, call me,'” the producer said. "I sold it to him and Biggie already had a concept, he wanted to call it 'Ten Crack Commandments.' I took the 'ten' from a spaceship countdown...and Biggie just rapped over it right there."