Every time I turn around, a nigga getting took out
Shit, my Momma got cancer in her breast
Don't ask me why I'm motherfuckin' stressed
Things done changed...
The album is in part a semi-autobiographical (and exaggerated) account of Biggie's younger days as a criminal, and consists of mostly hardcore gangsta rap, with a few light party jams (the most popular being the first single "Juicy", although the second single, "Big Poppa", is no slouch either).
It went on to become one of the biggest-selling hip-hop albums of all time, as well as being universally hailed as a classic of the genre - helping revitalize the East Coast hip-hop scene commercially in the face of the West Coast's dominance in the early 90s. Three of its songs - "Juicy", "Big Poppa", and "Warning" - went on to become singles, accompanied by music videos.
Sadly, Ready to Die was the only album Biggie saw the release of during his lifetime - he was murdered in Los Angeles just 16 days before the release of his second album, ironically named Life After Death.
In 2020, the album placed at #22 on Rolling Stone's most recent (September 2020) list of the 500 greatest albums of all time - making it the fourth highest-placing hip-hop album on the list (behind To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar at #19, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West at #17, and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy at #15). In 2006, it was listed on Time Magazine's list of the All-Time Top 100 Albums.
XXL Magazine has an in-depth, track-by-track article about the making of Ready to Die, available right here.
- "Intro" (3:24)
- "Things Done Changed" (3:58)
- "Gimme the Loot" (4:46)
- "Machine Gun Funk" (4:16)
- "Warning" (3:40)
- "Ready to Die" (4:25)
- "One More Chance" (4:43)
- "Fuck Me (Interlude)" (1:31)
- "The What" (3:57)
- "Juicy" (5:03)
- "Everyday Struggles" (5:19)
- "Me & My Bitch" (4:00)
- "Big Poppa" (4:13)
- "Respect" (5:21)
- "Friend of Mine" (3:28)
- "Unbelievable" (3:44)
- "Suicidal Thoughts" (2:50)
- "Who Shot Ya?" (5:19)*
- "Just Playing (Dreams)" (2:43)*
(The tracks marked with an asterisk were included on "The Remaster" re-issue of the album.)
"I love it when you call me Big Tro-pa! Throw your hands in the air, if you's a true playa..."
- Album Title Drop: Shockingly enough, "Ready to Die".
- Anti-Love Song: "Me & My Bitch".
- Bank Robbery: "Gimme the Loot" is about two criminals (both rapped by Biggie) sticking up a bank.
- Black Comedy: Most of the humor on the album is this. The shining example is probably "Gimme the Loot"; you can't help but laugh at a lot of Biggie's lines just because they're so mean. "I wouldn't give a fuck if you're pregnant / gimme the baby rings, and the #1 Mom pendant!"
- Although infamous due to preceding the 9/11 attacks, the line "...blow up like the world trade" from "Juicy", which referred to the 1993 bombings, was still a pretty morbid joke at the time, given that it killed eight people and injured over a thousand.
- Bolivian Army Ending: "Gimme the Loot" ends with Biggie and his accomplice getting cornered by the cops and engaging them in a shootout. We don't find out who won; a sample of Ice Cube saying "Take that, muthafuckas!" is heard, but that could be from either party.
- Bookends: The album starts and ends with life and death: the intro begins with a childbirth scene, and the closing track "Suicidal Thoughts" ends with Biggie committing suicide.
- Disappeared Dad: Referenced in "The What", where Biggie complains that, "Pop Duke left mom Duke. The faggot took the back way."
- Donut Mess with a Cop: In "Gimme the Loot", after robbing the bank, stealing a getaway car and robbing the couple inside, the younger robber freaks out when he sees the cops nearby, but the older one just says "Be cool, fool / they ain't gonna roll up, all they want is fuckin' donuts." He underestimated them.
- Downer Ending:
- "Me & My Bitch" ends with Biggie getting a distress page from his titular girlfriend. He goes to her, but it's too late - she's been shot dead.
- The whole album ends with "Suicidal Thoughts", which finds Biggie contemplating and finally committing suicide. It's softened a bit on the Remaster version, which ends the album with the bonus tracks "Who Shot Ya?" and "Just Playing (Dreams)", but "Suicidal Thoughts" is still the true ending.
- Driven to Suicide: "Suicidal Thoughts".
- Gangsta Rap: A mix of Blue Collar, Commercial and Hardcore, with a pinch of Mafioso (the Mafioso influence would become greater on his second album).
- Manly Tears: Biggie starts crying when he finds out his girlfriend's been murdered at the end of "Me & My Bitch".
- Non-Appearing Title: "Juicy". The title makes sense when you realize that it samples "Juicy Fruit" by Mtume, but the word doesn't appear anywhere in the song.
- One-Word Title: "Warning", "Juicy", "Respect" and "Unbelievable".
- Rags to Riches: "Juicy" is all about this.
- Record Producer: Bad Boy labelhead and Biggie's best bud Puffy serves as executive producer. Easy Mo Bee handled the majority of the production, but there are also beats by DJ Premier, Lord Finesse, the Trackmasters, Darnell Scott, Chucky Thompson and the Bluez Brothers (no, not these guys).
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The two bank robbers in "Gimme the Loot" (both played by Biggie). The younger one is the hotheaded, skittish Red, while the older one is the cooler, more confident Blue.
- Sampling: All over the album, of course, but to name just the most notable cases...
- The album intro, which is a summary of Biggie's life up until the recording of the album, uses samples to mark the notable time periods of not just his life, but of hip-hop: He's born to Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" in the '70s, gets in trouble as a kid in '79/the early '80s to the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" (marking the birth of hip-hop), commits robbery as a teenager in the '80s to Audio Two's "Top Billin'" (marking the Golden Age of hip-hop), and is released from prison in the early '90s to Snoop Dogg's "Tha Shiznit" (marking the rise of West Coast hip hop in the early '90s).
- "Gimme the Loot", "Machine Gun Funk" and "Ready to Die" became the source of some legal trouble in 2006 over their samples of "Singing in the Morning" by the Ohio Players (both "Gimme the Loot" and "Ready to Die") and "Up for the Down Stroke" by the Horny Horns ("Machine Gun Funk"). The samples were removed on all further pressings. note
- "Warning" samples "Walk On By" by Isaac Hayes.
- The hook of "One More Chance" is based on The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" ("Oh Biggie, give me one more chance...")
- "Juicy" samples (and is named for) "Juicy Fruit" by Mtume.
- "Everyday Struggle" samples "Either Way" by Dave Grusin.
- "Big Poppa" samples "Between the Sheets" by The Isley Brothers.
- From "Me & My Bitch" - "You look so good, huh, I suck on your daddy's dick."
- Special Guest: Method Man joins Biggie on "The What".
- Take That!:
- "Unbelievable" contains a jab at old-school polka-dot wearing rapper Kwame in the line "Your life is played out like Kwame and them fuckin' polka dots".
- Most infamously, however, "Who Shot Ya?" (initially released as a B-side on the "Big Poppa" single) was interpreted by 2Pac as a diss aimed at him mocking his '94 shooting (as well as proof that Biggie had orchestrated it). That's unlikely (Lil' Cease stated that Biggie recorded the song months before the shooting), and the song doesn't explicitly mention 2Pac (or anyone in particular, for that matter), but Biggie did perform the song live a lot during their beef, which Pac found very insensitive.
- Title Track: "Ready to Die".
- Updated Re-release: In 2004, The Remaster was released. In addition to being a remastered version of the album, it adds "Who Shot Ya?" and "Just Playing (Dreams)" as bonus tracks and includes a DVD containing the music videos.
- Villain Protagonist: Most notably "Gimme the Loot" and "Who Shot Ya?"
- White Void Room: The album cover.