Ready To Die Turns 20

September 13, 2014 6:30 PM

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Word around the campfire is that Biggie Smalls, when he was recording Ready To Die, wanted to record a track with DJ Premier and M.O.P. and Jeru The Damaja. Can you even imagine what that would sound like? How fucking incredible that would’ve been? There are precious few Biggie/Premier collabs, but every last one of them is a solid-gold classic. Premier’s creative peak coincided exactly with Biggie’s all-too-brief career. And Biggie could do no wrong during those Ready To Die sessions. Imagine if he was on a track with three guys who knew that Premier sound inside and out. Biggie could be as raw and rugged as M.O.P., and he could be as intense and cerebral as Jeru. If he’d been on a track with those guys together, he would’ve had to be both at the same time, and he could’ve done it. But Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs vetoed the plan. And here’s what kills me: Puffy was right. He wanted Ready To Die to have a slick, populist sense of focus to it, and that’s exactly what it had. As much as I want to hear that hypothetical collab — and I would punch a puppy in the eye to hear it — it’s honestly better that the song never had a chance to exist. Ready To Die is, for my money, the best rap album ever made. It is as close to full-length perfection as rap music has ever come. I have a hard time believing that any extra song, even that song, could make it better. Best to leave Ready To Die alone, to let it be great.

There are a few non-Biggie voices on Ready To Die. There are those shards of older rap classics on the intro track, those sampled swirls of old soul songs. There are those breathy Puffy interjections. There’s reggae singer Diana King growling all over “Respect.” But there is only one guest-rapper on...

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