Run That Back: 25 Years of Notorious B.I.G.'s 'Life After Death'

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s second and final studio album
Notorious B.I.G.
Photo credit Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
By , Audacy

Audacy's Run That Back series is a deep dive into some of music’s most popular or underrated projects. Whether it’s been 5 years or 50, there’s never a wrong time to "run that back."

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It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since the world was first hypnotized by The Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death, Biggie’s second and final studio album, was posthumously released on this day in 1997. With guest features from artists like JAY-Z, Too $hort, Lil’ Kim and Diddy, this album helped solidify Biggie as one of the best rappers in the world and shed light on the amazing Hip Hop music coming out of New York City in the 90s.

While Life After Death continues to be widely celebrated to this day, it initially arrived shrouded in heartbreak. Just 16 days before this project was released, the 24-year-old Brooklyn rapper was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. He had traveled to the West Coast in order to record the music video for the album’s lead single, “Hypnotize,” and promote the upcoming album. The name Life After Death took on a new and literal meaning, keeping Biggie’s music and influence alive and well in popular culture after he was gone.

This iconic album serves as a conceptual sequel to Biggie’s 1994 debut album, Ready to Die. The last song, “Suicidal Thoughts,” on the former project ends with the sounds of a gun shot, insinuating that Biggie had committed suicide. The first song on Life After Death picks up right where “Suicidal Thoughts” drops off, with a friend mourning Biggie’s life, exclaiming, “You got too much livin' to do, Too much unfinished business, It ain't over, Live your life.” The next song “Somebody’s Gotta Die” begins with Biggie waking up from a dream, leaving it up to the listener to decide if he’s alive or communicating from the afterlife.

Ultimately a tragically prophetic project, Life After Death blessed us with some of the most recognized and beloved rap songs in the world. “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems” both reached number one spots on the airwaves with their silky and sultry beats, landing Biggie as the first and only artist in Billboard history to have two posthumous number ones. Other standout hits from the album include “Notorious Thugs,” “Going Back to Cali” and “Sky’s the Limit.” Life After Death went on to sell 10 million copies in the US alone and is currently one of the highest-grossing rap albums of all time.

While the lyrics in Ready to Die largely revolve around Biggie’s experiences as a prosperous drug dealer and up-and-coming rapper in New York, Life After Death tells a more braggadocious tale. Ready to Die was certified double platinum just one year after its release, reeling in over one million album sales for Biggie and his record label, Bad Boy Records. Due to that album’s great success, Biggie began relishing his flourishing lavishness in his music. In “Hypnotize,” he raps, “I can fill you with real millionaire s***, Escargot, my car go one-sixty, swiftly, Wreck it, buy a new one.” Even with his newly found musical success, Biggie maintains his lyrical roots with songs like “The Ten Crack Commandments,” where he lays out his own step-by-step rule book to becoming a successful drug dealer.

At the core of all of Biggie’s discography is a love for his hometown, Brooklyn. Just take one step into New York City and you’ll find murals of the late rapper painted nearly everywhere. A devout New York native, Biggie helped define the sounds of 90s East Coast Hip Hop with his laid-back, beat-riding rhymes and has often been crowned the King of New York.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Life After Death, Biggie’s estate has announced plans to release a limited edition 25th Anniversary Super Deluxe Box Set of the album. The set will include eight vinyl LPs with liner notes from music writer and editor Sheldon Pearce, rare photos from the cover shoot for the album along with special contributions from those who were involved with the release of the album.

Join us today in honoring the Kings’ legendary sophomore album by listening to Audacy's Notorious B.I.G. Radio, and as Biggie once rapped, “Spread love. It’s the Brooklyn way.”

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images