Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, the second full-length studio album of his career, and one that he never even got to see exist in the world because he was slain two weeks prior to its release.
Quick aside: How many albums does somebody need to release before they can rightfully enter into the Greatest Rappers Of All-Time discussion? Biggie has only two proper studio albums to his credit, and he is definitely in that conversation. Is that the baseline? Is it a minimum of two? Or can you get away with having only one? What if Nas had released only Illmatic and nothing else afterward? Would he still be included? I don’t see how you’d be able to keep him out, but I also don’t see how you’d be able to get him in. It’s a tricky situation. At any rate …
Over Life After Death’s 24 songs, Biggie, same as he’d done on his debut album, showed himself to be a profoundly gifted songwriter and mood-setter. It was a somber but lively but terrifying but occasionally funny piece of work, which is a combination of things only a handful of rappers have ever been able to pull off at the same time. What’s more, in addition to accidentally proving himself sadly prophetic, he was also wildly insightful. The project was (and is) stuffed fat with wisdom and cultural understanding. Truly, the only thing you need (or anyone needs) to live a strong and happy and fulfilling life is tucked within the songs. These are the 27 most important, useful, informative, transformative pieces of advice:
1. Never forget where you came from.
“I’m a criminal way before the rap shit.” — Biggie, “Somebody’s Gotta Die”
2. Always keep score.
“If I go, you got to go.” — Biggie, “Somebody’s Gotta Die”
This is one of those eye-for-an-eye situations. Biggie’s rapping about how if he dies, then the person who kills him has to die, too. (I’m assuming it’ll be carried out by proxy. Or else it’s a thing where Biggie’s ghost comes back and kills the killer. That seems way less practical, though.) (Semi-related: Do you remember in that movie Ghost how the ghosts could jump inside of humans and take over their bodies for a minute or so? Like, there was the scene where Patrick Swayze jumped into Whoopi so he could hang out with his wife? Let me just go on and say it right now so that it’s out in the open: If that’s a true thing — if it turns out that ghosts can jump into humans and control their bodies — then when I become a ghost I am absolutely doing that, and I am absolutely going to just control a whole bunch of the bodies of people I don’t like and make them [REDACTED] in front of [REDACTED] and off [REDACTED] and so on. If I go, you got to go.)
3. Just do it.
“Fuck all that plannin’ shit.” — Biggie, “Somebody’s Gotta Die”
Just do the thing that needs to be done. That’s it. That’s all. I’d actually heard somewhere that Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan was originally “Fuck All That Plannin’ Shit,” but I wasn’t able to confirm that.
4. Always talk your shit.
“You got it, nigga, flaunt it.” — Biggie, “Hypnotize”
5. Always have an insurance plan in place.
“At my arraignment, note for the plaintiff: ‘Your daughter’s tied up in a Brooklyn basement.’” — Biggie, “Hypnotize”
This is, in no uncertain terms, one of the most creative legal defenses that I have ever heard of. I wonder what level of law school it is that they teach terror-kidnapping?
6. Own magic pens.
“Girlfriend, here’s a pen. Call me around 10.” — Biggie, “Hypnotize”
This line has always stuck out to me, all the way back to when I heard this album for the very first time in 1997 or maybe 1998 or probably 1999 (San Antonio always was, like, at least two years behind everyone else when it came to these sorts of things). He’s giving her a pen, right? And I would presume that’s so she can write her phone number down, right? But if she’s writing her number down for him, then how is she going to call him? Or is it a thing where he’s like, “Girlfriend, here’s a pen,” and then he gives her the pen and tells her his number so she can write it down for herself? Is that what’s happening? That’s probably what’s happening, right? It’s probably that and not a magic pen that’s also actually a phone, right?
7. Don’t get shot in the head, literally or figuratively.
“Was told in shootouts, [to] stay low and keep firin’.” — Biggie, “Kick in the Door”
This is very good advice. If you are involved in a literal shootout or even a figurative shootout, just stay low and keep firing. That’s how you survive.
8. Set goals for yourself.
“Went from 10 G’s for blow to 30 G’s a show to orgies with hoes I never seen before.” — Biggie, “Kick in the Door”
When plotting the advancement of your career, it’s important that you set smaller goals for yourself that you can check off along the way toward your larger goal. It helps you stay motivated, and it’s also very invigorating when you get to cross something off. I remember when I first decided I was going to be a freelance writer, I set this goal for myself to make $500 a month freelancing. Ultimately, that wasn’t going to be nearly enough to pay the bills my wife and I had hitting us every month, but I knew I wasn’t going to jump out of the gate and make $3,000 or $4,000 a month or whatever, so that’s why I set the goal at $500 a month. After about a year, I was finally able to do it comfortably, so then I moved it to $1,000 a month and chased that number down. Then $1,500, then $2,000, and so on. It made things much less intimidating for me when I approached it that way. I imagine it was the same way with Biggie. He was probably there early on, a lowly corner boy, like, “Damn, I just really wanna have orgies with hoes I never seen before,” but then he realized he had to get there first, so he started chasing down trying to make 10 G’s for blow first, then 30 G’s for a show second. It’s all about pacing, really. Even with respect to orgies.
9. Be respectful of whether or not the person you want to sleep with actually wants to sleep with you.
“If it’s alright with you, we fuckin’.” — Biggie, “Fuck You Tonight”
It’s a very simple flow chart:
Is it alright with you if we have sex? → Yes → Great. Let’s have sex.
Is it alright with you if we have sex? → No → OK. Well, thanks anyway.
10. If someone disrespects you, act with extreme prejudice.
“Disrespect, I shoot ya.” — Biggie, “Last Day”
Recently, I walked into a public restroom. It was a small restroom — there were four urinals and one stall — and the place was busy, so each of the spots was occupied. I was the only extra person there, so I just stood by and waited for someone to finish. Because they were taking longer than one second, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. As I was staring at it — this was, say, 10 or 12 seconds later — I saw out of the corner of my eyes that one of the guys was finishing up at a urinal. I was beginning to put my phone back into my pocket just as the guy was stepping away, and at that precise, exact moment, another guy came walking into the restroom. He walked right past me and to the now-empty urinal. I was flabbergasted.
I said, “Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo. What are you doing?” I was, in that tiny instant, filled with rage. He said, “I’m busting at the seams, man,” and when he said it, I noticed he had a very thick Irish accent. It kind of paused me a bit because I’ve been watching a lot of Sons of Anarchy lately, and just like two episodes ago I had seen an Irish guy cut the arms and legs off a person just to make a point (it happens just after that video embedded above this section). I said, “There’s a line, dude,” and he said, “Sorry. I didn’t even notice. I thought you were just standing there.” I said — and by now I’m being very loud and very stupid — I said, “You thought I was fucking just hanging out in a restroom?” By this point, another urinal had already opened up and so I was free to pee, but it wasn’t about that anymore. He said, “I said I was sorry,” and he said it in a frustrated tone, so when he said that I was like, You know what? Fuck it. America is going to war with Ireland in this goddamn restroom today, and I put my hand on his shoulder because I was going to aggressively turn him toward me so we could be face to face. It was right then, though, with my hand on his shoulder, that I realized he was still peeing, and so if I spun him toward me then it was just gonna be me and him, face to face, me very mad and him with his penis out, just standing there in the restroom.
I said, “Man, you know what? Fuck you, dude,” and then I walked over to the empty urinal, and that was that.
In fairness to him, I will admit that, in the I Have To Go To The Bathroom Very Badly–type situation he appeared to be in, it probably did look like I was just standing by the sinks looking at my phone and not waiting to go to the restroom. And also, in fairness to him, he did apologize. But still, I definitely felt like I’d been disrespected, and I also definitely felt like I didn’t do enough in return (what with the whole being hamstrung by him still doing his business). That shit ruined my whole next hour, really.
I should’ve taken Biggie’s advice here.
11. Sometimes, just shut up.
“Look what that slick shit bought ya: A first-class ticket to Lucifer.” — Biggie, “What’s Beef”
Regarding the story above, I suppose I am, at the very least, thankful that that Irishman didn’t give me a first-class ticket to Lucifer, i.e., the devil, i.e., I am dead because the Irishman murdered me, i.e., my sons would have to tell people that I was killed in a public restroom, i.e., not the ideal way to die.
12. Aim big.
“Can’t stop till I see my name on a blimp.” — Mase, “Mo Money, Mo Problems”
A blimp would be maybe the sixth or seventh thing down on my list of things I’d like to see my name on, but that’s really just personal preference. My list goes:
- The back of an NBA jersey. (Because I play in the NBA, not because I got one of those customized jerseys you can buy at NBA.com.)
- On the side of an airplane.
- On the side of a submarine.
- Tattooed on the Rock’s neck.
- On a very tall office building in a major metropolitan area.
- The back of an NBA jersey. (Because I got one of those customized jerseys you can buy at NBA.com because, if I’m being honest, it’s still pretty exhilarating to see it when it shows up at your house.)
13. Stay flexible.
“They shady? We get shady. Dress up like ladies and burn them with dirty .380s.” — Biggie, “Niggas Bleed”
14. You don’t have to be afraid of anybody because everybody is just like you.
“Picture me being scared of a nigga that breathe the same air as me.” — Biggie, “Niggas Bleed”
I disagree a lot with this one. You know who breathes air like I do? Literally everyone in the UFC. And I’m not trying to see any of those people.
15. Have a smart plan if you’re sleeping with a professional basketball player’s significant other and he comes home early from his game.
“[THE WHOLE SONG]” — Biggie, “I Got a Story to Tell”
In “I Got a Story to Tell,” Biggie talks about the time he was sleeping with a woman in a relationship with a player from the New York Knicks. There are many tinier life lessons to learn in the song (“She came twice, I came last” = be considerate and thorough during intercourse; “My 112, CD blast” = listen to R&B while you have sex; etc.), but the main lesson happens over the entire second half of the song, because that’s when Biggie talks about how the Knick came home just as he and his girl had finished having sex.
Originally, Biggie was just going to shoot the guy, which, I mean, just as a general note: “shoot the guy” should always be somewhere near the end of the list of your plans for escaping a desperate situation. Instead, he and the woman hatch a plan to tie her up and gag her and make it look like he was in her room robbing her. The Knicks player walks in, sees a masked-up Biggie, sees the girl tied and gagged, and immediately just starts giving Biggie money from a hidden bedroom safe so he won’t kill them.
Now, there are for sure some big question marks there. For example, early on in the situation, the woman shouts to the player as he walks up the stairs for him to bring her something to drink to buy some time. He turns around, goes back downstairs, gets the drink, then heads back toward the room. That’s when Biggie comes up with the robbery idea. If she did, that, though, then how does she explain suddenly being gagged when the Knicks player arrives with the drink? Also, when Biggie figures out that he’s going to stage the fake robbery, he tells the woman to give him a scarf (to cover his face), a pillowcase (to gag her), and some rope (to tie her up). The problem here is the rope, because how many people just happen to have a couple of feet of rope lying around their bedroom, you know what I’m saying?
But still, the point remains: If you’re going to sleep with a professional basketball player’s significant other in the player’s home, make sure to have a proper exit strategy.
16. There are always only ever two options.
“What you gonna do: fight or run?” — Biggie, “Notorious Thugs”
17. You don’t have to stay within the outmoded and unhealthy borders of toxic masculinity just because you are a man, street tough or otherwise.
“I’m a thug, but I swear for three days I cried.” — Biggie, “Miss You”
That’s Biggie talking about how he tried to help one of his friends get out of the drug game but the friend ended up getting killed anyway.
18. Don’t trust banks.
“I hid dough under the bathroom tile.” — Biggie, “Another”
This one makes me smile because I like to picture Biggie, a millionaire, in a room with other wealthy people, and so they’re all talking about investments and Roth IRAs(?) and so on, and someone says something like, “I’ve always made sure to advise people to allocate between Vanguard Total Stock Market Index and Vanguard Total Bond Market Index according to their age and risk tolerance,” and then that person turns to Biggie and asks him what financial advice he gives people, and he takes a drink from a glass of champagne and goes, “Oh. I just tell them to hide their money under the bathroom tile.”
19. Know your value.
“Ain’t no pussy warm as mine.” — Lil’ Kim, “Another”
Are your genitals warmer and more appealing than all other genitals? Then recognize that. And demand that others recognize it, and respect it.
20. Always hold grudges.
“All I got is beef with those that violate me.” — Biggie, “Going Back to Cali”
21. [TEN DIFFERENT THINGS, really]
[THE WHOLE SONG] — Biggie, “Ten Crack Commandments”
These are the 10 crack commandments, per Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls:
- Never let anyone know how much money you have.
- Never let ’em know your next move.
- Never trust anybody.
- Never get high on your own supply.
- Never sell crack where you sleep.
- Never give anyone a line of credit.
- Never mix your family and your work.
- Never carry crack on you.
- Never talk to the police.
- Be wary of building business relationships via a consignment model.
That seems like pretty sound advice beyond just the crack game, truly.
22. Always have an open mind.
[THE INTRO] — Biggie, “Nasty Boy”
In the beginning of “Nasty Boy,” Biggie is telling a story to a friend about the time he met a very attractive woman and was going to sleep with her and she asked him to poop on her stomach. That’s not a metaphor or an analogy or anything like that. She literally wanted him to literally poop on her literal stomach. He goes through this whole thing about how weird and gross and how terrible of a request it was and how he wasn’t going to be able to have sex with her afterward if he ever actually did what she was asking. It sounds a whole, whole bunch like he declined, but then he ends by saying that he did it, and in a very casual and everyday voice, ends with, “The bitch, ya know, washed that shit off or whatever.” It ended up being no big deal. Always have an open mind.
23. Fake it until you make it.
“While niggas flirt, I’m sewing tigers on my shirt, and alligators.” — Biggie, “Sky’s the Limit”
24. Sometimes, your words need to not be the thing doing the talking for you.
“I ain’t gotta talk because I live it.” — Puff, “The World Is Filled …”
25. Jealousy is not an attribute of the strong.
“If you a jealous motherfucker, you just a weak motherfucker.” — Puff, “My Downfall”
I remember hearing Puffy say this line, and I also remember saying to myself immediately after, “Well, Shea, it would appear that you are just a weak motherfucker.” I am, and always have been, and likely always will be, incredibly jealous of everyone and everything. Sometimes a good thing will happen to someone who is supposed to be my friend and I will say to that person, “Oh, man. That’s so great. Congratulations.” In my head, though, I will silently hate them and hope that everything turns to ash for them for the next five years.
26. There are only so many people you can support before it becomes more taxing than it’s worth.
“Too many niggas on my dick, shit’s strenuous.” — Biggie, “Long Kiss Goodnight”
27. Dying early will establish your legacy.
“You’re nobody till somebody kills you.” — Biggie, “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)”
- Biggie’s first album was called Ready to Die.
- Ready to Die rolls toward its conclusion with a song about him killing himself while talking to Puff Daddy.
- Biggie called his second album Life After Death, and then he was killed before it even came out, making it truly a version of life after death.
- Life After Death ends with a song called “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You).” On it, he refers to himself as rap’s version of Nicky from Casino. Nicky gets killed at the end of Casino.
- On Life After Death, there’s a song called “Going Back to Cali.” It’s preceded by a phone call between Puff and Biggie. Puff tells Biggie they’re going to Los Angeles. Biggie does not sound particularly enthused.
- Biggie was killed in Los Angeles.
- The song that was playing on the car stereo when he was gunned down was “Going Back to Cali.”
This whole shit is just crazy to me.