Today we continue going through our week of hip hop songs, ending Black History month with a look at some of the most inspiring and influential hip hop artists of the past few decades.
Last time, we looked at the beginnings of socially-conscious hip hop with Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message”. That one came out in 1982. Today’s song of the day was released twelve years later. We’ll see how style, tone, and production quality changed since then, as well as the effect that the surging popularity of hip hop had.
Without a doubt, Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G, was one of the most influential names in hip hop during the 1990s. His streetwise lyrics, masterful wordplay, and distinctive flow put the East Coast back on the map after Dr. Dre’s West Coast domination. His influence continues to be seen in hip hop to this day.
“Juicy” was Biggie Smalls’ first single, released on his debut album “Ready to Die” in 1994. It contains a sample of Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit”, released in 1982, with an alternative chorus sung by the girl group Total. “Juicy” is considered to be one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
In the song, Biggie tells his rags to riches story, beginning with his early childhood years in poverty. It includes his initial dreams of becoming a rapper, his musical influences, his time doing crime, and his eventual success and and current wealthy lifestyle.
Biggie introduces himself and his debut single with a dedication to those who never believed in him or tried to hold him back.
“Yeah, this album is dedicated
To all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’
To all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of
Called the police on me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughter”
In the first verse, Biggie reflects on his past. He catalogs his early obsession with rap, and names some of his own personal influences.
“It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine
Salt-n-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine
Hangin’ pictures on my wall
Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl”
The second verse sees Biggie comparing his old life of crime with his new life of fame and fortune. He ends it with one of these juxtapositions, followed by words of insightful optimism.
“Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool
Considered a fool ’cause I dropped out of high school
Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood
And it’s still all good”
The third verse ends with Biggie summing up the main theme running through “Juicy” in two lines. “Uh, damn right, I like the life I live / ‘Cause I went from negative to positive”. That simple contrast bleeds into every line of this song, supported by detail, imagery and storytelling.
With February winding down, we’ll have to jump ahead a few more years to cover a more recent example of modern hip hop. I’d wanted to fit one more song in to showcase the early 2000’s, but I missed my post yesterday. So just imagine between now and tomorrow that I covered an early Kanye song.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at a good example of how hip hop has evolved and remain relevant to this day.