Eight years after the death of Biggie Smalls, his memory still lives through his music as Diddy releases his final official album – Duets: The Final Chapter. While crowned the king of New York and even the best rapper to grace the airwaves, sales of BIG have panned in comparison to his sophomore release Life After Death which sold 10 million copies in the wake of his death. So, after the flop of Born Again, can Frank White redeem his crown?
At first glance, Duets seemed to be just another drop in the bucket for Biggie’s estate, but after a careful listen it becomes apparent that it is far ahead of those albums which merely pick up un-released songs from the floor that were never worthy of a cut the first time around. Instead, Duets is a well-crafted selection of Biggie’s released lyrics put alongside his biggest fans. The standouts, no matter what your preference, include “Living In Pain” featuring Mary J. Blige, Tupac and Nas. While Big and Pac were emerged in war of the words while alive, on wax the two collaborate nicely. Technology is amazing. “Beef” featuring Mobb Deep, one of G-unit’s latest conquests, brings a nasty track to an already cold album. In light of the albums core purpose, “Beef” is appropriate in a time when drama is glamorized: “What's beef? Beef is when you need two gats to go to sleep/ Beef is when your moms ain't safe up in the streets.” “Whatchu Want” gives heads one last hoorah as Jay-Z teams up with Brooklyn’s finest.
Other notable joints include the ladies-choice - “Nasty”- featuring Jagged Edge, Nelly, Diddy and Avery Storm. Yes, it’s one of the more commercial tracks, but it’s catchy. Sue me. The remix of the introspective “Respect” in the form of “1970 Somethin’” proves to be a gem despite the uneventful contributions of The Game and Faith. Equally appealing is the pimped-out sound of “Living the Life” featuring Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Faith, Cheri Dennis and Bobby Valentino and Swizz Beatz’ “Spit Your Game” which finds Twista and Big in a zone of tongue tying lyrics.
Beyond the music, what truly gives the album the personal feel that most posthumous projects ironically lack are the excerpts from his son, daughter, mother and Lil Cease (where was Kim?) sprinkled throughout the album. Perhaps this is Diddy's way of closing the musical vault of Big.
Despite raves, this album is not without less than stellar moments. While I’m not opposed to rock as I’ve been know to listen to a little Nickelback when no one is around, I just didn’t enjoy the Korn track. Besides being painfully out of place, the track was dark and eerie. Skillfully mixed with Big’s morbid lyrics from “If I Die Before I Wake” (“How many shots does it take/ To make my heart stop and my body start to shake”) the reality of his death became uncomfortably real. Following suit, I failed to enjoy “I’m With Whateva” featuring Lil Wayne, Juelz Santana and Jim Jones. As someone who has not fallen prey to the Dipset cult, this track simply fell on deaf ears. More importantly, the track is one of two that lacks Big completely, a puzzling move to say the least given the album title.
Despite the shortcomings, if you’re any sort of Biggie fan or hip-hop head, this is a must have in your collection. What I like most about this album is how the producers really avoided the ease of using new unreleased cuts and created totally new music with dated lyrics and the help of some of Big’s biggest fans.