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100 Years, 100 Songs: #94. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Big Poppa”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 8, 2007

“Tell your friends / To get with my friends / And we can be friends”

When I first heard back in the spring of ’97 that the Notorious B.I.G. had been killed, I gotta admit, I didn’t really see what the big deal was. I was 10 at the time, and I had just experienced my first celebrity death of magnitude when 2Pac had been murdered about a half year earlier, and while I understood that the two deaths were probably in some way conneccted and that pop stars didn’t exactly get killed every day, I still didn’t quite grasp why so many people seemed to care so much. This is way before I ever heard Ready to Die, way before I understood how significant that album was, or that in fact albums were in fact significant at all in ways besides sales and hit singles. As far as I knew, Biggie was a one, two-hit wonder, tops. The only evidence I had that this guy was really worth mourning was “Big Poppa.”

Choosing between “Big Poppa” and “Juicy” for Christopher Wallace’s spot on this list was a tough one. “Juicy” is unquestionably one of the best debut singles ever released, and has maybe the best first verse in all hip-hop history–tearfully joyous and life-affirming, and more lyrically unforgettable with every successive syllable. But for Biggie it still feels like only the beginning–“Juicy” might’ve been his statement of intent, but “Big Poppa” was his statement of arrival, fully-formed with one of the most compelling and worthy hip-hop personas there had ever been or would ever be (and yeah, I’m aware of all the superlatives I’m toying with here–Biggie was a big dude).

The first, most immediately striking thing about “Big Poppa” is of course that velvet-smooth hook, provided courtesy of the kings of velvet-smooth The Isley Brothers’ 1983 soul hit “Between the Sheets.” You can practically feel the satin in the thick, wobbly bass, the gentle synths and the wah-wah guitars. Meanwhile, it’s matched with that omnipresent high-pitched, whiny synth hook–the kind which every funk-based hip-hop hit in the wake of “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” had to have–and together, they provide the perfect backdrop for the most confident, laid back, and beautifully flowing verses Biggie would ever lay on wax.

The amount of classic lines in this song is ridiculous. Let’s lay down a top five, for the hell of it:

  1. “To all the ladies in the place with style and grace / allow me to lace / these lyrical duches in your bushes”
  2. “I got more Mack than Craig and in the bed / believe me sweety I got enough to feed the needy”
  3. “Conversate for a few / ‘coz in a few we gon’ do / what we came to do, ain’t that right boo? / (‘truuue!‘)”
  4. (‘How ya livin’ Biggie Smalls?‘) In mansions and Benzes / Givin’ ends to my friends and it fields stupendous”
  5. “However livin’ better now / Gucci sweater now / Drop top BM’s / I’M THE MAN GIRLFRIEND!!

And those aren’t even necessarily the five best, they’re just the five most famous, the recepients of shoutouts and references in songs by Lil’ Kim (“The Jump Off“), Terror Squad (“Lean Back”), and even singer/songwriter John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (“The Fall of the High School Running Back“).

And then of course, there’s the instant party of a chorus, which everyone between the ages of 15 and 35 should be able to recite better than the National Anthem. Appealing to all the fellas (“throw your hands in the aii-err, if you’s a true plaayy-err”) and all the ladies (“to the honeyz gettin’ money, play ya niggaz like dummies”), Biggie pleads for a lack of violence (“If you got a gun up in yo waist, please don’t shoot up the place”) in the interest of everyone getting some (“‘coz I see some ladies tonight that should be havin’ my baby, baby“). It’s universal, it’s inspiring, and it’s the best testament to the unifying power of the pursuit of nookie since Rodney Dangerfield yelled “Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!” at the end of Caddyshack.

Yet somehow–somehow–the true highlight of the song belongs to Puff Daddy, or as he was known back then, Sean “Puffy” Combs. As Biggie’s label head, executive producer and best friend, Puffy was entitled to spots pretty much wherever he wanted in Biggie’s songs and videos, and though he gained a rep as an image leech for it (or at least Suge Knight seemed to think so), he’ll always get props from me for fucking brining it home on “Big Poppa.” After Biggie unexpectedly cuts out of this song after his mid-third verse interjection of “I’M THE MAN, GIRLFRIEND!!“–itself essentially a summation of the song’s finer points–Puffy enters with the following monologue:

“Honey, check it / …tell your friends…to get with my friends…and we can be friends / honey, shit, we could do this every weekend! / Aight? / Is that aight wit you? / Yeah…keep bangin’…”

That pretty much says it all, really, and the lasting image of the song for me is of Puffy in the “Poppa” video, lounging with a bunch of hotties in the hot tub, sharing champagne to his final conclusion. The universe of “Big Poppa” is one in which everyone’s friends can in fact get with everyone’s friends–every weekend, for that matter–without matters of conflict or consequence. Considering the real-world events that would take place within just a few years of “Big Poppa” dominating the airwaves and would seem more than a little contradictory to these sentiments, in retrospect “Big Poppa” takes on an almost unnerving feeling of impossible utopia to it. It’s a feeling he returned to with the next album’s “The Sky’s the Limit” (and which was brilliantly exploited by Spike Jonze in the song’s video)

And even without all that stuff–the existence of “Big Poppa” alone would be more than reason enough for his death to have been considered a tragedy.

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6 Responses to “100 Years, 100 Songs: #94. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Big Poppa””

  1. Dana King said

    First: “most confident, laid back, and beautifully flowing verses Biggie would ever lay on wax.” — Bollocks! (and i’m not even gon’ mention how trite this ish’s)

    But more importantly:

    “(’How ya livin’ Biggie Smalls?‘) Imagine the Benzes / Givin’ ends to my friends and it fields stupendous”

    The lyric goes “In mansions and Benzes…”

    Come on! My nana knows the words.

  2. Dana King said

    Furthermore!

    “you got a gun up in yo’ WAIST,
    Please don’t shoot up the place”

    And, this article’s got spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and clunky syntax.

    What the motherfuck, stylus?

  3. jordan said

    i wouldn’t be that harsh about it, but yeah…
    i cosign the lyrical corrections at least.

  4. Dana King said

    I curse, only, with tongue tucked snugly in cheek.

    No hard feelings.

  5. Andrew Unterberger said

    damn, and I always liked the “gun up in yo ace” part

  6. Justin said

    Puffy isn’t so bad. American Gangster? I’d take his beats over many others, when he was fucking murderland.

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