It may have taken the Notorious B.I.G. a few years to follow up his milestone debut, Ready to Die (1994), with another album, but when he did return with Life After Death in 1997, he did so in a huge way. The ambitious album, intended as somewhat of a sequel to Ready to Die, picking up where its predecessor left off, sprawled across the span of two discs, each filled with music, 24 songs in all. You'd expect any album this sprawling to include some lackluster filler. That's not really the case with Life After Death, however. Like 2Pac's All Eyez on Me from a year before, an obvious influence, Biggie's album made extensive use of various producers -- DJ Premier, Easy Mo Bee, Clark Kent, RZA, and more of New York's finest -- resulting in a diverse, eclectic array of songs. Plus, Biggie similarly brought in various guest rappers -- Jay-Z, Lil' Kim, Bone Thugs, Too $hort, L.O.X., Mase -- a few vocalists -- R. Kelly, Angela Winbush, 112 -- and, of course, Puff Daddy, who is much more omnipresent here than on Ready to Die, where he mostly remained on the sidelines. It's perhaps Puffy himself to thank for this album's biggest hits: "Mo Money Mo Problems," "Hypnotize," "Sky's the Limit," three songs that definitely owe much to his pop touch. There's still plenty of the gangsta tales on Life After Death that won Biggie so much admiration on the streets, but it's the pop-laced songs that stand out as highlights. In hindsight, Biggie couldn't have ended his career with a more fitting album than Life After Death. Over the course of only two albums, he achieved every success imaginable, perhaps none greater than this unabashedly over-reaching success. Ready to Die is a milestone album, for sure, but it's nowhere near as extravagant or epic as Life After Death.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: Lil' Kim
feat: R. Kelly