"Born Again," the Notorious B.I.G.'s second posthumous album, is pretty much D.O.A. The album is a collection of unreleased tracks and old demos scored with mostly new beats, its rhymes filled out by a cast of dozens that includes Redman, Method Man, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Mobb Deep, Ice Cube, Nas, Lil' Kim and Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs.
Unfortunately, you can feel the latter's clumsy hands all over this project--the album's success is crucial to the bottom line of Bad Boy Records--particularly on "Notorious B.I.G." That overly slick club track samples Duran Duran's 1986 hit, "Notorious," and Puff Daddy's added flow is unimaginative and dull, barely saved by a punchy follow-up verse from Lil' Kim.
What saves the album is Notorious B.I.G.'s booming authority. These may not be his best rhymes, but there's enough of his commanding delivery and impeccable phrasing to cover the obvious shortcomings. That's particularly true on such tracks as "Who Shot Ya" (an underground track dating to 1995), the DJ Premier-produced "Rap Phenomenon" featuring Redman and Method Man, and "If I Should Die Before I Wake," a haunting D-Dot Angelettie track featuring Black Rob, Ice Cube and Beanie Sigel. In this last one, the Notorious B.I.G. admits that "the lesson from the Smith and Wesson is depressin' me/ just keeps stressing some [expletive] questions/ how many shots does it take to make my heart stop?/ to make my body start to shake and watch it die before I wake?"
Notorious B.I.G., whose real name was Christopher Wallace and who once caustically noted that you're nobody until somebody kills you, was gunned down in California in 1997. Combs, never the most subtle of producers, starts the album with a portentous title track featuring Wallace musing about his prospects for the new millennium: "I don't think I'll see it, I don't think my luck is that good."
As on the Notorious B.I.G.'s previous posthumous release, "Life After Death," there's lots of foreshadowing of violence, most notably on the Puff Daddy-Lil' Kim collaboration "Would You Die for Me," "I Really Want to Show You" and "Who Shot Ya," which includes the lines "check out the rumor/ last I heard I was dead with six in the head."
There's also the requisite misogyny with "Big Booty Hoes" (featuring Too $hort) and "Dead Wrong" (featuring Eminem), and a misguided nod to the Dirty South that features the Hot Boys and Big Timer. Some cuts are pure tribute, like Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s "Biggie" and Sadat X's Brand Nubian-style "Come On."
The album's strangest element is its closing track, "Ms. Wallace," featuring the Notorious B.I.G.'s mother, Voletta Wallace, in an unashamedly sentimental remembrance of her son. All of a sudden, the track fades out while she's still talking! It's a weirdly dismissive, ungracious coda to an already disappointing project.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
CAPTION: Violent references abound in the Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous "Born Again."