hristopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G., has one of the more incredible catalogs of any artist who only recorded two albums during his lifetime, let alone of damned near any rapper. A compilation of his hits, then, should slam from end-to-end, spotlighting his incredible flows over both ebullient commercial beats from the Bad Boy factory and grimy Premier-assisted tracks. It’s a no-brainer, right?
That’s the problem. It’s easy to hate on Sean “Diddy” Combs, but he really does invite it, doesn’t he? Born Again, the first posthumous Biggie “duets” album, was mediocre; 2005’s Duets: The Final Chapter was surprisingly better. Neither are essential, but they get nearly the same attention as Ready to Die and Life After Death on Big’s new Greatest Hits, which you bet ya ass was put together by Combs. Honestly, he can protest all he wants, but the bulk of Big’s posthumous career is as much a would-be tribute to Diddy’s hubris as it is to Big’s talent. There seems to be nothing Diddy loves more than publicity, and he nearly never gets more than when he releases music by his biggest seller.
Oh, and “Mo Money Mo Problems”—a #1 single—is inexplicably absent from Greatest Hits, though room is made for a pair of “unreleased” tracks. (Except that they were released, on a special edition of Duets. One of them features Ja Rule and Ralph Tresvant; I wish I were making that up.) Another problem is that no attention seems to have been made to order: early tracks get shoved between new(ish) ones, giving the album absolutely no continuity.
To be sure, there are a fair number of certified classics here: “Juicy,” “Big Poppa,” “Warning,” the hit remix of “One More Chance/Stay With Me,” Junior MAFIA’s B.I.G.-assisted “Get Money,” and “Hypnotize.” So is last year’s delightfully nasty “Nasty Girl,” featuring Diddy and Nelly, and the even nastier R. Kelly-hooked “Fuck You Tonight,” one of the most purely obscene slow jams I’ve ever heard—almost genius in its vulgarity.
For every gem, however, there’s something to pull the album down: the (speaking of) artistically vulgar Duran Duran-sampling “Notorious B.I.G.,” the Eminem-featuring “Dead Wrong,” the aforementioned Tresvant-featuring “Want That Old Thing Back,” and…do I really have to go on? Ready to Die, a must-have album for any hip-hop fan, got a 10th-anniversary remaster and reissue a few years ago. Life After Death deserves similar treatment this year. And while the “duet” albums have their moments, ultimately, they’re unnecessary. Greatest Hits is an incomplete, cynical cash-in by Biggie’s “best friend,” Diddy, and deserves to be treated with the same contempt with which it appears to have been compiled. An album with this many true classics on it can only get so low a grade, but please don’t read it as a recommendation. Avoid this.