The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death vs. Ghostface Killah’s Ironman. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
In the mid-1990s, the next two MCs had a real-life problem with one another. Beef squashed by the time both of these albums released, The Notorious B.I.G. and Ghostface Killah were two of Rap’s most original poets. These men brilliantly combine the ruggedness of the streets with the grit of their hungrier days. Life After Death is a double-album that runneth over with polished sounds and gripping narratives. Ironman is a solo debut that takes its major label budget and scrapes, chips, and picks away all the potential shine for the roughest texture possible. However, only one effort can walk on. Which album is the better of the two? (Click on one then click “vote”).
Life After Death by The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. progressed by leaps and bounds between late 1994 and early 1997. Ready To Die transformed Biggie Smalls from a street corner hustler just trying to feed his daughter into the Hip-Hop artist of the year. With new money, came new problems. Life After Death was an album that followed Big’s skyrocketing stature in Rap, and the streets. Songs like “I Got A Story To Tell,” “You’re Nobody,” and “I Love The Dough” found Biggie in mafioso mode. He had overflowing pockets, a network of perceived enemies, and the world at his twenty-something fingertips. However, so many of those upgrades came from Rap. “What’s Beef” was brilliant commentary on how Rap feuds had suddenly led to bloodshed—in a song that’s as much about the music as it is the violence. Now privy to private jets and a global music industry, B.I.G. called up Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to flex flows alongside, on “Notorious Thugs.” The MC sought out Jay Z, R. Kelly, Too Short, and his own bustling bullpen of talent, ranging from Lil’ Kim to Ma$e to Jadakiss. The album is grand, much more Las Vegas than Manhattan in its themes, attitudes, and reach.
This sprawling double album still appeased those who had rode with Christopher Wallace for five years. “Ten Crack Commandments” and “Kick In The Door” upheld the fiery chemistry with DJ Premier, with those same get-down tactics on the mic and on the block. “Hypnotize” captivated the world with a Herb Albert sample bathed in Bad Boy’s pop acid. Biggie reached back a decade for a Slick Rick riff, and exploded it into for the late ’90s. Released the same month Biggie Smalls was murdered in a drive-by on Fairfax, Life After Death is an eerily prophetic album. From the album opener “Somebody’s Gotta Die” to disc 2 closer “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” it’s a dark, complicated, and uneasy listen for fans who watched B.I.G. and foe Tupac Shakur murdered in a six-month span. As with ‘Pac’s late 1996 Don Killuminati album, both icons seemed to see their fate looming. Biggie was hyper-aware of the new spirit of Rap. Songs like “Going Back To Cali” are challenging time-pieces, for one of the greatest MCs, and Rap’s cruelest era. Life After Death is B.I.G. putting on Rap’s crown, and knowing he must defend it. The sprawling double album succeeded in all it set out to accomplish, and certified Biggie Smalls’ legacy as one of the GOATs—in two eras, with multiple sounds, styles, and narratives. Whether in hoodies or suits, the rapper just blended with any beat, situation, and circumstance. In 24 tracks, Big was able to reach back five years to Hip-Hop’s lyrical fun, while stretching five years forward to forecast Rap’s future, and blaze the very trail his peers would take.
Album Number: 2 (solo)
Released: March 25, 1997
Label: Bad Boy/Arista Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, August 1997; certified platinum, August 1997; certified 10x platinum, January 2000)
Song Guests: Puff Daddy, The LOX (Jadakiss, Sheek Louch & Styles P), Jay Z, Angela Winbush, R. Kelly, Ma$e, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone & Bizzy Bone), Lil’ Kim, 112 (Q Parker, Daron Jones, Marvin “Slim” Scandrick & Michael Keith), Too Short, D.M.C., Kelly Price, Carl Thomas, Faith Evans, Karen Anderson, Keanna Henson, Deborah Neeley Rolle, Ron Grant, Michael Ciro
Song Producers: (self), Puff Daddy, DJ Premier, Easy Mo Bee, RZA, Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Nashiem Myrick, Carlos “6 July” Broady, Ron “Amen Ra” Lawrence, Havoc, Stevie J, Buckwild, Chucky Thompson, Daron Jones, Kaygee, DJ Clark Kent, Jiv Poss
Ironman by Ghostface Killah
Three years removed from Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Ghostface Killah was still shrouded in mystery. The irritable Shaolin MC was an unconventional voice in the crowd on the group debut, the cool best-friend in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and a star guest on Liquid Swords. But without external Wu work, nobody knew what to expect in his debut. Late 1996’s Ironman showed that G.F.K. was one of the Clan’s most interesting, versatile, and purely original voices. Dennis Coles was deeply in touch with ’70s Soul. The album was big on those Stax and Hi Records samples, but moreover, the Ghost’ was a man easily affected by his woman (“Camay”), a guy who grew up in poverty (“All That I Got Is You”), and an MC who felt strongly about his peers’ mishandling the message (“Assassination Day”). This respective vulnerability, humility, and authority made the album ripe with elements. Songs like “260,” “Black Jesus” and “Winter Warz” employed thumping RZA tracks, with raps that sounded like jagged abstractions that made sense with time. At a time when Rap was celebrated the big studio, polished sounds of Tupac, Puff Daddy, and Jay Z, Ghostface Killah rapped about the same things, but with a perceptive distortion. While the other guys were rapping about .44 calibers, Bentleys, and big-face hundreds, G.F.K. represented a world of Pathmark parking lots, dyed suede Wallabees, and swordsmen imagery.
In the egocentric ’90s, Raekwon came on to support Ghost’—returning the purple tape favor. Along with Rae’, Ghost’ gave huge album roles to Cappadonna and U-God. Perhaps true of his own real estate within Wu-Tang’s introduction, Ghostface was a man who favored underdogs, and represented Ironman with that comic-book mentality. Totally different than his work in 1994 and 1995, RZA picked at more overt samples for the Epic Records-backed released on his own imprint. From Al Green to Cornbread, Earl & Me, nothing was off limits as the “razor sharp” Abbott sliced down anything that aligned with the MC’s style. Ironman was soulful in the era of the pop, it is defiantly Black at a time when albums were toning down race matters, and the LP is as intimate of an experience as Heads can get in the 1990s with a platinum MC.
Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: October 29, 1996
Label: Razor Sharp/Epic Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, January 1997; certified platinum, February 2004)
Song Guests: Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, Method Man, RZA, U-God, Cappadonna, The Delfonics, Mary J. Blige, Streetlife, Poppa Wu, Force MD’s
Song Producers: RZA, True Master
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.