Dr. Dre’s The Chronic vs. The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die. Which Is Better?

Last September, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: what is the greatest Rap Album Of All-Time? “Finding The GOAT Album” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you have decided the Elite 8, things are critical—as is your vote.

Dr. Dre’s The Chronic introduced melody to Hip-Hop at the widest scale upon its release. In addition to the groovy G-Funk he created, Dre spit hard-headed rhymes, and gave Riots-era L.A. its soundtrack. Two years later, The Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy made Ready To Die better because of The Chronic. The panned drums and the linear narrative sequencing were nods to Andre Young. However, whereas Dre opened the floor to an all-star rookie class of Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, The Lady Of Rage, and RBX, Brooklyn, New York’s Biggie Smalls injected his own “Machine Gun Funk” into the melodic beats, and hit his marks. Both albums spearheaded bigger label/crew movements, and stood as landmarks of when Rap music was its most creative. Lauded for lyrics and praised for production, these two ’90s hallmarks may be a bitter brawl til’ the end. Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).

the chronic

The Chronic by Dr. Dre

When Dr. Dre left N.W.A. and Ruthless Records, the greatest material asset the Compton, California impresario may have had was musical sketches. Having hit his stride on Niggaz4Life and The D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better, Andre Young built upon his G-Funk foundation, with an album that beckoned the galactic chariots of Parliament-Funkadelic themselves. While The Chronic threaded 1970s “grown-folks” music, its rhymes were rooted in the grim reality of L.A. Riots-era South Central. Songs like “Lyrical Gangbang” weighed the messages and attitudes of young, disenfranchised Black men and women in the U.S., and wanted Middle America to feel the angst, the high stakes survival, and the fearlessness of the youth. Snoop Doggy Dogg would be Dre’s vehicle to pack one of Rap’s most laid-back flows (and attitudes) against the life or death realities of gang-infested Southern California.

The Chronic was one of Rap’s first broad ensembles. Not a group, but a movement, the album called upon a crop of unknown and emerging talent from both coasts, all with skills to prove, and their best work ahead of them. Like Enter The Wu-Tang one year later, personnel knew that anything less than the best would not make the album. The hunger pangs of a cast that included Death Row Records’ would-be stars were manifested in an album that made its mastermind appear to be something of a Gangsta Rap Phil Spector. Dre created dynamic soundscapes built around samples, instrumentation, and a multitude of the slightest of tweaks. Within, he waxed a narrative that effectively spat at his former band mate Eazy-E, strong-armed Luke and 2 Live Crew, and overtook the industry with a forceful comeback statement. In one stroke to the consciousness of Rap, Dr. Dre exhaled indo’ smoke on the masses. His album was a cohesive, deeply-authentic party, and with its cinematic visual aides (see below), became as emblematic of the early 1990s as Grunge. The Chronic had everybody catching a contact—as this album’s wide tracks, extensive melody, and sharp-shooting role-players set the new standard in Hip-Hop. Although it’s surprisingly only triple-platinum, the diamond (status) is in the back of Dre’s symbolic ’64 Impala.

Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: December 15, 1992
Label: Death Row/Interscope/Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #3 (certified gold, March 1993; certified platinum, March 1993; certified 3x platinum November 1993)
Song Guests: Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Daz Dillinger, Kurupt, The Lady Of Rage, RBX, Michel’le, Jewell, The D.O.C., Bushwick Bill, Emmage, Ruben, Samara, BJ, Eric “The Drunk” Borders, Katisse Buckingham, Colin Wolfe, Justin Reinhardt
Song Producers: (self), Colin Wolfe, Daz Dillinger, Chris “The Glove” Taylor


Ready To Die by The Notorious B.I.G.

When Ready To Die released in 1994, Biggie Smalls (officially known as The Notorious B.I.G.) was not a star. As he would rhyme on “One More Chance,” “Heartthrob, never / Black, and ugly as ever” is how the obese Brooklyn, New York MC described himself. However, the deeply anticipated Bad Boy Records debut had those in the know clamoring to hear a full work from the rapper who had dazzled in a handful of preemptive appearances. Christopher Wallace’s wordplay, impeccable timing, humor, booming voice, and self-deprecation stood out from the pack to the fullest. Upon releasing Ready To Die, he proved immediately that he had a story to tell. The Notorious B.I.G. never self aggrandized his album as a “concept,” it was simply his reality. Give or take a few facts bent a bit, and Biggie Smalls’ breakthrough effort reminded the world that Hip-Hop was for the people, by the people—so why not crown somebody who all seemingly related to?

Ready To Die dealt with it all. The album presents Biggie from his days as a teased youth finding solace in Hip-Hop, to a deranged stick-up kid and corner hustler, eventually becoming a man who adored his mother and his daughter. “Juicy” would become Hip-Hop’s rags-to-riches anthem, a meritocratic hope story for everybody with a dream. “Unbelievable” fused Biggie’s wit and syncopated delivery with DJ Premier’s pinnacle sound. The rhythms of each were completely in step, making hardcore Hip-Hop a true work of music mastery. “Ready To Die” and “Suicidal Thoughts” opened Biggie’s mind and vulnerability to a level that guarded MCs wouldn’t dare go. However, as Biggie transported the listener away to hustling trips down south, he could also open up the newfound glamor. Songs like “Big Poppa” could lean towards pop culture, and somehow hit their mark after the album released. This LP had both range and direction, and not only cemented Biggie’s royal Rap status as a rookie, it set the genre’s standard for the notion that a debut album should take your whole life to write. Ready To Die appeases Rap purists, story seekers, and those simply looking for a compelling listen. B.I.G. entered 1994 as a quick-witted freestyle specialist with a boisterously percussive delivery. He would leave the year as a Rap poet laureate, unafraid to put a coast, a street-rooted narrative, or an entire craft on his sturdy back. In many, many ways, Ready To Die showed Rap albums how to live in the years ahead.

Album Number: 1
Released: September 13, 1994
Label: Bad Boy/Arista Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #15 (certified gold, November 1994; certified platinum, March 1995; certified 4x platinum, October 1999)
Song Guests: Method Man, Puff Daddy, Lil’ Kim, Total (Kima Raynor, Keisha Spivey, & Pamela Long), Chucky Thompson, Sybil Pennix, Diana King
Song Producers: Easy Mo Bee, Puff Daddy, DJ Premier, Lord Finesse, Poke, Chucky Thompson, Darnall Scott, Rashad Smith, The Bluez Brothers (Norman & Lord Digga)

So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Other Finding The GOAT: Album Battles.