The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die vs. Jay Z’s The Blueprint. 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” 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 and your vote have decided the Sweet 16 bracket, things are getting really interesting.
The two remaining Brooklyn, New York-made solo albums in the bracket clash. The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die stands as one of the finest concept albums ever released in Rap. Biggie’s cohesive-but-a la carte production, his sharp elbows towards peer opponents, and his balance of commanding party anthems and skill-savvy lyrics are matched by Jay Z on The Blueprint. While Ready To Die nearly slipped in Round 1 to MF DOOM’s solo debut, The Blueprint was nearly scrapped by Kanye West’s College Dropout in Round 3. This face-off could truly go either way in what decides BK’s sole solo survivor in the Elite 8. Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).
Ready To Die by The Notorious B.I.G.
- Third Round Winner (against Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, 75% to 25%)
- Second Round Winner (against Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, 65% to 35%)
- First Round Winner (against MF DOOM’s Operation Doomsday, 53% to 47%)
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)
The Blueprint by Jay-Z
- Third Round Winner (against Kanye West’s The College Dropout, 51% to 49%)
- Second Round Winner (against Scarface’s The Fix, 71% to 29%)
- First Round Winner (against Nelly’s Country Grammar, 83% to 17%)
In late 2001, Jay-Z (as it was spelled then) was unabashedly jockeying for Hip-Hop’s top spot. An artist with ties to The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac (in very different ways), Jay aimed to squarely own the #1 spot. One of the most poised contestants, Eminem, was a producer and lone guest MC on the album. The other contestant, Nas, was in Jay’s cross-hairs of high profile usurp, “The Takeover.” On The Blueprint, Jay-Z reinvented his sound with Kanye West and Just Blaze. The Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder found the ultimate five-year progression from debut Reasonable Doubt. With a D-boy’s confidence and an exec’s get-it-done mentality, Jay pivoted to his 2000s stand as a Rap magnate. Often criticized for his resistance to vulnerability, Jay let the songs cry on his behalf. As the Roc Boy was lunging for the top, he made some of his most relatable music. The writing on The Blueprint is ultra-specific, but the themes, sounds, and attitude of the double platinum campaign seemingly spoke to all of us. Jigga had transformed to Hov’, and when he put his legacy on the line for the belt, Shawn Carter’s Blueprint was everlasting.
“The Takeover” was Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots-meets-Monopoly, as Jay-Z, perceptively an artistic underdog to Nas, knocked the Queensbridge icon off of his block. Moreover, with a few choice bars, Jay reallocated the worth of artists like Prodigy and Jayo Felony. The giant was awoken, and Jay was naming names—unlike his ’90s tussles on wax. “U Don’t Know” was the ringside celebration after the fight. Once dismissed as a drug-dealer MC, Jay-Z used the cold Just Blaze sample massage as a chance to show his Michael Corleone-like rise from New York crimes to The New York Times. The title track would also prove significant. The cold exterior of Hov gave way to an MC unafraid to not only acknowledge pain in his childhood, but say thank you to his circle. That, and “Song Cry” were hyper-aware reactions to Jay’s often lack of intimacy in songs. Together, the Roc’s in-house hit-makers of ‘Ye, Just, and BINK! made an album that may as well have been produced by one set of ears. The prominence of Soul, intricate chops, and broad instrumentation made this man’s words sound like prophecy. “Renegade” placed Jay and Eminem back-to-back, with a song that put the comparisons in the backseat, and the lyrically-dense message in the front. The Blueprint cemented Jay’s pole position, and it showed how a great MC and a gripping story still needs patience and refinement. In the Hip-Hop landscape, The Blueprint is a skyscraper.
Album Number: 6 (solo)
Released: September 11, 2001
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, October 2001; certified platinum, October 2001; certified 2x platinum May 2002)
Song Guests: Eminem, Slick Rick, Q-Tip, Biz Markie, Kanye West, Michelle Mills, Demme Ulloa, Stephanie Miller, Schevise Harrell, Lauren Leek, Josey Scott, Keon Bryce, Victor Flowers
Song Producers: Kanye West, Just Blaze, Timbaland, BINK!, Eminem, The Trackmasters (Poke & Tone), DJ Head
So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Past “Finding The GOAT: Albums” Battles.