Biggie’s Ready To Die vs. Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang. Which Is Better?

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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 Final 4, things have never been more crucial—as your vote dictates the annals of AFH history.

The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die and Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) have plenty in common. Released less than one year apart, both LPs have strong ties to Brooklyn, New York—and each feature the raspy vocals of Method Man. Biggie Smalls and the nine-MC clan both brought a ruggedness to Hip-Hop in these albums. They boisterously spoke from the heart, about hard times, forced criminal circumstance, and just how pathetic their competition was. There were stark contrasts between the two bodies of work, too. Whereas RZA and the Wu kept the sniffles, coughs and dirty drums in the mix, Puff Daddy’s productions pulled Biggie out of Bedford Stuyvesant, polished the productions and made him a battle rapper-turned-sex symbol. The differing aesthetics of these albums may be the tipping point for voters. As Ready To Die has twice won by margins of less than 10%, Enter The Wu buckles up to face its most sacred opponent. Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).

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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)

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Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan

In late 1993, Wu-Tang Clan bum-rushed the show when they brought their own menacing cacophonous raucous. Enter The Wu-Tang is a tour de force of rugged raps, filthy beats, and a style that made Hip-Hop’s early ’90s elite get out of the way, handing over the mic. RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Masta Killa, Method Man, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were against the odds when they brought nine bodies to a Loud/RCA Records-backed album, and made all seem as organized as a rank-and-file military branch. With every MC offering something different, each vocalist distinguished himself with skill, vocal tone, and flow. From acts like The Rebel I.N.S. taking on lion’s share roles to M.K.’s lone verse, the family did no favors to each other—and showed its own agitated quarrels in the interludes. Although they had their own internal dynamics, the Wu brought an unrivaled sense of family pride to outsiders. Songs like smash single “C.R.E.A.M.” and follow-up “Can It All Be Simple” proved that the common theme of hardships made this unit a pack of hungry wolves who resented aristocratic peers. Save for GZA and RZA, all the MCs were burgeoning to wax since 1992’s “Protect Ya Neck.” However, from O.D.B.’s “Shame On A Nigga” timing, to the “Method Man” routine all presented styles that felt like they were bottled in 1988, but fermenting, and getting all the more intoxicating while waiting for their chance. On one hand, Wu-Tang was futuristic in their dismissal of conventions. On the other, this was a head-trip back to the days of the late ’80s underground—battling in a smoke-filled train car.

36 Chambers, as the album is often affectionately called, is a beautiful testament to RZA’s visionary gift. In addition to delivering the most lucid, razor-sharp verses of his career, Robert Diggs made an album that sounded electric, alive, and dangerous. Break-beat arrangements on songs like “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II” were accentuated with organs, special effects, and muted horns. While Dr. Dre was out in Los Angeles, setting chronic highs to three-wheel motion, RZA laced his jagged basslines with audio angel dust. With its rough texture, the album is incredibly cohesive, making skipping implausible if not impossible. Enter The Wu-Tang captivated Hip-Hop. It restored the comparative nature of over-stuffed Rap crews. It made every minute of an album feel precious internally and externally. The LP also made the Hip-Hop act feel like a militia, an outlaw posse, or a flash mob of witty, unpredictable voices with natural game. This LP not only served its nine creators with plush careers that followed, it made the industry take closer notice of what was really going on in the streets. For 15 years, Staten Island was the ignored borough. Also with MCs from the Bronx and Brooklyn, the Clan made the short-sighted Manhattan labels not only scared, but surrounded.

Album Number: 1 (as a group)
Released: November 9, 1993
Label: Loud/RCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #41 (certified gold, March 1994; certified platinum, May 1995)
Song Guests: 4th Disciple
Song Producers: (self)

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

Related: Other Finding The GOAT: Album Battles.