Consider everything you know about Arizona Ron. We know what part of Arizona he’s from, what kind of car he drives, the crew he used to run with, that he has a predilection for the Isley Brothers, he’s bilingual, the motto he has tattooed around his gun wounds, how many carats he has in two pieces of jewelry and approximate cost of said items. We know he was featured on America’s Most Wanted, the exact manner in which he murdered his baby mother’s brother, that he beat the charge, and that he’s a bit of a homicidal maniac.
Despite the fact that “N***** Bleed” lacks much of the ambiguity, suspense and dramatic tension of earlier narratives, I suspect this is the reason why the story is one of Big’s most beloved. It announces itself as a story-teller from the outset, perhaps more so than some of his classics on Ready to Die; Biggie jam packs his three verses with characters like Ron, brought to life with stunning detail and marvelous economy.
The Hitmen do a great job establishing the Depalma feel, straight ripping off a strings heavy introduction to the Whispers’ “Hey who really cares” Mafioso. The first verse sets up the job: it’s Biggie — in full Frank White mode — being briefed on a simple courier mission. But from the beginning he has his own designs; he shrugs off his bosses urging him to stick to the script, and has every intention of robbing the gang that his boss thinks highly of. He believes he’s superior in both brain and muscle to his would be business partners, and he’s right. Throughout the narrative, Biggie remains several steps ahead of his adversaries, yet the story never suffers for its lack of obstacle.
The second verse is exclusively dedicated to Ron, leaving Biggie to wrap up the actual job in a one minute and fifty two second final verse — a fairly incredible feat. Biggie works in a history with the Puerto Rican hotel manager, Gloria from Astoria, where the crew they’re supposed to make the deal with are staying. After pressing her for info he makes note of the Jamaican women, presumably serving as lookouts in a black Range Rover parked outside of the hotel.
The operation is fairly simple: Biggie and Arizona Ron are going to start a fire outside room 112, where the crew is staying. When they evacuate, they’ll be waiting to light them up and grab the cash. Biggie keeps things interesting with detail. Ron provides kerosene instead of the gasoline he was supposed to provide, throwing an unpredictable element into the mix. But no matter.
As soon as the fire alarm goes off “Maxi Priest,” (amazing small detail, passing off a funny nickname on the dread Biggie’s about to light up) and two Malaysian and black cronies, one man and one woman, follow out of Room 112. As Biggie and Ron open up on them, Biggie again provides the perfect detail: Arizona Ron laughing through the slaughter, drunk with bloodlust. Biggie and Ron grab the suitcases and melt into the crowd headed toward the exits, knowing they have the lookouts on their way up to contend with, but the lookouts don’t pick them out of the crowd. To add insult to injury, their Range Rover is blocking a hydrant with a fire raging in the hotel, and gets towed.
So the deal goes off without a hitch, and Biggie is rewarded for his fearlessness with millions of dollars. While it’s an absolute masterwork of Hip Hop story telling, “N***** Bleed” lacks that added element of moral crises, of suicidal abandon that made the capers on Ready to Die so powerful and frightening. As we discussed in the last installment, it’s once again a matter of emotion vs. craft. There is no song on his debut that has the same feel of slick control and an almost godlike ability to create the world inhabited by Ron the henchmen, Gloria the hotel manager and Maxi Priest, the hapless victim. But the listener walks away without the goose-bump inducing, lingering buzz provided by an “Everyday Struggle” or “Gimme the Loot.”
MP3: Notorious B.I.G.-“N*** Bleed”