Abe Beame beat Cease-A-Leo at Tecmo Bowl

Biggie followed Ready to Die with Junior Mafia’s Conspiracy—a spotty album with two great singles, but one notable for being one of the first times a crew got a deal exclusively due to their friendship with a talented, successful rapper. Ultimately, Junior Mafia birthed one decent personality in Lil Cease, and a bonafide star in Lil Kim, but nothing ever topped their second single, “Get Money.”

One of Big’s greatest stories, “Get Money” features dual narrators arguing with each other in verse. It was like a DePalma version of Positive K’s “I Got a Man,” a twist on a format that Jay-Z would use for his tet-a-tet with Memphis Bleek on the following year’s Reasonable Doubt. (Not to mention, R. Kelly’s epic “Down Low” series and “Be Careful” with one hit wonder Sparkle).

The point/counter point is reasonably straightforward: Biggie cheats on his wife/accomplice in a criminal empire and she retaliates by turning state’s evidence. “Get Money” is essential to understanding late Biggie because within this fairly clichéd Scorsese-type tale, we see the intense craftsmanship.

Biggie opens flawlessly, drawing us in with series of hypothetical questions. He woos a paramour by spelling out the lavish life he leads (which amounts to getting drunk, playing video games and answering phones, but of course Biggie still renders it appealing). Yet almost instantly, we sense the consequences: the looming infidelity that will doom the relationship.

I’ve tried to avoid discussing delivery in this series, there’s enough material there for an entirely independent series. But in the case of “Get Money,” it goes a long way towards animating the narrative. Post-Ready to Die, Biggie would never again rap with the same anger and intensity. Biggie laments: “Guess you could say you’s the one I trusted/who would ever think that you would spread like mustard?/shit got hot, you sent Feds to my spot/took me to court, tried to take all I got/nother intricate plot, the bitch said I raped her/Damn, why she wanna stick me for my paper?” This is raw and fairly intense stuff, but it comes off as little more than everyday barbershop griping. And you can see this in the even-handed tonal shrug that is Biggie’s half of the song. His protagonist is intelligent and in complete control.

This emotional remove begins the metamorphosis from Biggie Smalls to Frank White, our hero and anti-hero on Life After Death. With many of the demons purged and success now securely in hand, Biggie’s protagonists changed from oft-doomed and poverty-deranged sociopaths running into gun fights, to chess-playing, cool, calm and collected businessmen gangsters. In this transition, Biggie becomes more like genre predecessors like Kool G Rap or Raekwon, whereas he had previously delineated himself away from the big-money mafioso model. Yet the lived in quality of his first person accounts continues to thrive. There’s no denying the literary specificity. Even when writing songs about getting money, he flexes his narrative skill while still going gold.

MP3: Junior Mafia-“Get Money”

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