The Notorious B.I.G. – Hypnotize

First Hit #1: May 3, 1997

Two deaths hang heavy over the charts in 1997, and this is the first. The first of The Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous #1s, it’s quite upbeat, and provides a pretty good example of the talent that was lost when he was killed. He’s still controlling an image, and this is as much about myth-making as it is about making a song – especially the video, which is incredibly annoying if you just want to hear a song, given that it interrupts itself for various over the top heist shenanigans. What B.I.G. was doing is almost akin to what has happened to the Fast and the Furious films – he’s making himself into kind of a cartoon. It’s a good kind of cartoon, with lots of flash and spectacle. Almost as if guided by his own larger than life presence, he was committed to making a larger than life character, a charismatic and dangerous creation that could probably neatly slot into a Batman film, or for a more modern example, a GTA title. He isn’t taking himself seriously – most of the track is quite funny, from the goofy chorus to references to underoos. It wasn’t a persona created in jest, but he definitely was having fun with it – and having fun smacking around other rappers, as though he was trying to bring the WWF (as it was known at the time) into the music business, big personalities having big clashes for the sake of a continuing narrative. His loss is felt in the song, because it was an unfortunately serious end for what should have been, and what was seemingly intended to be, a lot of fun. It’s like GTA in music, though that series was not the cultural force it is today, a kind of satire of excess, gangster glorification and the appeal of the criminal bad boy. With his death, and the death of 2Pac earlier, I keep thinking that somebody didn’t get the joke.

The song also makes me realize that while it’s hard to articulate what it is that makes someone a great rapper as opposed to a poor one, it’s something I will declare I know when I hear. B.I.G. embarrasses his associate Puff Daddy here, because if you listen to them back to back he is so much better.

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3 Responses to The Notorious B.I.G. – Hypnotize

  1. theelderj says:

    Reblogged this on thebrothersj and commented:
    Ah, “Hypnotize”. I used to hear this song every day when I worked in the dishroom at college. The only two CDs my wife brought to college when I first met her were by Bon Jovi and the Notorious B.I.G. This is a great song by a hip-hop iconoclast.

    Thanks for brightening my day with this one.

  2. theelderj says:

    I agree about Puff Daddy seeming like a Chump here. Whenever P. Diddy raps on the same track as Smalls, I want to mute Diddy’s portions.

  3. RBerman says:

    Mythmaking indeed. Just as Madonna wanted to be known as an object of male desire, Biggie wanted to be known as a dangerous man with dangerous enemies. An important man, worth pursuit by helicopters or a phalanx of motorcycle assassins. The chorus is fine, though I wish they didn’t sing it twice each time. On this song, the main attraction really is the rap, with Biggie’s mushmouth delivering a satisfying cadence.

    Also, is this not the first time that a rap song followed a rap song at #1? Seems like a good time to wonder why R&B and rap conquered the Top Forty so thoroughly in the 90s. Was it just that much better? Did it have that many more fans than other genres? More than any other single genre, obviously. I haven’t seen any hard data on the topic, but it seems to me that “music black people listen to” for the most part remained consolidated, whereas “music white people listen to” had fragmented among a dozen subgenres: from

    * the same R&B and rap to which blacks listened, to

    * hard rock (these were big years for Metallica, for instance, and newcomers like Rage Against the Machine attracted plenty of attention) to

    * Lilith Fair-style resurgent singer-songwriters (the female ones were mentioned in the Lisa Loeb entry, plus male versions like Duncan Sheik and Chris Isaak) to

    * easy listening (the ethereal Irishwoman Enya was one of the biggest sellers in the world in the 90s, and Harry Connick Jr. led the neo-crooners) to

    * country (e.g. Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McIntire) to

    * Christian Music (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, DC Talk, Jars of Clay, and Sixpence None the Richer crossed to the general market, and a dozen more were dominant in their own growing subculture, which was outselling jazz and classical music) to

    * so-called “alternative rock” (from the hard-ish edges of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden to the pop of Gin Blossoms, the Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Dave Matthew Band).

    * In the next ten years, immigration patterns would make Latin music once again a major market force too, with Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin on the vanguard.

    * Now that CDs had emerged as a music format that didn’t obsolete rapidly like 8-tracks and cassettes had, old music was more available than ever before, and not a few kids agreed with their parents that Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, and the Beatles beat anything new on the radio. However,the Billboard charts were engineered to pretend that Led Zeppelin IV and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” weren’t outselling most contemporary music, so these purchases simply showed up as non-votes in the ongoing election of great music.

    With so much diversity and so little consensus, the bell curve of sales broadened stylistically, with R&B/rap as the highest single peak left. The market could support this diversity as long as overall sales figures remained high, which they would…for a few years more, until Napster arrived.

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