May 18, 2021

Revisionist History #2: Two Alternate Takes on Life After Death (1997)

I had hoped to get back to these sooner, but we’re finally back with a new entry in the Revisionist History series, in which I take an existing album and play around with the track sequencing in an effort to come up with something more cohesive or entertaining or whatever the challenge happens to be. (Now all I have to do is publish another Max’s Book Club entry and I’ll be set.)

The second lucky hip hop album to be given this treatment is The Notorious B.I.G.’s double-disc posthumous effort, Life After Death, also known as the last album the late rapper had any input in prior to his passing. Building upon what he and executive producer-slash-label boss Sean “Puffy” Combs had crafted with his debut, Ready to Die, Life After Death was a calculated attempt at world domination, featuring songs designed to appeal to East Coast hip hop heads, West Coast fanatics, and everyone in the flyover states, with Biggie’s vocals occupying space atop beats that would either bang on the radio or, in the man’s words, “leave [you] on the pavement”. It was released to widespread acclaim and ultimately sold over eleven million copies (a combination of both streams and physical units), none of which the man was able to enjoy during his lifetime. Joining me in my quest to revise history once again is Lord AAA (of Boom Bap Reviews), also known as frequent contributor shoe-in

Lord AAA actually proposed today’s post challenge to me, having been inspired by his tinkering with each album he loves to ensure the best listening experience. This time around, however, instead of just chopping the double-disc affair down to one, I proposed an additional task: we’d both have to make our respective versions of Life After Death reach as wide an audience as possible, which meant that not only did we need to chop and screw the album, we also got to play executive producer and decide what singles were going to be released and in which order. I didn’t want this one to turn into a simple “let’s cut all the interludes” exercise – I wanted this one to hurt a little (because, otherwise, where’s the challenge, right?)

I had originally insisted on a limit of only twelve songs for our revisions, based on the number of tracks that appear on each disc of Life After Death (not including that hidden lengthy interview at the end of the first disc on the second pressing of the album, which I had originally considered to be a part of my effort before thinking better of it), but Lord AAA quickly found a way around that restriction, and I applaud him for that. Let’s just bring him in to talk about it:

“So now that the discussions of trimming Life After Death down to a single album have exhausted the entire hip hop spectrum for over two decades, why don't I throw my hat in the ring?

“Anyone who's familiar with me knows that I have a guttural disdain for the assclown known as Sean John Combs. And with the passing of Craig Mack and, more recently, Black Rob, two former Bad Boy artists who were far from financially, medically, or mentally sound, that hatred has only intensified. Those two (and their families) should have been set for life, regardless of how 'difficult' the business relationships with them allegedly were.

“As such, I have reached the realization that I can do his job better than him. What better starting point than with what many consider to be his most noteworthy contribution to the genre: The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death?

“Make no mistake about it: during the Life After Death recording sessions, the late, great Christopher Wallace became a household name. Any album that followed Ready to Die needed to be a statement, one proving he could maintain his mainstream appeal without compromising his street vision. The thing is, I sincerely believe that feat could have been achieved without all the debauchery found on the album, which is why, in my version, I have removed as many of the pretentious songs "for da ladeez" as possible. I’ve never felt that Big ever needed ‘Big Poppa’ or ‘One More Chance’ to reach superstardom, especially since the performance that actually ended up launching him into the stratosphere was his cameo on Craig Mack’s ‘Flava In Ya Ear’ remix. Go ahead. Tell me I'm wrong.

“In any case, I concede that a certain amount of flexing the success he had accumulated since Ready to Die needed to be represented here, which is why I included both of Easy Mo Bee's productions in my list, as I feel they both showcase Big at a level of flossing that's still intelligent enough to cater to any audience, especially ‘I Love The Dough’. And ‘Notorious Thugs’ is just a no-brainer. That song was already everywhere WITHOUT it ever being released as a true single.

“So yeah, enjoy, my fellow lonely soul. And as always, shoutouts to Max for the inspiration.”

1. Sky's the Limit (featuring 112)
2. Kick In The Door
3. Ten Crack Commandments
4. Miss U (featuring 112)
5. Going Back To Cali
6. Long Kiss Goodnight
7. You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)
8. N----s Bleed
9. My Downfall (featuring D.M.C)
10. I Love The Dough (featuring Jay-Z and Angela Winbush)
11. Notorious Thugs (featuring Bone Thugs-N-Harmony)
12. Last Day (featuring The LOX)
Bonus track: Somebody's Gotta Die

The singles (EDITED 5.26.2021 - Now including additional commentary from Lord AAA):

1. “Sky's The Limit”
“This is what ‘Juicy’ wishes it could be. The only reason this single wasn’t more successful (when it was released after ‘Hypnotize’ and ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ in our actual timeline) is because Puffy's bitch ass didn't push it as much as the others. Hell, he pushed ‘Nasty Boy’ more than this. I truly believe that it's the song that best encapsulates the elevation Life After Death was going for.”

2. “I Love The Dough” b/w "Going Back To Cali"
“Because of COURSE Puff was gonna pull a flossy record outta Big, even if he didn't want to record one. Wouldn't this have landed better than ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’? Wouldn't the masses have preferred the wittier Jay-Z as the promoted sparring partner over Ma$e? Easy Mo Bee was highly proficient at providing single-worthy backdrops, and this one is no different. Finally, I will ALWAYS prefer hearing Angela Winbush singing over Puffy's ego driven ‘bars’. Straight up.

"Not only is it cool that Easy Mo Bee gets a suite all to himself on this single, this placement would enforce the sentiment the late, great B.I.G. was going for on the song itself: he never had a problem with all of the West, just a certain confused loudmouth."

3. “Notorious Thugs” b/w "Kick In The Door" and "Long Kiss Goodnight"
“This song is, by no small margin, the BIGGEST statement of the entirety of Life After Death. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were a HUGE act in 1997, and Big going toe-to-toe with them on this Stevie J-produced masterpiece was as loud a claim of hip hop dominance as one could have delivered in his shoes. Plus, its stadium appeal is impossible to deny – this song is a mainstay in Bone's concert setlist for a REASON.

"Given the fact that the original third single, 'Sky’s The Limit', was a triple A-Side, as well as the unmistakable certainty that 'Notorious Thugs' would’ve been the album’s biggest single (try to remember 1997, boy/girl… Bone Thugs were EVERYWHERE), it only makes sense that these two clapbacks to B.I.G’s foes would be included. Hell, 'Kick In The Door' was already included with the actual third single. Just thinking of the street buzz this could’ve generated is getting me pissed at Sean Combs all over again."

The flip side of that coin is my own take on Life After Death, where the confines of my own rules caused me to use much more red ink than I had anticipated, reducing two discs down to ten motherfucking songs. (I think some of the cuts may have done as a middle finger to myself, somehow.) Here's a peek at my thought process here:

(1) I didn’t need my Life After Death to be overloaded with guests. Ready to Die famously only had the one (Method Man), so losing many of the cameos would help shift the spotlight back to the star attraction. Doing so meant eliminating the vast majority of Bad Boy Records labelmates that popped up on the proper album, along with a handful of outside contractors pulled in to help broaden Biggie’s base. Sorry, Jadakiss and Too $hort.
(2) I thought nearly every single goddamned skit on Life After Death was unnecessary (yeah, even the Madd Rapper interlude), so I chopped them as much as I could. I mean, if they were a part of the audio track they’re going to pop up here, since this is a Spotify thing and not a mixtape I edited myself (which Mixcloud would immediately take down anyway, but I digress), but your challenge is to pretend most of them don’t exist. (I eliminated the Madd Rapper concern by pulling “Kick In The Door” from a different source, but that wasn’t an option for most of these tracks. The intro to “Sky’s The Limit” is allowed to stay, however.)
(3) In an effort to build the best, but, confusingly, most comprehensive version of the album, I allowed for Lord AAA and myself to pull from the various remixes released of Life After Death tracks. Unsurprisingly, neither of us took the bait (because what was there, the “Nasty Boy” remix? The clean version of “Fuck You Tonight”?), but we could have, which shows growth on my part.

With these ten tracks, I believe I’ve compiled the most cohesive version of The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, a worthy follow-up to Ready to Die which both stabilizes and expands upon the man’s growing fame, touching listeners in various parts of the world through a combination of wit and introspection combined with radio-and club-friendly bops and some straight-up gutter shit. I think you two will agree, although you may be shocked at some of the cuts. I can be ruthless when I need to be.


1. My Downfall (featuring D.M.C.)
2. Ten Crack Commandments
3. Long Kiss Goodnight
4. Going Back To Cali
5. Hypnotize
6. I Love The Dough (featuring Jay-Z and Angela Winbush)
7. Kick In The Door
8. I Got A Story To Tell
9. You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)
10. Sky's the Limit (featuring 112)

The (Twelve-Inch) Singles:

1. “Sky’s The Limit” b/w “Ten Crack Commandments”
I agree with Lord AAA that “Sky’s The Limit” is essentially a more focused version of Ready to Die’s “Juicy”, both songs featuring Biggie Smalls describing aspects of his upbringing, with his mother doing a lot with what little money she had, and how our host’s dreams of a better life came into fruition. More so than actual first single “Hypnotize”, “Sky’s The Limit” could have potentially secured a wide audience at radio and on MTV (thanks to the Spike Jonze-directed video, which would have generated a shit-ton of social media engagements had Twitter existed back in 1997) thanks to Biggie’s conversational flow and the melodic instrumental (provided by Clark Kent and Biggie himself!). Your parents wouldn’t have switched the channel if “Sky’s The Limit” came on, which definitely couldn’t be said about “Ten Crack Commandments”, which in my parallel universe is the “street” single designed to draw in the hip hop heads who wanted more boasts-n-bullshit from Christopher Wallace. It’s the perfect street single, custom-built for mixtapes – it’s a single verse over a boom bap beat featuring Biggie talking mad shit about moving weight, and it could have even given Puffy and Bad Boy an excuse to slap producer DJ Premier’s name across the cover art, which would have made this an instant purchase for many back then.

2. “Hypnotize” b/w non-album track “Notorious Thugs”

Over in the real world, “Hypnotize” was a good choice as a single, its theatrical music video effectively reintroducing The Notorious B.I.G. to BET and MTV audiences as the song’s D-Dot and Amen-Ra instrumental banged in the clubs and even on radio stations to this day. That kind of impact isn’t something that can be easily ignored, so I’d throw the song a bone by releasing it as the second single from my Life After Death. At this point in the album rollout, it would be smart to push the project’s poppier tracks, as all of the hip hop heads who were waiting for Biggie to release something new will have already picked this one up – “Hypnotize” is for the stragglers who maybe weren’t that familiar with The Notorious B.I.G., or maybe they knew of “Big Poppa” but didn’t want to commit until they heard the man flex and bust on the radio with lyrics that are as violent and hedonistic as he’d ever been. (The man kidnaps a judge’s daughter and threatens to murder her if he doesn’t secure a “not guilty” verdict – there just aren’t many pop songs that can pull that off.) Sticking with the pop theme, as Lord AAA noted above Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were still a very popular act, and as a way to broaden Biggie’s base while capitalizing off of the fame of the Cleveland quartet or quintet (depending on which period of time you’re discussing them within), “Notorious Thugs”, which I left off of Life After Death, would begin making the rounds as a non-album B-side. And let’s be very clear: this motherfucker would make the rounds. The curiosity factor alone (“Wait, Biggie can rhyme quickly? Now this I gotta hear!”) would propel this one up the charts, so the song I cut from the tracklist because it didn’t fit on the proper project (no, really, it doesn’t fit at all, not even today) would gain a second life as a loosey that Puffy would, admittedly, then affix onto future pressings of Life After Death as a bonus track, thereby driving up sales even further.

I want you both to give the two alternate-universe Life After Deaths a spin, and let us know in the comments whose version you prefer, or if you believe the original two-disc effort is perfect the way it is. Feel free to share these revisions with everyone you know on social media, as well: Lord AAA's Twitter handle is (at) lord3aaa and his Instagram is found (at) NarrativeFanatic, while my Twitter is still (at) hhid_Max, where you can argue with me if you wish.

Enjoy! And let the fact that Lord AAA pitched this idea to me inspire you – should you have a project in mind for future entries in this series, let me know! It doesn't have to be limited to just double albums, mind you.


In case you missed it, here are Lord AAA’s and my own revised takes on the Wu-Tang Clan’s Wu-Tang Forever.


  1. AnonymousMay 18, 2021

    These are fun. Below is my version (I never bothered to resequence it, so it's just the original album in its original order minus the songs I'm not that into).
    Somebody's Gotta Die
    Kick in the Door
    Last Day
    What's Beef?
    Niggas Bleed
    I Got a Story to Tell
    Going Back to Cali
    Ten Crack Commandments
    My Downfall
    Long Kiss Goodnight
    You're Nobody

    1. I will admit that it's difficult to find someone else who will admit to not really loving "Notorious Thugs" out in the wild. Welcome!

    2. AnonymousMay 18, 2021

      Bone Thugs never did it for me, I guess.

  2. Mo Money Mo Problems and Hypnotize are two of the biggest rap singles of all time and are instrumental to the balance on Life After Death. Here is my 12 track take:

    01) Hypnotize
    02) Kick In The Door
    03) What's Beef
    04) Mo Money Mo Problems
    05) My Downfall
    06) I Got A Story To Tell
    07) Notorious Thugs
    08) Going Back To Cali
    09) Ten Crack Commandments
    10) Sky's The Limit
    11) Long Kiss Goodnight
    12) You're Nobody

    A perfect balance of pop driven hits and grimly street joints. The only thing missing is a song for the ladies, but considering every song for the ladies on LAD is ass, that's fine.

    I Love The Dough could fit snugly in Jay's In My Lifetime album.

    The World Is Filled... would've fit perfectly on Puff's No Way Out.

    Last Day could be placed on LOX's Money Power Respect.

    Make Niggas Bleed and Fuck You Tonight the b sides to the singles.


    1. I agree with "I Love The Dough" fitting on In My Lifetime Volume 1, although Puffy already had too much influence there somehow. Disagree about "The World Is Filled", though, mostly because it almost made the cut for my version of Life After Death and I think shunting it to Puff would be a waste, although Puff did put "Victory" on his album and that song is fucking fantastic, so.

  3. Your and Lord AAA’s list have gotten all the really essential tracks from Life After Death, though personally I would swap the album cut of “Last Day” with the original, and include “Playa Hater” as a lark.

    Also amused that the second playlist includes “I Love the Dough,” given its entry in the initial write-up. I vacillated on that track’s quality at first, but it really does feel like the most refined version of the shiny-suit aesthetic.

    1. Yeah, I've come around on that track since I wrote the review some fifty-odd years ago. I agree about the shiny-suit aesthetic, too.

  4. There are days where I think I Love The Dough sounds utterly fantastic, and there are days when it sounds fucking awful. It's a strange track like that. I think it's Angela Winbush's hook. And it's placed too close in the tracklist to Mo Money Mo Problems, which is essentially the same song, only infinitely better (waiting to get pelted by tomatoes).

    And in response to The World Is Filled, Max: that joint sounds almost identical to the other D-Dot produced shit on No Way Out (Friend with Foxy Brown, for example). It's a dope track, but it's not one of the 12 best on LAD, and since it features Big AND Puff doing verses, it would be one of the better joints on No Way Out.

    I suppose you could argue that Mo Money Mo Problems could go on No Way Out or Harlem World, but I would disagree, if only because it's a stone cold classic and maybe one of the five most popular rap singles of all time. You just don't remove tracks that are THAT influential and popular, no matter how much you might personally think they suck dick.

    1. Yeah, I get where you're coming from in regard to "Mo Money Mo Problems". I can't speak for shoe-in, but in my case, I went into this exercise pretending that the song never existed in the first place, because while Biggie has excellent radio singles, I've never liked that one. (I realize I'm contradicting what I said above about "Hypnotize" being selected because it was a smart choice for a radio single, but nobody ever said thought processes needed to make 100% rational sense.) Putting it on Harlem World is an intriguing proposition, although for whatever reason I seem to remember Ma$e's Bad Boy debut being darker in sound (aside from "Feel So Good", essentially the same exact song just without Biggie).

    2. You should probably revisit "Harlem World" because it is, as odd as it sounds to say in 2021, underrated. Sure, it's chock full of the same sort of problems that plagued all late 90s Bad Boy albums: too many skits, an abundance of wholesale beat jacking under the guise of "sampling," and unnecessary Puffy shuffling aplenty. But there's also a lot to like. Mase's charisma carried the show, and while he will never be mistaken for Rakim, he had a style that, like it or not, has influenced many (more talented) emcees since. And on the few tracks where Puff let him put on his Murda Mase cosplay (Niggaz Wanna Act, 24 Hrs To Live, Take What's Yours) he really came with it. There were only two or three truly terrible songs on the entire album, and the "get you mad" skit is worth the price of admission alone.

  5. Somewhat spicy take: Suge Knight is less of a ghoul, or at least was a better label head than Diddy. Yes, even taking into account that he had Biggie killed, ran two men over with a truck and literally beat employees (probably had no role in 2Pac’s death, though). I probably can’t defend the most extreme version of this take, but it’s already out in the ether.


  6. 1.Intro (great follow up, very cinematic yet eerie considering his death)
    2.Somebody got to die (how could big boast about being a black Alfred Hitchcock without the material proving so?
    3. Hypnotize stays where it is
    4. Kick in the door (madd rapper skit may have been needed to later to help launch 50 cent. Also gives a possible idea to how bigg felt about pac without him having to speak)
    5. f'n you tonight (Why wouldn't big return the favor to kellz after appearing on his 1995 album track "be happy" very dope 90s r&b joint)
    6.Last Day (besides 2 obscure freestyles, Benjamin's and the unreleased "you'll see" this is really the only official joint with Lox and poppa which would have been extremely formidable against pac and the outlaws.
    7. Love the dough transitions in very well and fits Jay z style more than big seeing as jay was heavy into the Rene and Angie Samples.
    8. What's Beef?- has to stay, big gives his take on what beef is and sets up what would have been the commission group that sadly never came.
    9. Mo Money Mo Problems- Absolute banger! The hook says it all, and did its job that big and puff wanted: establish both puff and ma$e as new artist while criticizing his haters while making us all dance.
    10.niggas bleed
    11. I got a story to tell
    12.going back to cali
    13. notorious thugs
    14.miss u
    15.another (I don't like this jam but he had to have a song with Kim so...meh)
    16. 10 crack commandments
    17. my downfall
    18. Last Kiss (petty or not pac had to get it, at least we know what it would've sounded like)
    19. kick in the door- nas, jeru, wu-tang and pac all had to be reminded what planet they were on.
    20. you're Nobody till somebody kills you- eerie creepy type of joint, big may have been inspired by hail Mary here.
    21. The world is filled- player type of laid back joint, you can tell big loved this joint, also gave carl Thomas his start with bad boy, this makes sense.

    what's left could be bonuses or put on the born again cd, the 3 singles remain the same possibly release the r. kelly jam on radio.
    come on family 10 songs??? really?

    1. This wasn't a "let's turn Life After Death into the best possible playlist", this is supposed to be a CHALLENGE, and the shorter tracklist plays into the challenge aspect. I don't agree with the whole "well, Big would have needed to include other artists because they were blowing up at the time" aspect - as I said in the post, his debut had one guest who wasn't even on the same label, so why, exactly, would he *need* for Mase or The Lox to be there?

      Also, why is "Kick In The DOor" on here twice? Unless you just love the song that much, in which case, I wholeheartedly agree, that song is fucking great.

      I do love the fact that this compelled you to contribute your own revision, so thanks for reading! Let us know how you feel about the other revisions, both already posted and coming up soon-ish.

  7. Both of you all are crazy. First off it had been 2 and a half years since his multiplatinum debut album, why the hell with he only put 10 songs out with all that had happened in that time? On a highly anticipated 2nd album wtf? Your revisionist history would now take this album from being a diamond selling double cd to perhaps less than half of it's sale by removing "Mo Money Mo Problems", thus likely affecting whatever amount of royalties his family would get from such a huge release, but also one of the few accolades Big had over 2pac, two number one hit records (pac only got a #1 due to Dre forking over California love)

    For A.A'S list hell yeah you're dead wrong, big didn't blow off of party and bullshit or Flavor remix Big Poppa was his breakthrough followed by one more chance remix. Pac and puff gave him great advice on who to rap to and that got him to multi platinum status. Big himself alludes to not limiting his audience on "Back to cali" criticizing local mc's who's plan was to rip the tri-state, "almost gold" 5gs a show gate" why would he alienate the females who helped him blow? Smh that's stupid.

    Max List
    (other than you being a canibus hater lol)Bruh you know Big couldn't come back with 10 damn songs lol, you do better with the simple challenge of seeing could you make one disc sell the same amount the double disc did without the filler.

    1. Features- Big himself wanted those features, how can you tarnish the mans vision?

    1. Hypnotize had to come first after being put on blast in hit em up, when an artist threatens your career you have to come back with a banger, and while skyz the limit offered introspection beyond the norm and may be a 97 update on juicy, It was his lady centered party joints that caught on and hypnotize going #1 should quell your revisionist attempt to make big a victim of the sophomore jinx.

    2. Why would he pick Jay z, an artist who wasn't signed to his label over featuring himself and Ma$e who is his artist? that doesn't sound like you're more qualified with Puff, you just threw artist development out of the window in favor of looking back at Jay z (reasonable doubt wasn't even gold yet) with rose colored glasses. Jay was struggling, Ma$e was picking up somewhat of a buzz as an up and coming Bad Boy artist. Btw Jay was the one doing all of the Rene and Angie samples, puff is a jerk but he's not the cause of everything wrong in the world smh.