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Check Out How Biggie’s ‘Life After Death’ Was Made

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  • Notorious B.I.G. 1995

[Editor’s Note: This Originally appeared in XXL’s April 2003 issue]

Life After Death proved to be a sadly prophetic title for 24-year-old Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace’s second album. Clearly, the Brooklyn rhyme slinger had it all mapped out. B.I.G. would follow up his platinum 1994 debut Ready To Die—a street hustler’s morality tale that ended with the narrator’s gunshot-inflicted suicide—with an expansive musical statement that unapologetically celebrated the successful MC’s newfound love of life and all its rewards.

Recorded over 18 months, in New York, Los Angeles and Trinidad, Life After Death documents the extraordinary and ultimately tragic final chapter in the life of an ascending star. The sessions were interrupted by B.I.G.’s arrest for marijuana and gun possession, a car accident that shattered his left leg and the increasing pressures of fame. And of course, everything was taking place under the shadow of a media frenzy surrounding the interpersonal strife between B.I.G. and California rapper Tupac Shakur.

Released March 25, 1997, less than a month after B.I.G. was tragically gunned down while leaving a Soul Train Awards party in Los Angeles, Life After Death sold a mammoth 690,000 copies its first week, according to SoundScan, debuting at no. 1 on both Billboard‘s Pop and R&B charts. Eventually, it went on to surpass the sales mark set by Tupac’s nine-times platinum double album All Eyez On Me, joining Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em as rap’s only diamond-certified discs.

On the sixth anniversary of the notorious MC’s passing [eds. note: 2014 is the seventeenth anniversary], XXL interviewed friends, associates and fellow artists who played a part in the making of his classic opus. Assembled here, their remembrances give a track-by-track glimpse into a creative process that resulted in one of hip-hop’s most enduring artistic achievements. All hail Big Poppa!—KEITH MURPHY

Life After Death Players:

B.I.G.’s Hitmen:

Sean “Puffy” Combs CEO of Bad Boy Records and Executive Producer of Life After Death • Steven “Stevie J.” Jordan Former member of the Hitmen, Bad Boy’s in-house production team.• Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie CEO of Crazy Cat Records. Former Hitman. A&R of Life After Death. Voice behind skit character, the Madd Rapper. • Lil’ Cease Longtime friend of The Notorious B.I.G. and member of the Brooklyn-based rap crew Junior M.A.F.I.A. • Lil’ Kim Bed-Stuy-born rapper and first lady of Junior M.A.F.I.A. • Nashiem Myrick Former Hitman. • Jadakiss Member of rap trio The LOX, formally signed to Bad Boy. • D. Roc Childhood friend and longtime confidant of B.I.G. • Havoc One half of the infamous rap group Mobb Deep. • DJ Premier One half of the revered rap duo Gang Starr. • Chucky Thompson Former Hitman. • Krayzie Bone One fourth of groundbreaking Cleveland, Ohio rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. • Layzie Bone One fourth of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. • Carlos Broady Former Hitman. • Carl Thomas Bad Boy R&B singer. • Easy Mo Bee Brooklyn-based rap music producer. • RZA Mastermind behind Staten Island rap conglomerate Wu-Tang Clan. • DMC Legendary MC from Run-DMC. • Kay-Gee Former member of Naughty By Nature, CEO of Divine Mill Records. • Buckwild Bronx-based hip-hop producer. • Schoolly-D Philadelphia gangster rap pioneer. • Clark Kent Mild-mannered hip-hop DJ and producer.

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