B.I.G. - A 

;In March of this year, a federal judge ordered all sales of the seminal hip-hop album Ready to Die by Notorious B.I.G. to cease immediately, 12 years after its release, thanks to an uncleared 5-second Ohio Players sample used in B.I.G.'s title track. Three months later, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke released his first solo album, The Eraser, to lukewarm reviews, six years after the release of Radiohead's masterpiece, Kid A. This month, Notorious B.I.G.'s designated corpse-minder, Bad Boy Records founder Puff Daddy, released his fourth album sans Biggie. None of these events generated much more than a ripple in the music industry, and would strike none as related in any significant sense. A closer look at the fates of Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie, and the tormented Radiohead clan, however, reveal cosmic threads that seem not only eerily similar but also perhaps forever entwined.

;;It began with a heartbeat. Ready to Die started a New York renaissance by telling an album-length story — a narrative through line not seen before in hip-hop and one of the first commercially successful attempts at a "concept album" since the '60s. It was mostly the story of Wallace's life, but this much-larger-than-life tragic figure could have stomped out of a Saul Bellow novel. It featured hazy details, universal themes and skits that reinforced the visual plot, rather than just being funny. The first of these skits was the birth of the Biggie character. Diddy himself voices the ecstatic father at the delivery, in the first of many of the mogul's attempts at subtle metaphor.


;As Biggie's character is taken through adolescence, signified by a robbery and then jail in songs like "Gimme the Loot" and "Things Done Changed," he grows into himself. Starting with "Ready to Die", he excels at the kind of faux-mob lifestyle that brings him up through the streets. He's even getting laid and hanging out with other New York rappers, expertly exchanging classic punch lines with Method Man in the smoke-fueled "The What." By track 10, Biggie becomes Notorious B.I.G.


;In the celebratory "Juicy," the hero of the tale is backed by state-of-the-art production, a female chorus proclaiming his greatness, and rhymes about money, women and Robin Leach. All of Biggie's dreams have come true ("Now I'm in the limelight 'cause I rhyme tight") and he can leave the public housing life behind, but the high doesn't last long.


;By "Everyday Struggle," B.I.G. gets a splash of cold water when babymamma woes and hangers-on ruin his good time, and the chorus ("I don't wanna live no more") shows early cracks in his persona. The B.I.G. of Ready to Die couldn't sustain himself. He calls his last friend, a book-ended Diddy, in "Suicidal Thoughts" and throws out a few more bars of rhymes: "When I die, fuck it, I wanna go to hell. 'Cause I'm a piece of shit, it ain't hard to fuckin' tell." Biggie puts a Magnum to his head and pulls the trigger as the album closes on a slowing, then stopped, heartbeat.

;;While Biggie delivered his manifesto to Brooklyn and the world, Radiohead were busy being mocked by Beavis and Butthead. At first dismissed as a Nirvana clone, they would spend the next six years proving themselves with some of the best albums rock has ever heard. In 2000, broken and disillusioned, they responded to the praise curtly with Kid A, a collection of songs that contained nearly no live instruments and told an album-length morality fable about the first human clone. It began with rhythmic electronic thumps and a mechanical voice that would, over the course of the album, be engulfed in a sea of paranoia, desperation and eventually suicide.


;On the first song, "Everything in Its Right Place," Kid A, the clone antihero, is immersed in modern noise and confusion. The voice in which he introduces himself is distant and empty, and he's hardly comforted by the disingenuous lullaby ("We've got heads on sticks/You've got ventriloquists") of the title track. He adjusts himself, however, to the new world in "National Anthem," a showcase for a more mature, if scattered, humanoid. Thom Yorke voices the Kid's adolescence with a joyously off-key and incoherent wail, and for a moment it seems like some fun could be had in this unresponsive world he's been thrust into.


;By the middle of the album, though, the grown-up Kid has become self-aware. He knows he doesn't belong and laments his picket-fence existence: "I'm not here. This isn't happening." He has modern responsibilities and burdens: a kid, a car, a house and a wife. He tries valiantly to survive for them ("Optimistic"), but ultimately he confuses his lethargic crisis for lack of a soul, and by the penultimate track, "Morning Bell," he tells his wife, "You can keep the furniture/Cut the kids in half."


;The last track on Kid A, "Motion Picture Soundtrack," begins with funereal organs. Thom Yorke can hardly be bothered to move his lips as he runs through disconnected memories of Kid A's time on Earth: "Red wine and sleeping pills/Cheap sex and sad films," and with a halfhearted goodbye, the first human clone ends his life.

;;The sad arc of Christopher Wallace, as both a character and a person, doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. Wallace was shot to death March 9, 1997, and a court case that threatened to bankrupt the LAPD was declared a mistrial; more than a million dollars was awarded to his family for legal fees. This past July — two weeks after the release of Yorke's solo album, actually — the case was reopened and set for early 2007. Diddy, whose Bad Boy Records was practically single-handedly launched by Ready to Die, was featured in Time magazine in 2005 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He plans to appeal the verdict against B.I.G.'s album.

;;In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Kid A's paranoid and apocalyptic overtones seemed prescient, and the album's myth continues to grow with time. Rolling Stone placed Kid A No. 428 of the 500 greatest albums of all time — 295 slots behind Ready to Die — and the band will release their next album in early 2007, at the same time lawyers will march once again into the court of Biggie. If these two artists continue to share this meta bond, it should provide a great soundtrack for the debacle.



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