Friday, October 31, 2008

He Was a Friend of Mine

Seriously, one of my all-time favorite verses

With innumerable candidates, I would have to say my favorite moment on Ready to Die appropriately comes in under the radar, at the conclusion of track 8, the “Fuck Me” interlude. Biggie and Lil Kim are in the studio simulating sex on a chair. As the skit reaches its climax, Kim intentionally or unintentionally falls off the chair. Biggie immediately apologizes, and what strikes the listener is his sincerity and concern. A brief and heartfelt exchange follows, and I feel confident in saying the words “fuck you bitch” will never again be delivered with such affection. This has little to do with cadence or an ear for beats, and everything to do with why Biggie was the greatest of all time. While Christopher Wallace was the greatest in many tangible ways, I believe he was THE greatest for his intangibles. How does he make a promise to lace lyrical douches suave? How is he able to seamlessly float between the raw intensity of “The What”, the equally powerful, uplifting “Juicy” and the hopeless “Everyday Struggle”? He was a natural, the type of phenom you constantly hear about in other musical genres who came out the womb playing a coronet solo or riffing on an electric guitar, a talent the likes of which we’ll never see again and I can’t put that brilliant, transcendent quality into words that don’t feel forced or trite.
So instead we’ll try to allow Biggie to explain himself by analyzing one of his most subtle songs, “Friend of Mine.” A device I use in GOAT conversations is asking whoever’s participating to name the five best and five worst Biggie songs. Chances are, out of five people you’ll get an incredibly varied range of songs and sometimes find some people’s favorites are other’s least favorites. (See: “Hypnotized”) His catalogue is simply that tight . However, “Friend of Mine” is in the vicinity of the worst more often than not, dismissed by some as hard to come by filler on Biggie’s classic debut. For me it’s the man doing what he does best. Here’s why.

“Friend of Mine” opens with three different subjects layered on top of one another. What sounds like a blowjob is interspersed with Lil Kim putting dudes in general on blast based on what could be described as shallow criteria as Biggie callously espouses his philosophy on fidelity. This opening in itself is pretty brilliant, you could argue the blowjob, raw sexuality is the subject as Big and Kim hash it out in court, with both sides prosecuting.
Big follows with raw energy. His voice and flow, yet another field in which he has no peer, deliver another classic opening. While I’m all for the grammatical eloquence of the Gza and extended metaphors of wordsmiths like Jay-Z, Biggie is just so fucking good at phrasing, setting mood by picking the RIGHT details everytime. He plucks the brass knuckles and flashlights out of the air and places them where they belong, every single verse begins perfectly. (See: “Damn it feels good to see people up on it”) There are few better examples than this one. “When I’m fucking off gin I’m invincible”, of all the words, invincible, at the outset of a song in which he’s selling his invincibility.
The first verse is Biggie in his finished, hardened form, world weary and suspicious, unable to let his guard down. The verse is cluttered with gangster posturing, accusing women of malicious intent and generally fronting, but we’re given an explanation with his last couplet: “Thug nigga till the end tell a friend bitch/Cuz when I like ya then you go and fuck my friend bitch.”
In verse 2, after a brief preamble reiterating his lack of love for the opposite sex, Big inexplicably launches into a short fable which will carry the rest of the song. In it, displaying a startling economy of word, Big pulls a chick on the corner from a Mazda MPV with his friend, D. In little time he has fucked the girl, and shortly thereafter, without Big’s knowledge the girl is fucking with D. The part that gets me everytime is when he says: “ That my nigga D, damn he got G” It’s delivered as admiration but there’s no question that a note of envy and hurt lingers. As if in conversation with a girl asking why he won’t commit Big punctuates his point “Now she’s fucking him and fucking me, see?
In the final verse the tale turns cautionary, as Big puts it beautifully “Now I play her far like a moon play a star.” His fears and insecurities have been confirmed, and his response is to withdraw, practicing a sort of nihilism in keeping a steady rotation of females and smutting the girl out, taunting her and going so far as fucking her sister. However, Big betrays himself with a constant need to explain himself and justify his behavior. If he was truly the cold asshole he’s advertising (with what I believe to be intentional transparency) no explanation would be necessary and “Friend of Mine” would sound like every other ode to promiscuity. It shows his heart, he’s not a bad guy but conducts himself in this manner out of necessity, his reaction to a fucked up system.
I’m sure there are plenty of rappers who are cool people off the mic, but for my money none have ever succeeded in conveying their personality through their music the way Big was able to. For this Stan it was his vulnerability that made him the greatest of all time. That dash of humility, that distinctly human doubt and uncertainty brought to a field dominated by bull headed aggression and pomp. Biggie Smalls was simply the most compelling character to ever lay it down on wax, cassette, compact disc, etc. When you listen to Christopher Wallace’s music you feel like you know him and more importantly, that he’s someone worth knowing. And so without going emo, (Take notes Kanye) in “Friend of Mine” Biggie is able to voice feelings of betrayal, sadness and disappointment. A sentiment we can all relate to.