The Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, aka Big Poppa and otherwise known as Christopher Wallace, was one of the greatest – if not the greatest – rappers of all time. Much like his friend turned rival, Tupac Shakur, Biggie’s posthumous discography now outweighs the number of albums he released during his lifetime, with 1999’s Born Again and 2015’s Duets: The Final Chapter being joined by the Lauren Hill collaboration, The King & I, in 2019. Though not the final chapter its title would suggest, Duets would shed further light on work the Brooklyn-born rapper left in the can, across a hefty 22-track album featuring a star-studded cast of that raised intrigue as much as it courted controversy.
An unusual posthumous album
Posthumous releases typically prove popular with fans, offering an odd sense of closure and a chance to hear an artist’s unheard music from beyond the grave. Duets: The Final Chapter gathered some of Biggie’s existing studio pieces, rarely heard lyrical freestyles and a selection of unfinished material remixed into ensemble performances. Unlike 2Pac, however, Biggie did not leave an extensive array of unreleased music behind, which is why Duets: The Final Chapter gives so much space to industry A-listers, including Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Faith Evans, Nas, Jay-Z, Diddy and, most surprisingly, nu metallers Korn.
At the time of its release, Duets raised some eyebrows, partly because it lacked a strong concept the likes of which Biggie had been acclaimed for prior to his death in 1997. Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man, who featured on Biggie’s debut album, Ready To Die, claimed “they got ni__as on that album Big would have never rocked with”. In a way, Duets: The Final Chapter album acted more like a mixtape featuring high-profile artists acknowledging Biggie’s legend, rather than a typical posthumous release.
A message of hip-hop unity
But you can’t go wrong with a collaboration between The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. A highlight on the album, Whatchu Want reworks unreleased Biggie verses into a classic rap-icon duet between Jigga and one of his early idols. A less obvious “duet” is a mash-up duet between Bob Marley’s Johnny Was and Biggie’s vocals from Suicidal Thoughts, the track that closed Ready To Die.