B.I.G.-Xploitation

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The eeriest thing about listening to Born Again, Biggie's first posthumous release, is not hearing the voice of the slain Christopher Wallace banging and full of life, but it is the unshakable feeling that he's being exploited. On the real, B.I.G. never needed this many guest stars to make a record, and on this new joint there are actually more featured artists than there are tracks. Yo, but no complaints on "Dead Wrong" on which Eminem, hip-hop's new, deranged boy wonder, hits you with some dope and equally twisted battle raps.

But otherwise, you get the feeling that maybe all those other rap cats just got put on this record to help Puffy in his almighty paper chase. Stranger things have happened.

All the bullshit aside, Biggie Smalls is still the illest and, if it weren't for the glaring lack of consistent production, this might be a suitable follow-up to his first two classics, Ready to Die (the inaugural hustler's tale of going "from ashy to classy") and Life After Death (the platinum-coated sequel). Almost any track with the ominous P-diddy on production or, worse yet, on the mic, is a waste. But when Primo (better known as DJ Premier) takes the helm on "Rap Phenomenon," with Red and Meth adding a little something, Biggie fans can breathe a sigh of relief. This is what hip hop is supposed to sound like — heavy beats, scratch-heavy production and clever, rugged lyricism.

With a few other highlights, Born Again is still something of a disappointment. But for the real Biggie fans, getting "one more chance" to hear The Notorious is reason enough.

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