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Mar 14

PUFF DADDY, FAITH EVANS AND 112 – “I’ll Be Missing You”

Popular78 comments • 9,900 views

#770, 28th June 1997

IllBeMissingYou I don’t normally pay too much attention to the length of a song’s stay at Number One, but the scale of “I’ll Be Missing You”’s popularity is significant. It ran three weeks at the top, was knocked off by the comeback single of the country’s biggest band, then came back the week after for another three – and all this before Princess Diana died, giving it another surge. It outsold “Wannabe”. It was colossal.

The point of this sudden attention to stats is to show that, in the UK at least, “I’ll Be Missing You” cleanly transcended its obvious context – the bloody climax of the Death Row/Bad Boy hip-hop feud that left Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur dead – to be bought on its own merits as a pop requiem. Tupac and Biggie were well-known figures, huge with the British hip-hop audience, but not six-weeks-at-number-one huge. Criticisms of “I’ll Be Missing You” have been plentiful – it’s cynical, it’s lazy, it makes a saint of a criminal, it’s a fairly terrible piece of rap music. Some of the attacks are on point, others miss the point. But most of them come from some knowledge of rap and of this song’s place within it. It’s worth first trying to hear it from the point of view of someone who bought “I’ll Be Missing You” with no conception of or interest in that context – since my bet is those people kept it at Number One for so long. What would they have got out of it?

A familiar song, for starters: Sting got 100% of the publishing here. On the “Every Breath You Take” thread there’s a pushback from an angry googler arguing that to spawn two major hits makes a song ‘critic-proof’, and he’s right – that bassline holds a fell attraction for music listeners no critic has ever dented. Puff Daddy, whose voice I marginally prefer to Sting’s, and Faith Evans, who is considerably better, find a new use for Andy Summers’ guitar line – taking its claustrophobic monotony and turning it into stately, clasped-hands monotony.

Our straw-person buyer also gets a very straightforward song about death, with a friend and a widow talking through their regret, bafflement and pain. Here’s where I think Puffy – as performer, not mogul – has more to do with this record’s success than he generally gets credit for. He has the kind of flat, legible, very straightforward non-flow the British public seem to rather like, and his style makes “I’ll Be Missing You” a highly gendered expression of grief – a man stoically, stiffly showing his regret; a woman keening and mourning. That contrast, corny though it is, sells the record as much as The Police do.

Dropping back from that wider context, Puff Daddy’s rapping is actually right for the role he’s playing here – the ad libber suddenly forced to find his own voice, a sideman pushed into an unwanted spotlight. Mourning an MC whose power lay partly in how easy, slick and dangerously charming he sounded, Puffy’s stumbles and rigidity demonstrate the hole left by his friend’s passing. Notorious B.I.G. would have sold a rhyme as contorted as “making hits, stages they received you on / still can’t believe you’re gone”, which dies as it comes out of Puff Daddy’s mouth. That’s the point.

So you can spin an argument to make “I’ll Be Missing You” sound good on paper. Even at the time it was a record I was tempted to defend, because a lot of the criticisms played into wider, murkier, prejudices about hip-hop in general. Yes, Notorious B.I.G. was no angel, but a friend’s eulogy shouldn’t be treated as a balanced obituary. No, rapping about violent acts doesn’t mean you deserve to be gunned down at 24, any more than singing about drugs means you deserve to overdose or lose your mind. Yes, it’s completely dependent on a massive sample – you’ll be taking that “Bitter Sweet Symphony” back to the shop, then? And so the conversations turned across most of a summer.

Except, ultimately, all the hypocrisies in the world couldn’t make “I’ll Be Missing You” into a very good record, or even a slightly good one. It’s mawkish, pious, and horribly overlong by at least two minutes. Puff Daddy ends every verse with heavy-handed product placement for his friend’s last album. The man’s limitations as a rapper may illustrate what a loss Biggie’s talent is, but that doesn’t make them any more entertaining. The big-sample approach to hip-hop can work, but “Every Breath You Take” is too sullen and draggy for such reanimation. For years, saloon bar critics and minor league stand-ups had made lazy jokes about hip-hop: it’s just guys talking, they said. Over other people’s music, they said. And now here we have probably the biggest hip-hop single in Britain up to this point, and it has to be the one which sounds exactly like they always said rap did.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Worth pointing out here that it’s far from clear that a lot of the people buying this would have ever heard BIG – his chart positions before his death were 72 / 63 / 34. I’m still not sure what the appeal is, the tracks I’ve listened to have been humourless unentertaining celebrations of violence – but then I’m happy to join the UK public in their general disinterest in ‘flow’.

    As a side effect of which I hated this – fortunately Puff Daddy has never felt the need to do anything to make me re-evaluate him as a howling absence of talent – as per Tom’s last line he’s expanded his ownership of its criticisms into the ‘all money and no class’ area too.

  2. 2
    AMZ1981 on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I didn’t know that I’ll Be Missing You outsold Wannabe but it only wound up the third biggest seller of 1997. It’s quite correct that it had timing on its side as it chimed in quite well with events later on that year – reflecting on 1997 as a whole, I’ll Be Missing You’s second run kicks off a run of six oddly connected chart toppers.

    There’s also one hell of a number two watch here. Because of I’ll Be Missing You holding down number one for six weeks the following records missed out;

    THE VERVE – Bittersweet Symphony
    SASH – Ecuador (Mr Unlucky with what is – for me – his best record. I have a fond memory of watching this on TOTP with a hot audience member in shot throughout)
    BOYZONE – Picture Of You (one of their better songs and – late 1998 bunny aside – arguably their most regularly played today)
    GALA – Freed From Desire (still fills dancefloors today – I have memories of dancing like a loon to this in 2004 with a hellraising mate of mine)

    The point being I have no fond memories of I’ll Be Missing You. It bored me then and it bores me now.

  3. 3
    taDOW on 12 Mar 2014 #

    yeah biggie’s lack of profile in the uk (and europe in general) has always made this thing’s success over there befuddling to me. in the us it made sense – biggie was an icon and in 1997 anything w/ the words ‘puff daddy’ on it was gonna blow up (eg. a month and a half before puffy had hit #1 w/ ‘can’t nobody hold me down’, which was knocked off the top by biggie’s ‘hypnotize’, as ‘mo money mo problems’ would in turn knock this off the top – from mid-march to the beginning of october the only #1 w/o puff heavily involved was ‘mmmbop’) – and its mediocrity somewhat forgiveable – rush job to terrible circumstances, ‘goodbye brooklyn’s rose’ so to speak. fwiw the first legit hip-hop track i heard on adult contemporary radio and in it’s own way fitting in w/ the move away from gangsta and to pop puffy (w/ timbaland and missy – the other dominant unavoidable hip-hop of 97) helped bring in, albeit minus the nouveau riche glee of ‘hypnotize’, ‘mo money’, ‘all around the world’, etc. the tupac-biggie feud was so huge and so central to east coast vs west coast that the death of both artists could help but clearly be the end of that era but i think both could’ve thrived in the more pop environment that came after, jay-z did and he didn’t have near the pop instincts (or the stardom) that pac did w/ ‘california love’ or biggie did w/ ‘hypnotize’. anyhow i gave it a 5, overrating it probably, admittedly.

  4. 4
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Mar 2014 #

    The Verve record’s at least got an odd angle to its relation to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy – the name, and the video, and getting in the same string arranger, as if Richard Ashcroft woke up one morning and said “The world will know me as the Shara Nelson of being a self-absorbed wanker.”

  5. 5
    MBI on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Back when it came out I detested this song. I still do, I guess. But it got sold to me by a single scene in a movie — “Rush Hour 2,” believe it or not. Jackie Chan believes Chris Tucker is dead, and as he drives away and tries to deal with his grief, “I’ll Be Missing You” comes on. And because he knows it’s a song Tucker’s character would have liked, he grooves along, even though you can tell by the look on Chan’s face that he knows this song is fucking terrible, but it fits the mood regardless. Rush Hour 2 is also awful, in much the same way that most of Puff’s music is awful, but I honestly find that one scene kind of touching, and I guess that scene recontextualized the song for me in much the same way that Tom describes. Back when it was big it was the worst song in the world, but time has kind of elevated it to some level of camp pleasure.

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Re 4: Wil Malone’s blog doesn’t mention how the string undertow and melody on Bitter Sweet Symphony come from a 1965 instrumental of the Stones’ The Last Time, as scored by David Whitaker (who should by rights have bagged at least some of the publishing on BSS). Quite possibly ‘Mad Richard’ hummed the string part to Malone, but it was pinched (not a word I’d use lightly).

    More of those chaps later, though. IBMY is lame, for all the reasons mentioned above. Is this the only time we come across Faith Evans? That’d be a shame.

    My flatmate Laura was wildly excited when Biggie Smalls was first on The Word (not sure of the date). I was unimpressed by his performance, though amused by his Les Dawson-like name – if only he knew how daft it sounded to British ears! But then I used to think that about Slash, before I heard he was from Stoke.

  7. 7
    mapman132 on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve said many times on this board that I’m not a big hip hop fan (especially 90’s hip hop) and therefore not necessarily qualified to make an unbiased judgement on records in the genre. But in some cases, I have able to re-evaluate certain records I once disliked and recognize them for the classics they are (e.g. “Gangsta’s Paradise”). This, however, is not one of those cases….

    While neither Puffy nor Biggie were that big in the UK prior to this record, the same could not be said of the US. In fact during 1997 we were treated to a 22-week marathon of Puffy-Biggie-Puffy-Biggie atop the Hot 100, broken only by 3 weeks of Hanson in the middle. The two Biggie records actually weren’t that bad, as much as I couldn’t stand him and his ilk personally. The Puffy records OTOH…pure crap (actually I had to look up “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” just now to even remember it). Pretty much random “uh huh’s” and other insipid lyrics over samples of someone else’s work. And even in eulogizing his friend, Puffy couldn’t get it right – it just comes across as a lazy and cynical cash-in record. 3/10, and only that high assuming some sincerity lurking in there somewhere.

    I had no idea this outsold “Wannabe” in the UK – it surprises me a bit. But with 11 weeks at number one in the US, and sales and airplay through the roof, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that IBMY would be Billboard’s top single of 1997 as the summer wound down. After all, what could possibly come along to beat it?

  8. 8
    mapman132 on 12 Mar 2014 #

    A short satire piece that pretty much sums up my opinion of Sean “Puffy” Combs:

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/new-rap-song-samples-billie-jean-in-its-entirety-a,4389/

  9. 9
    Kinitawowi on 12 Mar 2014 #

    The God of sampling (in my view) is not too far away from us (he may even be here already – Better Living Through Chemistry is already around – and in certain respects, he was here for some ten years by now…), and all of his big hits teach us one important lesson – don’t rely on a sample where the original is going to dwarf your record. Otherwise, everyone’s going to hear your sample, and they’re going to think it’s the original song, and then it’s going to go in a different direction and they’re likely to be disappointed.

    Such is the story of IBMY. Every Breath You Take is simply too big. Not lyrically spectacular by any means (but that’s a story for it’s own thread), but its sample comes in from miles away and it’s not even cleverly reworked. This is it, says the song. We’ve nicked EBTY, we’re changing a couple of the words in the chorus but still singing basically the same song, and Puffy is going to rap instead of having the original verses. Deal with it.

    I don’t deal with it. If EBTY’s intro starts up, that’s what I want to hear.

    It was all vaguely likeable at the time, mind. I was 16, I’d sort of picked up on the Biggie connection – despite having heard nothing of him, never mind having any clue why he might be deserving of a tribute record – and EBTY was always worth hearing. But EBTY is not what it was, and nor is this. 3 is about right.

    And who even were 112 anyway? They apparently worked with Allure on their not-too-shabby cover of All Cried Out, but I haven’t heard or seen anything of them before or since.

  10. 10
    swanstep on 12 Mar 2014 #

    @mapman, 8. Excellent. And Tom’s said everything more that needs to be said. Strange what can, almost out of the blue, command a huge audience; I just eye-rolled (ear-rolled?) at IBMY at the time, and have never (until now) consciously heard it all the way through since:
    3 (for the basic competence of the backing, and Evans’s sweet voice)

  11. 11
    Weej on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I wasn’t a fan of this at the time and don’t want to defend it now, but rap music and sampling are not to blame here. Notorious BIG’s Mo Money Mo Problems was released shortly after this and made the UK top ten, and it makes a startling contrast – a familiar sample used creatively, spliced to throw a new angle on it, to create something fresh, plus of course memorable rapping and a new vocal section.

    I’ll Be Missing You, on the other hand, takes the bassline from Every Breath You Take and does precisely nothing with it. What’s worse, we lose the middle eight (“since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace….”) entirely, turning the track into one long cold non-build-up with no pay-off. Puff Daddy’s embarrassed muttering sounds like he knows he’s made a stinker, but fuck it, nobody will notice, and Faith Evans’ vocals are nice enough, but they are ultimately nothing more than karaoke stuff. It sounds like the complete opposite of a heartfelt tribute, and I can’t for the life of me work out how a best friend and a widow could have made it so soon after their bereavement – or why anyone bought it, let alone made it into such a massive hit.

    The British public would buy rap in the 90s, but usually only if it was mawkish, a novelty, or both. Fortunately this trend fizzled out in the 00s, but for now it’s a bit of an embarrassment.

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Mawkish is exactly the word. High point: the female vocals. I will quite happily never listen to this again.

  13. 13
    Weej on 12 Mar 2014 #

    One odd thing I was just thinking about – can anyone think of another A&R man who became a pop star? The nearest I can think of it one J King, but he did the pop star stuff first.

  14. 14
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #11 Yeah, in a way it’s weird Puffy dropped the “When you’re gone…” bit – which is the best part of EBYT. TOO brazen? Or requiring him to sound too vulnerable? But, to be fair, the “Some bright morning…” bit from Faith serves the same payoff purpose. So the real problem is that it’s allowed to resolve nothing and we get the interminable stretch of murmured “I miss you”s afterwards.

    (Another triumph here for the “Related Posts” algorithm I notice, finding room for J-Don and the Arcade Fire but not actually the Every Breath entry…)

  15. 15
    wichitalineman on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Re 13: J King did it simultaneously, writing and producing Hedgehoppers Anonymous’s It’s Good News Week (#5 Nov ’65) at more or less the same time as his own faux protest song Everyone’s Gone To The Moon (#4 Aug ’65), which was covered with aplomb – and not even tongue in cheek – by Bobby Womack.

    Puffy produced Mary J Blige as well as A&R-ing her, and did a pretty good job, but I’m Goin’ Down is a long way from IBMY.

  16. 16
    Kat but logged out innit on 12 Mar 2014 #

    We do indeed see Faith at a later date on Popular (as a sample).

    I’d never heard of Biggie until this record, and I have to say hearing it didn’t really make me want to immediately seek out his back catalogue (it took me years to realise that ‘Juicy’ and ‘Hypnotize’ were absolute tunes). Diddy seems to be getting a roasting here and I think that’s understandable, but there’s much better from him to come.

    Anyway: MIND AND SENSES PURIFIED

  17. 17
    Alan not logged in on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I don’t *think* I see it mentioned here or in the EBYT comments…

    https://destroyerofharmony.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/every-sample-you-take/

    Summers’ beef about the sample royalties going to Sting, despite it being basically him (Summers), and something he came up with in the original track session

  18. 18
    lonepilgrim on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I like Faith Evans’ voice on this and I have some residual connection to the original melody but the whole thing seems static and listless. Not good.

  19. 19
    JLucas on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I’m reminded of Tom’s review of an earlier dodgy cover version borne of a tragedy – the Ferry Aid recording of Let It Be.

    There was even less to that record than there is to this, but just like Kate Bush’s brief contribution to that song briefly cuts through the crap, so does Faith Evans vocal on this one. Obviously it’s a bit mawkish to put a widow on the record, and the she was separated from Biggie at the time of his death anyway after he cheated on her with Lil Kim, but there’s a lovely dignity to her performance that Puff Daddy’s clunky verses can’t possibly match, but also fail to undermine.

    It’s a six from me, thanks to her. I always found Puff Daddy/P.Diddy impossible to take seriously, though he produced some amazing songs. Around the time of this song he also dragged Mariah Carey out of premature middle age with the inspired ‘Honey’, and Dreams ‘He Loves U Not’ is one of the great underrated pop songs of the early 00s if you ask me…

  20. 20
    Rory on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Fourth-highest-selling single of the year in Australia, between “MMMBop” (5th) and “Tubthumping”, and number one there for five weeks that August and September. A similarly anomalous hit to the UK, because Puff Daddy’s prior Australian peak was a 27 for “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”, although he went on to reach number 10 as featured artist on The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” and with Jimmy Page in 1998 for “Come With Me”.

    I was in the “what’s the point of this EBYT rip-off” camp, and can’t hear anything to change my mind now. 4.

  21. 21
    anto on 12 Mar 2014 #

    This track is astonishingly bright sounding for a eulogy to a young man whose life was clearly troubled and who met a violent, tragic end and that’s mainly because of Faith Evans’ contribution. It also sounds very summery. Could that be another reason for it’s success? It’s air of youthful recollection touching on something nostalgic in the listener.
    It turned out to be particularly apposite for the summer of 1997 which turned tepid in June with a lot of beige days where the brief sunny spells seemed almost begrudging and where borrowed grief seemed to characterize daily life in Britain at one point. A very strange time now I think about it.

  22. 22
    enitharmon on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Andrew @ 4 Massive Attack? I’d swear that BS was a rehash of a 1965 number one.

    “Well I told you once and I told you twice but you never listen to my advice…”

  23. 23
    Jonathan on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Re #1: It’s so bizarre to see someone describe Biggie as humorless! One of the last adjectives that comes to mind when I think of him.

    Re “IBMY”: Obviously it’s better than “EBYT” — there’s no Sting on this one.

  24. 24
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #17 Man! Yet more reason to hate Sting.

    Yeah, maybe I should have upped it a point because of Faith Evans, but she doesn’t make up for the song being soooooo long, not that “IBMY” is nearly the worst culprit in 97-98 number ones.

    And yes, obviously I agree with the people saying that Sean Combs has had a hand in a lot of records far better than this one (does he actually show up again himself). Particularly pleased to see Dream get a mention!

    I don’t remember much about the weather during Summer ’97, I remember the sunshine towards the end of August. From March through about July I was in a pretty bad way: my worst bout of depressive illness (still a great deal better than many sufferers have had it, but debilitating enough for my memories of this time to be generally grim. This at number one certainly didn’t help.) Anyway, around the time this finally left #1 I overcame my stubbornness, got medical help, and not to chance the bunny but the drugs did work – well enough for the rest of the year to be less awful, anyhow.

  25. 25
    James BC on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I would stick up for this. I hadn’t heard of BIG before it was released, but it came on the radio and they told the story and I found it pretty moving. I like how Faith Evans doesn’t over-emote in 90s diva style – it’s enough just to sing beautifully. But Puffy’s rap works for me as well, sounding desperately sad in its matter-of-fact flatness.

    I’ve got no idea what 112 do, though. I assume they are credited in an effort to promote them.

    Re A&Rs who went into recording: does Bill Drummond count?

  26. 26
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #25 He does! And he even did a bit of rapping.

    (112 are doing the soft “every X you Y” backing vox on the coda, I assumed)

  27. 27
    Rory on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #26 “every X you Y”: Puff/Coldplay mash-up ahoy!

  28. 28
    iconoclast on 12 Mar 2014 #

    First off, in the interests of accuracy: it’s not the “bassline”; it’s Andy Summers’s guitar line, recorded with a little slapback echo.

    Anyway, on the one hand this is (or at least sounds like) a heartfelt tribute to a lost friend; on the other, as Tom said, it’s little more than people talking over other people’s music. I’ve nothing else to add about the choice of sample that hasn’t already been said; the song itself gets monotonous and eventually runs out of steam altogether. FOUR.

    (Interestingly, “I’ve nothing else…” onwards also describes my feelings about “Bittersweet Symphony”, which is even harder on the ears.)

  29. 29
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #28 Oops – corrected. Where would I be without a comments crew to help me with the most basic questions of instrument identification?

  30. 30
    anto on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Everyone seems to have a real downer on ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ which baffles me. Few other hit singles have ever cut through the airwaves quite so majestically, I think.
    It’s also fair to argue that ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ is the best song Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been credited on since about 1981.

  31. 31
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #22 now surely no-one could reasonably claim that…

  32. 32
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #30 After the Watershed (Easy Listening er I mean Early Learning the Hard Way) would argue with that – though if you’re serious about your first paragraph then I don’t know it’s got much chance of convincing you.

  33. 33
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I like “Bitter Sweet Symphony”! Might elaborate on why in a few entries, if it fits in.

    It was an incredibly useful (i.e. smug) weapon in arguments about this record’s lack of ‘creativity’ though.

  34. 34
    thefatgit on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Biggie and Tupac eh? The former, as most people have mentioned didn’t feature on my radar until after IBMY. So all of his posthumous output is kind of skewed towards acknowledging and remembering a lost voice, or buying into a death cult depending on your sympathies. Tupac was known to me through his collaborations with Digital Underground, but again there was the whole death cult thing with his posthumous output. It was a very long time after their deaths I heard “Where’s Brooklyn At?” live recording with both rappers sharing the same stage, post IBMY, post Broomfield, post “99 Problems” it felt haunted, despite it being rescuscitated for comedy purposes by Peter Serafinowicz’s character Brian Butterfield.

    Puff Daddy behind the mixing desk was inspired. TLC’s “CrazySexyCool” had his fingerprints on several tracks, but being thrust front and centre after B.I.G’s death meant a level of exposure he probably was not ready for. Oh, he’d hyped and collaborated with most of the Uptown roster, not least Jodeci and Mary J Blige before founding Bad Boy, and set up the label as a credible East Coast challenger to Suge Knight’s west Coast label, Death Row. His shortcomings as a rapper are there for all to see on IBMY. It’s mawkish and definitely overlong. A couple of listens would have been enough, but six weeks? What it does do of course is fit splendidly well into 1997’s narrative, but we can expand on that when the time is right.

  35. 35
    Rory on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #33 The obviousness of the sample bothered me at the time too, but I (hope I) didn’t frame it in terms of lack of creativity. Rather, it was the same problem that I had with “Ice, Ice Baby” – the sample was too big, too immediately recognisable to me (and that one wasn’t even a sample, but a re-recording). By contrast, I was fine at the time with “U Can’t Touch This” because I didn’t yet know “Super Freak”, and “Gangsta’s Paradise” because I hadn’t heard “Pastime Paradise”. And that initial perception seems to have shaped my long-term views of the songs, even though I now know all their sources; I’m still fine with MC Hammer’s and Coolio’s tracks, but not so much with this or “Ice, Ice Baby”.

    The sample on “Bittersweet Symphony”, on the other hand, was always sufficiently obscure (although unfortunately for Ashcroft, by far-from-obscure writers) not to evoke any such uneasiness. For the same reason, I enjoy lots of post-2000 sample-heavy electronic songs, because they don’t sample the smash hits.

    I was trying to think of an analogy, and came up with Duchamp’s painting of a moustache on a copy of the Mona Lisa; but that isn’t quite it. He wasn’t trying to appropriate Leonardo’s genius, but rather to comment on the painting’s place in popular culture. There was no sign that Vanilla Ice or Puff Daddy were doing anything like that, so it felt more like appropriation.

    But to drill down further, why did it feel like appropriation? Because they were making what at another time might have been sold as straight cover versions, with amendments within the bounds of those that cover artists have always made to originals. Why not just bill this as a cover of “Every Breath You Take”? Would it be any less a performance? Cf. the two Fugees songs we encountered a while back, one a straight cover but unmistakably made their own, the other more akin to this – yet even that carried a shortened version of the title of the original track, and the original wasn’t a number 1 by one of the biggest bands of its day.

    I’m not actually that bothered by any of this now, either in this case or “Ice, Ice Baby”. I just don’t enjoy either track that much. This is a 4 for me rather than a 3 because of Faith Evans’ vocals, and that’s about it.

  36. 36
    punctum on 12 Mar 2014 #

    In the struggles of the sixties the villains were clear; the assassins of King, of Evers, of the four little girls, were the enemy. If black shot black (Malcolm X, some still say on the orders of Farrakhan) it was as the result of ideological confrontation; bloody and horrible as it was, there was some reason behind it, an explanation even if that explanation were that the assassin had no reason. But the reason behind the entirely pitiful East Coast/West Coast hip hop feud which ensured the violent deaths of the then leading figures of each seems to have been nothing more than money; violent attitudes as marketing tools, gunslinging face-offs as attractively “other” sales pitch, the presumed need for one business conglomerate to be bigger than the other. Neither 2Pac nor Biggie can be posthumously excused; they encouraged or were encouraged to encourage the rivalry, frothing revengeful death wishes at each other until finally someone took them at their word on both body counts. Such a useless waste, and all to further the well-being of the worship-denying god of Mammon. Didn’t any lessons get learned from the sixties?

    Because of its coincidental timing, “I’ll Be Missing You” exceeded its target audience to become the first of that summer’s second-hand requiems towards spirits abruptly flown. Hardly any of the 1,400,000 or so Britons who bought the single knew or frankly cared who The Notorious B.I.G. was; Ready To Die failed to trouble our album chart, and #34 had been his living singles chart peak with a double A-side of “One More Chance/Stay With Me” in August 1995. One month after his assassination, the Life After Death double CD went Top 30; one month later still, “Hypnotize” became his first UK top ten hit. It was, from the same damaged perspective which ensured his early demise, a sterling career move.

    The overwhelming emotion one gleans from “I’ll Be Missing You” is that of exhausted numbness. His best friend and his ex-wife try to pay honest tribute, complementing the Police template with the old gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” but both sound shattered; Combs in particular realising just too late what unfettered capitalism does to human beings when taken to its extremes. He mumbles his lines morosely rather than proclaiming them; Faith Evans’ tears buried under convenient harmonies and multitracking except for the one brief moment when she breaks cover at the “One day morning/When this life is over” section. But as the song slowly fades, Combs knows too well that he is trapped, will run on the same money-generating treadmill forever – “And we won’t stop, ‘cause we can’t stop.” There’s the tragedy and the reason why “I’ll Be Missing You” is ultimately inaccessible; we glimpse the numbed, frozen cells of grief in their voices, but still it will be business as usual, no matter how much more blood gets shed (note the subliminal plug for Life After Death at the end of the second verse) – they seem awkwardly reluctant to express unrestrained lament, yet their self-protective inwardness does not equate with grave dignity; rather it is as though Puff Daddy and Faith Evans, even in the depths of their post-traumatic depression, are still hiding something from their audience; the full, unpalatable underlying truth about the system they propagate, the furtive glances of suppressed guilt, of complicity in something which should rightly and long since have been overthrown.

  37. 37
    Jonny on 12 Mar 2014 #

    @30 Best Jagger/Richards credit since 1994 — their ’94 song Thru’ and Thru’ (which was used nicely on The Sopranos) is actually really good. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jbgPHAQVbk Bit slow, but I’m not sure BS is definitely better.

    (And Richards has actually done some surprisingly good work on Tom Waits albums in 1985, ’92 and ’11 — though there’s only one co-writing credit.)

  38. 38
    thefatgit on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Wasn’t there a conspiracy theory about Farrakhan’s Nation Of Islam assassinating Biggie? Not that it has any bearing on anything, but it struck me when Marcello mentioned Malcolm X.

  39. 39
    James BC on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #36 How much of the song’s success are you attributing to Diana’s death? I think its six weeks at number 1 all came before that happened… or were there other deaths at the time that it resonated with?

    (Not sure I agree with you about blaming (or “not excusing”) Biggie and Tupac for their own deaths. A lot of people would say that rap culture at that time was a product of its environment, which they were victims rather than architects of.)

  40. 40
    DanH on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Didn’t have any use for this song then, or any use for anything by P Diddy. My main memory of this was being on a date and dismissing this song (don’t remember how the convo went there), only to find out she connected with that song after losing her dad. Yep, awkward.

  41. 41
    ciaran on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Not much to get excited from this one at all. This is like hip hop’s very own ‘The Living Years’.

    The fact that it was blaring from speakers far and wide for what seemed like an eternity doesn’t make an isolated listen now any more pleasant.

    Such is the ubiquity and familiarity of EBYT on both sides of the atlantic that any sample of it no matter how half-arsed it sounded was going to be a success.

    The worst thing about it was it just seemed like a vehicle for Combs to promote himself rather than pay tribute to his best friend. Agree fully with the comment made earlier about how lazy and cynical this record is. A 2 or a 3.

    One of the worst things about the song was Sting himself joining in with Combs on some awards show mixing EBYT with bits of IBMY. Perfect for him as his 90s solo career had lost a bit of steam.You wouldnt believe how many people would remark about how great a song EBYT was after this came out.

    Fortunately Combs dire ‘Come With Me’ didnt get to the top in 1998. Best discuss that though when we get to a chart topper the same year!

  42. 42
    Izzy on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I remember that Sting/Puffy collaboration. PD’s dancing during Sting’s bits hilarious as I recall – not hilariously bad or anything, just strange, like he was ice skating or something. In my mind he’s even in white tuxedo, tails & topper for full strange effect.

  43. 43
    Izzy on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Watched it again and it’s not that bad, Puffy adding a certain awkward grace, almost, to proceedings.

    An oddity of the video was his bike crash at the start, which wasn’t prompted by anything, just a little wobble while riding in a straight line. Contrast with similar kicking off Unbreak My Heart, which is scarcely graphic but was unambiguously a crash that was gonna hurt.

  44. 44
    23 Daves on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #6 I hadn’t thought of that one before, but “Busta Rhymes” was a source of similar amusement to a friend of mine, who felt his monicker sounded like the name of a blue working man’s club act. “Evening all, Buster Rhymes here! Whoops madam, PARDON!” And in a parallel universe this may even be true, with Jethro and Roy “Chubby” Brown being shot in some turf warfare.

    Other than that… Popular seems to be going through a run of number ones I really don’t care that much about one way or the other. This sounded incredibly lazy to me at the time, and still does, but the source material is bearable enough for me to find it tolerable. In fact, the absence of Sting does remove the song of a key irritant. As tributes go, though, it doesn’t feel as if it says enough – there’s barely a single word present about what Notorious BIG did, what made him unique, and most of the focus is on Puff Daddy’s grief. I’d forgive that by itself, but even when he finally does get on to talking about NBIG’s abilities, the “we” word comes into play – “seems like yesterday we used to rock the show”. If I’d been tasked with writing an eulogy for a friend at a funeral, I’d feel very awkward about taking the tack of solely talking about how wonderful we were as a team, not focussing on my friend’s own individual attributes and achievements at all.

    For my hip-hop loving friends, this was definitely a favoured track for a short while (if put to one side before the end of its long reign at the top) so it did reach into some of the audience. I always got the impression that they liked it because it felt like a key closing chapter in a specific story, rather than because they felt it was a fantastic record. If a record marks the death of somebody who was important to you in some way, I suppose you’ll overlook many of its flaws in order to pay your respects – and there will be more of that talk soon, I imagine.

  45. 45
    Mark M on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Re39: Obviously, the deaths are unsolved, and other people in hip-hop have been killed without connections to public beefs. But the Bad Boy-Death Row feud was loud, public and very dumb. And Tupac, raised in New York, Baltimore and the Bay Area, had no long-standing tribal allegiance to LA (he wasn’t repping for his hood) but he became Death Row’s biggest mouth.

  46. 46
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #45 The argument isn’t just that people in hip-hop have been killed without connections to beefs, it’s also that public beefs, even if they are loud and very dumb (no argument there), should not be expected to lead to people getting killed. “Doing stupid stuff that might get you killed” shouldn’t be allowed to morph into “deserves to actually die” – I think it’s important to draw that line.

    (If I’m reading Punctum right, though, he’s saying that the participation of both men in turning the feud into a money machine can’t be posthumously excused, not that they can’t be excused for their own deaths.)

  47. 47
    flahr on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #9: two particular nadirs of this tendency from last year: “Play Hard” by David Guetta (which is nowhere near as good as “Better Off Alone”) and “Feel This Moment” by Pitbull (which is nowhere near as good as “Take On Me”).

    However, I seem to remember Devlin’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” being better than both originals, and Wretch 32’s “Unorthodox” was pretty good too, so there is hope for the budding big-sampler.

  48. 48
    hectorthebat on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Sample watch:

    Aside from the obvious, no mention of the “some bright morning…” being from “I’ll Fly Away” by The Humbard Family?

  49. 49
    Mark M on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Re46: Yes, sorry, obviously I should make clear that I absolutely don’t believe that either man ‘deserved to die’. Nor, as I said, do we know that there was necessarily any direct connection between the feud and their deaths. I just wanted to edge away from ‘well, this is what happens in hip hop’.

  50. 50
    Mark M on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Re various: There is an art to actually rapping over much of, or (it sometimes sounds like) the whole of an existing track – Ghostface Killah is the master of it.

  51. 51
    Mark M on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Puffy wasn’t the first, or the last, hip-hop producer to promote himself to frontman despite lacking any natural flow. I still think he’s the one I least like to hear, although he has made tracks that disguise his shortcomings more cunningly than this one.

    I think I reviewed Ready To Die for Select. If so, I’ve barely listened to it since. I understand Biggie’s talent, but I never really enjoyed his rapping. Tupac, meanwhile, I think was a dull MC but potentially a terrific actor.

  52. 52
    Jonathan on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @35: That argument seems like a case of expecting hip-hop to conform to rock music’s norms. Rappers have always rhymed over familiar breaks, often ones very familiar to their audience. It’s not a cover; it’s a new song because according to rap’s decentralized system of production, the rapper creates new songs by spitting new rhymes.

  53. 53
    Garry on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @52 I agree it’s not a cover. But the issue for me Diddy is not only sampling the music but vibe and perceived emotions evoked by the originals. This is more than a nostalgic sampling for a beat, but a sampling of the perceived emotions the original songs express.

    The other immediate – and much better though not great – example is 2Pac’s refashioning Bruce Hornsby’s The Way It Is.

    As someone else said, I didn’t hear Gangsta’s Paradise or Superfreak, but they this was unimportant to appreciating (or otherwise) the new songs built from them. But I get the feeling Changes and IBMY require a interrelationship between themselves and the originals – The Way It Is was only released n 1990 – that part of their success required the listener being aware of the original, remembering the emotions they stirred up, however hazily. This was more than crate digging, this was song selection to emphasise the rappers’ points.

    As an aside example of this type of song borrowing is Robbie William’s Supreme. Unlike the other two songs above, he rebuild I Will Survive from the ground up and updated it for a new, disconnected generation.

  54. 54
    Rory on 13 Mar 2014 #

    #52: I know, and in 1997 (and earlier) that’s how I would have thought. I don’t so much now, which is why I gave good scores to the Fugees tracks, for example. But for better or worse, my 2014 reaction to IBMY (and “Ice, Ice Baby”) is influenced by my lingering 1997 reactions, which probably drags them down a point or two in my current estimation.

    I was mainly trying to explain why Tom’s comparison with the sampling in “Bittersweet Symphony” wouldn’t have persuaded me at the time. Now I’m fine with it, but still much prefer the Verve.

  55. 55
    Tom on 13 Mar 2014 #

    #53 I don’t get that IBMY needs the vibe of EBYT at all, he’s changed the mood of the song from creepy/claustrophobic to pious and placid, IMO. Gangsta’s Paradise, on the other hand, gets more dimensional when you think about its source material (though it doesn’t NEED that dimensionality, but the songs are talking to one another in interesting ways)

  56. 56
    punctum on 13 Mar 2014 #

    #46: well, exactly.

  57. 57
    Tommy Mack on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Re: blurring of line between sampling and cover version: Was this before or after N-Trance’s updated cover versions of disco hits? I don’t think I’m risking bunnyable offence when I say “Get raw with the fever on the dance floor!”

  58. 58
    Tom on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Alas you are not. We will be meeting a couple of tracks in that style I think. Though not its peak, Bus Stop’s amazing “Kung Fu Fighting” remake.

  59. 59
    Ed on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @51 So how did you rate Ready To Die, do you remember?

    My impression was that while alive Biggie made very little impact in Britain, both in the charts – as Andrew Farrell @1 and others have said – and among critics. It was certainly possible for me to have never heard a single syllable of his work, without ever thinking “I really must check him out.”

    So it wasn’t until last year that I really listened to him for the first time – prompted by hearing Jay-Z talk about him, I think – and discovered that he was absolutely fantastic. And as far as I can tell, there is now a general consensus that he was “the greatest ever”, insofar as that type of question can ever be universally agreed. Obviously there is some post-mortem solemnity and myth-making in that verdict, but as with similar examples such as Jimi Hendrix or Ian Curtis, I find it impossible to think that the reverence is undeserved.

    Back when he was alive, though, my impression was that he was barely covered – and sometimes actively derided – by the mainstream rock media. Even in the places that tried to nudge readers out of their guitar-based comfort zones, there was a lot more serious attention paid to the Wu-Tang Clan. Perhaps Biggie didn’t seem indie enough.

    So as I’ve perceived it, he has undergone a Black Sabbath level of reappraisal: ignored or mocked by taste-makers while he was creating his best work, but now widely acknowledged to have been the best at what he did.

    But maybe that’s unfair. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying enough attention while he was alive.

  60. 60
    Ed on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @55 Listeners have always wanted to hear EBTY as a sincere and uncomplicated love song: playing it at weddings, etc. IBMY just formalised that response. And that is its one true flash of inspiration.

  61. 61
    Tom on 13 Mar 2014 #

    re. critical reception, here’s Simon Reynolds’ “Most Overrated Of The 90s” write-up (from 1999 I guess).

    “The odd nifty catchphrase and deft rhyme, but c’mon, this man was a pig—Notorious P.I.G. more like; Piggy Smalls, heheheheh-and with a little help from his buddy Sean he almost singlehandedly set rap down its current path of spiritual bankruptcy. And he had the most unappetising vocal timbre in all of rap- asthmatic and adenoidal and mucus-bunged-up and fat-fuck wheezy all at once.”

  62. 62
    Tommy Mack on 13 Mar 2014 #

    The one time I listened to Ready To Die, it seemed a pretty unflinching look at a world without hope or compassion (to the extent that I haven’t really been in the mood for it since): there didn’t seem to much that was celebrating a criminal lifestyle (“When I die I hope I go to hell, coz I’m a piece of shit…”) Even the Rolex/Benz/Cristal track seems to be more about the relief of no longer having to undergo the humiliation and hardship of crushing poverty. I don’t know how ‘authentic’ this was; those who know seem to be divided about how ‘street’ Biggie’s background was.

    I never listened to any Bad Boy stuff back in the day. When I got into rap, I was a Death Row and Wu Tang fan (still am): Dre and Snoop could be funny as well as hard whereas (to my teenage ears) Biggie and Puff were fat blokes boasting about their big watches. Plus Puff Daddy’s name was too easy for schoolboys to take the piss off. Things like that were more important than you’d care to admit.

  63. 63
    Ed on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @61 Ouch. I can understand the urge to push back against the piety, but that is just crass.

    It probably explains how I came to miss how good Biggie was, too: I took Reynolds’ opinion very seriously back then.

  64. 64
    Tommy Mack on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Reynolds always seems a bit like my dad: quite a binary attitude to music: if you’re not ostentatiously pushing forwards (or at least in some unexpected sideways direction) then you’re holding things back. I can’t imagine he has much time for sentimentality.

  65. 65
    Tommy Mack on 13 Mar 2014 #

    And that by ‘forward-thinking’ he means in quite traditional scholarly terms.

  66. 66
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 13 Mar 2014 #

    “asthmatic and … fat-fuck wheezy”

    Sean “Puffy” Combs shd totally have marketed blinghalers: “The Notorious B.E.C.otide”

    (this joke largely courtesy the site’s designer)

  67. 67
    Garry on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @55 and @60 Thanks Ed, that’s exactly what I was trying to get at by saying the perceived emotion of the song – what Sting sung and some listeners wanted to hear into it, if they heard deeply into it at all, were two different things.

    I just had a look on All Music and major label compilations EBYT has appeared on includes Love: A Collection of Everlasting Love Songs; The Love Songs Album; and 100% Pure Love. I’m sure the compilers knew their target audiences.

    And in that I take Ed’s point about IBMY formalising this feeling.

  68. 68
    thefatgit on 13 Mar 2014 #

    As with any critic, it all boils down to “who do you trust?”. I’m not sure I would trust Reynolds on Gangsta Rap as much as I would trust Reynolds on House Music.

  69. 69
    Mark M on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Re59: I would guess I gave it 3/5 – can’t imagine having given it less, not sure I had the enthusiasm for a 4.

    As for the wider point, among people who wrote about hip hop, he was major news from the start. But, yes, I think in terms of selling him to an audience that bought a couple of hip hop albums a year, though, there was less of an obvious hook than with the Wu Tang (there’s lots of them! Chess! Martial arts!) or Snoop (the look, the name, the humour, the instantly distinctive voice).

    I don’t read The Source or Vibe these days, or indeed much music criticism beyond FreakyTrigger and The Singles Jukebox, so I have no idea how the current canon of great MCs stacks up. For me, Biggie is nowhere near Rakim or the young Nas or Ghostface, for starters, but that’s a personal thing.

    Re62: Biggie’s background – poor but respectable, his (single) mother was a teacher from Jamaica. I don’t think there’s much doubt that he was selling drugs as a kid, though.

  70. 70
    Tommy Mack on 13 Mar 2014 #

    #68 I’d go with that: Critics’ and fans’ reasons for disliking something are rarely as interesting and thought through as their reasons for liking something.

  71. 71
    glue_factory on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Re:59, I’d always thought the critical-consensus held Rakim as the greatest-ever. But having said that, I just found an online top-63(!) which has Rakim at 61 (2Pac at #1, Biggie at #2)

  72. 72
    Ed on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @67 Thanks. I love those songs that have different private and public meanings: Born in the USA being the classic example. It’s too simplistic to say listeners are misunderstanding them: they are responding to something else that’s in there.

    The deeper truth, I think, is that the songs are like oxymorons, holding mutually opposing ideas in balance.

    You can love your country and still hate what it does. All-consuming devotion is bit creepy, and obsession can be romantic.

  73. 73
    Steve Mannion on 13 Mar 2014 #

    #68 That’s a problem though isn’t it – the idea of only being able to ‘trust’ a critic on certain genres? I’ve never developed a penchant for any particular critic/criticism on that basis.

  74. 74
    thefatgit on 13 Mar 2014 #

    #73 I’m only speaking as the punter though. When it comes to Reynolds, there’s a whole ton of stuff he’s said over the years I tended to disagree with, but I’m not going to reject his opinion off the bat, because he’s got few things right as well. And I’m not going to make a choice about purchasing an album on just one person’s say so. I made that mistake too many times when I was young. When the BPM’s are higher, in my experience I’ve found Reynolds at his most enlightening.

  75. 75
    Cumbrian on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I’m somewhat surprised that there are accusations of insincerity knocking about with this record. There are two moments on it that seem to me to be so obviously sincere that it hurts to listen to them. The first is Puff Daddy’s sullen spit of “I’d give anything to hear half your breath” – so human, so honest – who, when having lost someone, doesn’t have those same emotions? Resentment that they’re gone, guilt that you didn’t let them know one last time how much they mean to you, sorrow that you’ll never get that chance.

    The second is Faith Evans but not the main part she sings. Right in the middle of the second chorus is a sweet, unshowy, even plaintively, sung “I miss you”. For me, it’s utterly heartbreaking – even if they had broken up by that time.

    That I think it’s sincere doesn’t, of course, mean that the record is automatically any good. I don’t think it is at all – many of the problems with it have been more eloquently expanded upon than I am capable of doing – but it’s not the nadir of hip-hop. Not anything like it.

    Not a huge fan of Sean Comb’s other work, with the exception of “Bad Boy For Life” which rides on a rather fine, jerky guitar riff. Please tell me that the Jimmy Page collaboration isn’t bunnied? That might actually be the nadir of hip-hop. I’d certainly rather listen to Vanilla Ice than it anyway.

  76. 76
    Tom on 14 Mar 2014 #

    The Page collab is unbunnied.

  77. 77
    Tommy Mack on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I quite enjoyed the Page collaboration, even Diddy’s ropey singing on the middle eight and the silly video where he squares off against Godzilla.

  78. 78
    Mark M on 22 Nov 2016 #

    Faith Evans – who I’ll admit I’ve thought little about in recent years – crops up (in good nick) on stage in Netflix’s Marvel TV series Luke Cage. It’s one of those dramas where there’s a nightclub at the centre of the action, so they get to have a bunch of retro-inclined soul acts performing: as well as Faith, Raphael Saadiq, Charles Bradley, the Delfonics (from yer actual back in the day) and Sharon Jones (RIP) turn up. There’s also (connecting us back to this thread) a vast portrait of Biggie dominating the owner’s office. And the show has a good, moody, similarly late ’60s/early ’70s slanted score from Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge. It all adds into a fairly consistent aesthetic the makers of the show have constructed.

    The music-related highlight of the show for me, though, was the appearance of Method Man, who gets a couple of scenes. It’s one of two hugely enjoyable cameos he’s made recently – I won’t say where the other one is because it’s more fun if that one is a surprise.

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