Ready to Die. September 13th, 1994. It was game changing in the purest sense of that played out term. You can’t discuss a single song without assessing it in the context of the album itself. Puffy and Biggie brought the big picture, a cinematic vision, one present in every pocket, from its landmark skits to the snippet transitions. You can’t just tear into track 3 – “Gimme the Loot” — without first breaking down why it follows “Things Done Changed.”
Intimate and intentionally taboo-breaking, “Gimme the Loot” feels out of step with the earlier track. After all, the crime caper is our true introduction to the architecture of Ready to Die.
But before the loot, we have to find out why he’s robbing. There’s “Things Done Changed,” a sweeping, chaotic reflection on the environment around Chris Wallace. Bed Stuy is a hell of internecine violence. There’s narration, scene-setting, a time and a place, where the actor plays out his drama. Keying in on the most extreme and bleak aspects of Brooklyn, while reminiscing on a simpler time, Biggie observes without lapsing into cliché, an easy pitfall when angling for a “simpler time.” Ironically, Big references the late 70s-early 80s, a moment when the hood was still in shambles from the Vietnam War and crack was about to tighten its hold.
The lush harp strums of “Things Done Changed” part for Easy Mo Bee’s marching snare and the menacing bass rumble of “Gimme the Loot.” There’s a sharp weather-marked horn riff lifted from James Brown’s “Cold Blooded.” Deftly scratched by Mr. Cee, we hear a snippet from from Guru’s cautionary “Just to Get a Rep.” The lyrics opens with a bit of bad luck for Biggie’s boy Inf, who caught a charge and left his guns in Big’s hands as he heads up north. We hear the sentence and estimated release date and immediately know the story takes place between 1990 and 1992.
While “Things Done Changed” hovered above the action, “Gimme the Loot” takes us into into the mind of an anti hero, a stick up kid and his friend, who amp each other’s adrenaline levels with increasingly outlandish shit talk. These two bring us into a nihilistic mind state that we won’t stray far from throughout Ready to Die. It’s an intense and jolting introduction. In fact, the album is arguably never darker, save for the obviously morbid, “Suicidal Thoughts”.
Historically, the focus on the first two verses is spent on Biggie’s increasingly offensive and amoral declarations; he insists that he’ll rob a pregnant woman and take her #1 mom pendant. No one else at the time was willing to take it that far. But what’s most remarkable is the back and forth, with Biggie exhibiting frightening clarity, not just engaging in a contest of who’s the most ruthless, but discussing robbery in terms of real strategy. He’s a coach diagramming from a playbook.
“No need for that, just grab the fucking gat/the first pocket that’s fat, the tec is to his back/word is born I’m a smoke him yo don’t fake no moves/treat it like boxing: stick and move, stick and move” and: “Yes love, love your fucking attitude/because the n***a play pussy, that’s the n****a that’s getting screwed/and bruised up, from the pistol whippin/webs on the neck from the necklace strippin(!)/Then I’m dippin up the block and I’m robbin bitches too.”
The third verse contains the story’s real action. The doomed protagonists catch bad luck and exchange bullets with the cops. That’s traditional terrain, but what’s most stark are the parts where Biggie gives us face time with money-hungry stick up kids on the prowl. As plot, the story’s nothing new, but in its telling and through the use of first person narrator, his life is given a chilling edge. The gun sounds in the outro say the rest.
MP3: The Notorious B.I.G-”Gimme the Loot”