(3 out of 5)
At first glance, the soundtrack to the new biopic NOTORIOUS looks like another incomplete and oddly conceived look back at Biggie’s work; as with 2007’s GREATEST HITS compilation, one is left wondering why certain songs – in this case, monster hits like “Big Poppa” and “Mo Money Mo Problems” – were left off. How, after all, could a movie tell the story of Notorious B.I.G. and leave those numbers out? Yet somehow this set works, by combining a decent selection of signature tracks with respectfully crafted new cuts and four amazing demo cuts. It’s those album-closing rough tracks (especially the legendary “Guaranteed Raw”) that make NOTORIOUS feel less like another icky cash-in and more like a rounded look at Biggie’s career. Of the new cuts, the bristly Kanye West-produced Jay-Z/Santogold collaboration “Brooklyn Go Hard” is simultaneously the most interesting and the least appropriately placed; it’s nearly impossible to imagine this grimy, multi-culti jam making it’s way onto Biggie’s Discman before he died in 1997. Still, the strong impact of that cut is bracing when sitting among the soundtrack’s lachrymose honorariums (do we really need to hear Biggie and Faith’s kid rapping?). While this album (and its accompanying film) certainly achieve their respective goals of continuing to bloat the worshipful mythology that’s grown up around Notorious B.I.G.’s ghost, at least the music here reminds us of why we cared in the first place.