So, what exactly does it say about your career if your performance is upstaged by the long-ago recorded outtakes of an MC who’s been six feet under for nearly a decade? And, conversely, what does it say if you’re a dead artist for whom the two or three dozen guest stars collated for an album in your honor can barely muster half a decent verse? Diddy predictably aside, though, Biggie has no one to blame for this overwhelming cavalier negligence but himself. He is, after all, listed as one of the album’s executive producers. Taking that appropriate credit into consideration, is anyone surprised the entirety of Duets: The Final Chapter sounds D.O.A.? Not even the necrological perversity of hearing Biggie’s tight-throated chuckles weaving in and out of the tracks (egging on a lot of rappers who didn’t even break until well after Biggie’s death, starting with an overweaningly abrasive Eminem on the opening salvo “It Has Been Said”) can elevate the morbid affair. If only it had been conceived with a fraction more attention to structure (for instance, it could’ve been assembled like a hip-hop storybook biographical replay of Biggie’s life and times), it could’ve been a sweet (albeit still misguided) coda, a single-disc Past Masters. As it stands, it’s more like an inadequate argument on behalf of memorializing Biggie’s birthday as a new national holiday, just because he wrote a whole ton of premonitory lyrics about his own demise. There are a few (presumably accidental) high points: Chief among these is the low-stakes stretch of tunes including the Kanye/Common-lite “1970 Somethin’” (featuring B.I.G.‘s widow Faith Evans), the club grinder “Nasty Girl,” and the Lamont Dozier-cribbing Mary J. Blige duet “Living In Pain,” all of which exude a bittersweet grief in contrast to most of the surrounding album’s bluster. If I’m harsh on this collection, it’s because Biggie clearly deserves better.
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