When Sean "Puffy" Combs began to formulate his empire in the early 90s, his primary focus was on a one-two punch of new artists to hit the radio. He dubbed this the "Big Mac" combination, composed of Craig Mack and Notorious B.I.G.. The project was both a success and a failure as one of the emcees became a proverbial one-hit wonder and faded into obscurity while the other was not only the launchpad for Bad Boy Entertainment's deathclutch on mainstream radio for years to come; but also considered one of the greatest of all time.
After the now-legendary success of Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album Ready To Die, the Brooklyn-native returned home to scoop up his childhood friends and share the wealth, so to speak. Collectively, Junior M.A.F.I.A. were all childhood friends of Biggie's, who focused nearly all of his post-Ready To Die time to make them superstars on his level. Lil Cease, Klepto, Nino Brown, Lil Kim, and the rest of the bunch, along with the Bad Boy marketing machine, were set to explode with their debut album Conspiracy, in 1995. Notorious B.I.G. acted as the leader and "Godfather" archetype for the group (something that would be emulated time and time again from future rappers).
There's nothing wrong with returning to your roots and taking your friends out of the streets and making them superstars on your level, but the sad truth is that not a single performer in Junior M.A.F.I.A. was on Big's level. Biggie was ultra-charismatic and one of the more methodical lyricists of the day, so to compensate for it, he not-only featured himself on four of the songs on the record, but also did a handful of ghostwriting (most notably for Lil Kim). He carried them, for lack of a better term. Big will always be credited as having an incredible swagger, and other than Kim, every other member of the group comes off monotonous in comparison. This lack of individuality hurts Conspiracy.
There's little doubt however that the singles from Conspiracy were the definition of raw mid-90s hip hop. Even if you aren't a rap fan, I'm almost positive if you grew up in the 90s you'll remember the Sylvia Striplin sampling "Get Money"; the back and forth verbal, at times crude and politically incorrect, tirade between a male (played by Big) and female (played by Kim) kingpin who can't stop bickering. I can't remember another song before this that showcased the point of view of both sexes. "Player's Anthem" was another huge hit, with the core trio of Cease, Big, and Kim flaunting success. But the career opus for the group will always be "I Need You Tonight"; which is the sheer PERSONIFICATION of what made 90s music great; the sizzle with the steak, the bounce, the aggression, and the freshness. It's a rap version of "I Wonder If I Take You Home" from Lisa Lisa, only you've got Faith Evans (or Aaliyah for the single version) doing the hook with Trife, Kim, and Klepto performing the best Non-Big verses on the album. "I Need You Tonight" is a song I find myself going back to over and over again.
Other than the lack of individuality, the production on Conspiracy is often the killer of a lot of songs. Ready To Die felt near-flawless; with every song seemlessly blending into the next. This is not the case here. DJ Clark Kent made a name for himself here (he did two out of three singles), but producer Akshun failed to deliver that platinum sound. The songs he did like "Oh My Lord" and "Lyrical Wizardry" fall flat. One exception however comes in the form of Daddy-O, who produced my second favorite song on the record, "Back Stabbers", which contains that low-tempo Mafioso vibe from the mid-90s. Biggie himself put together "Realms of Junior M.A.F.I.A.", which suffers from too much going on at once. Hilariously enough, the skits were produced by Lance "UN" Rivera, the guy Jay-Z would be accused of stabbing years later.
While having not even a fraction of the infamy and quality of Ready To Die, Conspiracy stands as a decent companion piece. It's not terrible, it's just very empty. There ARE good songs on it, but there's also an overabundance of skits and overall boring moments. You can tell that this record wasn't as well orchestrated as Ready To Die, but you can also tell that most of these cats were just average rappers at best. The one who would blow up, Lil Kim, took her overly sexual act and turned it into dollar signs for years to come, but after the death of Notorious B.I.G. in 1997, her lack of writing talent was exposed even moreso than her body. Three members of the M.A.F.I.A. released a follow-up album, Riot Musik ten years later and very likely sold about seven copies. Biggie was the alpha of the group, and sadly the omega too...
Track List & Rating
2. White Chalk (****)
3. Excuse Me...
4. Realms of Junior M.A.F.I.A. (***)
5. Player's Anthem (*****)
6. I Need You Tonight f/ Faith Evans (******)
7. Get Money (*****)
8. I've Been...
9. Crazaay (***)
10. Back Stabbers f/ Jimmy Cozier (*****)
12. Lyrical Wizardry (****)
13. Oh My Lord (****)
14. Murder Onze (****)
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