”Born Again,” the ”new” album by the Notorious B.I.G., who was gunned down in 1997, is a wonder of posthumous record-making. Building on tracks that Biggie was working on before he died, executive producer Sean ”Puffy” Combs assembles a daunting crew of hip-hop all-stars – Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, and others – to give his friend a musical life after death. The strategy works to spooky effect. ”Born Again” not only makes Biggie seem alive, but it sounds like the album he might have made had he lived to absorb all the changes that have taken place in hip-hop. It’s the furthest thing from a memorial service – it’s a hammering jam.
At first, ”Born Again” seems overwhelming, more distracting than enjoyable. Then there’s the jolt of hearing Biggie’s booming voice and inimitable flow again. He bursts into ”Niggas” with the impact of a hitman kicking in the door, spraying lines, and leaving nobody standing. ”I want my spot back,” he insists over the hectic horn chart in ”Tonight,” and it’s a disorienting moment.
He’s got the spot locked down, on the strength of his performances on ”Born Again.” But once the disc stops spinning, you remember that he’s gone – forever. It’s a lesson all his gun-toting survivors would do well to keep in mind. B+