Great Moments in Album Sequencing: Juicy/Everyday Struggle

It’s no coincidence that these songs–likely my two favorite songs on Ready to Die and thus two of the greatest rap songs every made–come right after each other in the middle of the album.  The songs work as the axis around which the whole record revolves, moving back and forth between the two poles they establish.  The nature of Ready to Die in general, in which songs like “Juicy”or “Big Poppa” are surrounded by “Machine Gun Funk” or “Warning” or “Things Done Changed” is great because it totally undermines the Horatio Alger tendency rap albums have to construct a rags to riches narrative.  Compare Ready to Die to an album like American Gangster–ignoring for now the fact that American Gangster is in every way an inferior album–and the latter seems way too forced and predictable.  With Biggie you never know what you’re going to get next.  Because of this, the one-two punch of “Juicy” and “Everyday Struggles” is so great.  Biggie follows up “Juicy,” THE rap song about getting rich, with this huge deflation.  The best parts of “Everyday Struggles” hit a level of poignance and clarity rare even for Biggie.  I particularly like the part after the narrative in the second verse (“I heard Tec got murdered in a town I never heard of” remains one of the coolest lines ever) where Biggie just goes panoramic, rapping that he’s “seeing body after body and our mayor Giulianni ain’t tryin’ to see no black man turn to John Gotti.”  But all this is secondary to the shock of the transition between the two, which still gets me every time I listen to the album.  The moment at the beginning of “Everyday Struggles” where the drums kick in is exhilarating taken on its own, and it’s even better in the context of the album, and the opening lines (“I know how it feel to wake up fucked up/pocket’s broke as hell/another rock to sell”) totally pull the wind out of the album’s sails, making you think that maybe “Juicy” really was all a dream after all.

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