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Soundtrack Review

Tributes and more from friends, family

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / January 16, 2009
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"Notorious" star Jamal Woolard may rap a good game on film, but for the accompanying soundtrack there's only enough room for the original Big Poppa.

The set compiles some of the Notorious B.I.G.'s biggest hits, previously unreleased tracks, and a few tributes to the slain hip-hop legend by famous friends and family.

The three raw but riveting demos that conclude the album illustrate how close to fully formed Biggie's style was even as a teen. On the roll-bounce groove of "Microphone Murderer" in particular, the rapper is already displaying a charming blend of quirky storytelling and typical hip-hop bravado, and toggling between verbal crispness and vocal swagger.

The clutch of radio hits that followed his leap from the streets to the studio are proof that Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs provided more than questionable video dance moves to the Biggie Smalls legacy. Songs like "Hypnotize" and the title track are pointed reminders that, prior to his ubiquity as a bon vivant, Combs made a meaningful contribution to the evolution of hip-hop by massaging Biggie's music - with infectious pop samples and indelible hooks -for mainstream consumption.

The new tracks include Jadakiss's heartfelt "Letter to Big," in which he raps with his departed mentor about what has transpired since his death, as Biggie's widow Faith Evans offers up a sweetly sung coda.

Evans reappears alongside their son CJ Wallace on a shimmery update, "One More Chance/The Legacy (Remix)." The intention may be heartfelt but the execution of this beyond-the-grave family affair is borderline creepy.

Jay-Z offers up the most fitting tribute on the funky, reggae-inflected "Brooklyn Go Hard." With help from an insistent Santogold vocal riff, Jay honors his borough buddy by telling his tale and echoing his bravado with a twinkle all his own.

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