’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Hypnotize”

The one hundred sixth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G., featuring un-credited vocals in the chorus by Pamela Long, one of the three members of R&B trio Total. “Hypnotize” was The Notorious B.I.G.’s first of two No. 1 singles, but prior to its release he had gained notoriety with a pair of crossover hits in 1995 from his debut album, Ready to Die: “Big Poppa” (peak: 6) and “One More Chance” (peak: 2), both of which enjoyed generous exposure on MTV. “Hypnotize” was the first single off his sophomore album, Life After Death. The album was released two weeks after Biggie was assassinated in Los Angeles by a still-unidentified drive-by shooter. He was 24. The murder took place six months after that of fellow rapper 2Pac, prompting a national conversation about the needless escalation of the “East Coast vs. West Coast” feud within the Hip-Hop music industry.

The Notorious B.I.G. is the only artist with the dubious honor of having a posthumous No. 1 hit in the ’90s. When he notched his second a few months later, he became the first, and is still the only, artist ever to have two. The other artists whose singles have reached the apex of the Hot 100 after their deaths, as of this writing, are: Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jim Croce, John Lennon, Soulja Slim and Static Major.

“Hypnotize” is an accessible party song that borrows — and liberally alters — instrumental components from 1979’s “Rise” by Herb Alpert, and lifts its chorus from the 1985 track “La Di Da Di” by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick (then known as MC Ricky D). The bravado-laden lyrics are, in keeping with most if not all of Biggie’s output, a series of boasts about expensive luxury items, loose women and drugs. The single consistently appears on lists of the greatest Hip-Hop songs of all time, such as Rolling Stone‘s, and is considered by many to be Biggie’s signature song, perhaps neck-and-neck with “Big Poppa.”

Let’s revisit “Hypnotize”:

(We’re including two clips below. The first is video of the audio, so you can experience the song without all the sound effects, cuts and distractions in the video. The second is the video, which is entertaining and worth a watch but not the best way to consume the song.)

What works best about this track is the way the instrumental complements the vocal to create a smooth flow. The guitar sample, pulsing bass line and beat beckon the listener to bob his head while Biggie’s delivery projects a world-wise confidence. The result is a song that pulls the audience in and takes them on a journey through a fantasy lifestyle that’s both luxurious and dangerous. What doesn’t work so well about the track, in retrospect, is how void it is of anything particularly original or interesting to say. But among the many other Bad Boy releases around this time, we think “Hypnotize” is a clear standout.

When this song was released, we were finishing our senior year of high school and about to head off to college. The Notorious B.I.G. seemed like a grown-up gangsta surrounding himself with nefarious ne’er-do-wells. Revisiting this work as we push 40, it’s clear that The Notorious B.I.G. was just a kid with big dreams. What would he have gone on to do had he lived? We’ll never know, and it’s a shame because he was obviously talented.

Does it hold up? Stylistically, this track does sound a bit Old School, but it’s regarded as a classic and still finds its way into modern eardrums. For example, it’s currently used in commercials for Oreo Thins.

Dopeness: 4 out of 5 Birkenstocks


The Notorious B.I.G.
3 weeks at No. 1, starting May 3, 1997
Preceded by: “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” Puff Daddy f / Mase
Followed by: “MMMBop,” Hanson

’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?

– John

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