’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Mo Money Mo Problems”
The one hundred ninth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious B.I.G. f/ Puff Daddy and Mase (and Kelly Price, un-credited). The track was the second release off The Notorious B.I.G.’s album Life After Death, and with its ascension to the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100, The Notorious B.I.G. became the only artist to have two posthumous No. 1 hits, a record he still holds. The single was the second and final chart-topper for The Notorious B.I.G. and for Mase, and the third of five for Puff Daddy. Its success helped solidify 1997 as a year that would forever be associated with Bad Boy Records.
In keeping with Hip-Hop trends at the time, particularly among those signed to Bad Boy, “Mo Money Mo Problems” prominently leverages samples from music that was popular a generation prior — in this case, Diana Ross’ 1980 Top 5 single “I’m Coming Out.” Ross’ vocals are sampled, along with components of the instrumental, while Price provides new vocals for the hook. As the name implies, the song is ostensibly about how earning a higher income not only doesn’t eliminate one’s problems, but even can exacerbate or create them. The verses, however, have nothing to do with this theme, and consist of braggadocios typical of these artists, including boasts about their commercial success, fame, wealth, illicit behavior, and ability to have sex without having to pay for it. Though it’s credited to The Notorious B.I.G. as a lead artist, each of the three credited rappers makes an equal contribution of one verse apiece.
Let’s revisit “Mo Money Mo Problems”:
This is a pretty fun track. The verses from Mase and The Notorious B.I.G. are delivered with more finesse than Puff Daddy’s, and are therefore more memorable. Musically, the somewhat odd syncopation in the beat helps maintain interest throughout, with the vocal samples and musical flourishes well-incorporated. As mentioned above, the message is a bit garbled, as the verses don’t seem to pertain to the chorus or the title, but we doubt anyone cared much.
Does it hold up? Hip-Hop is a highly stylized genre that changes rather swiftly, so it’s somewhat easy to hear a track and place it in a particular time. The Hip-Hop of the early ’80s bears no resemblance to that of the early ’90s, the late ’90s or today. For that reason, there’s a dated element to all Hip-Hip of the past, this included. But that said, there’s always some level of public affection for classic Old School music like this. The video for “Mo Money Mo Problems” was quite a polished production, with humorous breaks infused throughout, and currently has nearly 40 million views on YouTube — less than The Notorious B.I.G.’s preceding No. 1 hit, “Hypnotize,” but still a solid showing.
Dopeness: 3 out of 5 Birkenstocks
The Notorious B.I.G. f/ Puff Daddy and Mase
“Mo Money Mo Problems”
2 weeks at No. 1, starting Aug. 30, 1997
Preceded by: “I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy and Faith Evans f/ 112
Followed by: “Honey,” Mariah Carey
’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?