What's, perhaps, most interesting about "Ready to Die" now, is that it doesn't fit the mold of a mainstream hip-hop album. Biggie was from the streets, which shows on the album's first three post-intro tracks.
"Things Done Changed," "Gimme the Loot" and "Machine Gun Funk" are impressive, yet vulgar lyrical onslaughts. Even the explicit version of the album was slightly edited to remove lyrics about stealing a ring from a pregnant woman or killing the police.
You have to get halfway through "Ready to Die" before you find true mainstream appeal. The album's center, anchored by "Juicy," established the Notorious B.I.G. as a star suburban white kids would get behind.
Think of the fact that "The What" features the album's only guest rapper in Method Man, the one Wu member who had become a mainstream fixture. Even "Me & My Bi***" comes off as an endearing love song for the times.
"Big Poppa" radiates with an Isley Brothers sample and trademark lines ("I'm gon' go call my crew, you go call your crew. We can rendezvous at the bar around 2") that would consume MTV's playlist throughout 1995.
In just 17 tracks, Biggie had become a rap phenomenon. His desire to stay true to himself, a former drug dealer who went from "ashy to classy," inspired the streets. But his willingness to listen to Puffy's mainstream direction made B.I.G. pop star.
Follow up singles like the scathing "Who Shot Ya?" and the "One More Chance" remix would further cement Biggie as New York's top emcee and place him at the center of the budding East Coast/West Coast beef, which would eventually lead to his murder.
That's not to say B.I.G.'s status wasn't elevated after his death. His masterpiece double-album "Life After Death" arrived a few weeks after his murder. Though, "Hypnotize" had already become his biggest hit to date.
Yet, it's "Ready to Die" that sits atop the Notorious B.I.G.'s legacy. Because of Wu-Tang and Nas' work, there still would have been future albums like Jay Z's "Reasonable Doubt" or Mobb Deep's "The Infamous."
But, for a while there, "Ready to Die" became the standard every great rap album of the 1990s was held up to. Even future releases from Nas ("It Was Written") and Raekwon ("Only Built for Cuban Linx") seemed to emulate B.I.G.'s style to some degree.
There has never been any question about Biggie Smalls' place on hip-hop's Mount Rushmore, whether he lived or died, or stopped making albums on his own volition before the end of the 1990s (which he was rumored to be planning).
Twenty years after his death, B.I.G.'s status as the "illest" continues to loom large, a stunning accomplishment for an emcee who died way too young.