One-time “Bad Boy for life,” Black Rob’s journey came to a sudden end on April 17, 2021, after suffering from cardiac arrest following years of serious health issues (dating back to 2013 when the rapper suffered a stroke, enduring multiple subsequent strokes in the years leading up to his death).
His 2015 release, Genuine Article, was solid proof that Rob’s pen was still sharp, yet it, like most of his work outside of the Bad Boy machine, slid under the radar—a testament to the dreaded Bad Boy curse. The album also lacked some of the cohesion Rob once basked in under the illustrious Hitmen’s helm.
Nevertheless, it was never meant to be his swan song; with so much left unsaid, those who loved him most came together to craft the aptly titled Life Story 2—a worthy two-disc sequel to his 2000 debut. Key players from his past, including Hitmen producers Nashiem Myrick, Carlos “6 July” Broady, one-time CRU member Yogi, and the de facto Hitmen leader D-Dot—among others—have reunited for this posthumous offering. Buckwild, the D.I.T.C. producer behind the rapper’s most memorable hit “Whoa,” also joins the stacked lineup.
Overall, the project is a loving throwback to everything that endeared listeners to the bodies of work released via Bad Boy Entertainment in its heyday. For longtime BR fans, there are tons of clever callbacks, such as the sequel to “I Love You Baby” and even a welcomed and surprisingly potent feature from D-Dot’s alter ego The Mad Rapper, even though it wasn’t one of his iconic skits. For the older heads and Hip Hop nerds who were knee-deep in the ‘90s mixtape circuit, “Come One, Come All” is a studio-quality reworking of the freestyle that Rob dropped on the third installment of Tony Touch’s ambitious 50 MCs trilogy.
As with any project primarily handled by The Hitmen, there are bound to be some aimless party jams, like the Kleeer-sampled “Shake It” featuring Rhea, or the dancehall-tinged “On My Own” featuring Nakkia Gold. The Kali Ranks-featured ‘Bacardi’ and Kid Capri-featured “Get It, Get It” also straddle the line between filler and hit; they’re not bad songs, but they may not demand the repeat listens that the album’s standout tracks do.
It’s clear after the first listen of both halves of the double album that the Black Thought featured ‘Black’ stands as the album’s crown jewel. The song, originally teased this past summer, comes with a beat that co-producer Nashiem Myrick told DX in an interview dates back to the ’90s. The twinkling keys and hard snares complement Rob’s flow on the track so well; this song could easily rest among his most revered.
Another great moment is the Whodini-flipped “We Still Here,” featuring the now-incarcerated MC G. Dep. Given the history these two shared, dating back to Rob actually bringing Dep to Bad Boy in 1998, this collaboration is poignant, though somewhat somber in retrospect. Also, given the somewhat murky business that saw Diddy more or less abandon Rob, it’s a telling moment that he can be heard screaming on the hook.
Rob had long since expressed no ill will whatsoever toward Diddy, Harve Pierre, or anyone else at the storied imprint, and this otherwise inconsequential inclusion would suggest that it was all love in the end.
The D-Dot and Riz Delux-produced “Full Moon” is a must-listen. It’s a storytelling marvel that takes the listener through the rise and devastating fall of a drug-selling crew that Rob built and subsequently watched fall apart—in detail worthy of its own HBO series.
Another big record tucked in the second half is “Holla @ Me 1st,” a scathing take on the (perhaps undue) power that hip-hop media can play in building up and tearing down artists, rhetorically asking why they don’t go right to the source. It’s a sentiment that weaves itself into the Sway Calloway skits, taken from a 2015 sit-down on Sway in the Morning, where Rob openly discussed suffering a stroke—vehemently dispelling rumors suggesting he was addicted to drugs.
Despite being absolute masters at album sequencing under D-Dot’s guidance, Bad Boy was a label built on hits. Rob’s debut remains a great album, yet it’s not uncommon for younger or casual fans to unfairly distill his career down to his association with Diddy, the hit “Whoa,” or his standout feature on Diddy’s “Bad Boys For Life.” He has always been larger than that. As a final exclamation point on his discography, his closest collaborators have done an exceptional job ensuring the world is left with a brilliant example of why the “PD world-touring Harlem horror” was so deeply respected in real-rap circles.