Even if you ignore the fact that Bad Boy was established in 1993, now seems an odd time for the label to release a retrospective box set. Since 2012, only five records have been put out under the Bad Boy imprint, one of their acts (Bow Wow) has just announced his retirement, and their roster is looking a lot thinner than their mid-‘90s heyday.
Bad Boy’s time as a label can be split into three distinct sections: the cutting-edge hip-hop of the 1990s, the chart-chasing R&B of the early ‘00s, and the scrabbling for relevance of everything since. Two decades ago, Bad Boy was truly at the forefront of rap. Even a distinctly average MC like Puff Daddy was transformed thanks to the talent he was surrounded with. Their work was sample-heavy, but the riffs chosen were perfect examples of how to update the past. By the turn of the century, producers like Timbaland and Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins had made futuristic R&B the sound of the times and, thanks to acts such as Cassie, Bad Boy was invited to the party. Ever since, however, it’s been further diminishing returns and, the exceptional Janelle Monáe aside, it’s difficult to think of a Bad Boy act making truly exciting music. Let’s face it, French Montana ain’t Biggie.
Unsurprisingly, The Notorious B.I.G. dominates all aspects of this 80-track collection. The Biggie hits – ‘Juicy’, ‘Hypnotize’, ‘Big Poppa’, ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ – are the collection’s best cuts and, despite them being amongst the oldest songs here, they sound the freshest.
Sensibly, this boxset isn’t in chronological order. It’s no exaggeration to say everything from the last decade could be omitted without the quality significantly dipping. There aren’t really hidden gems here; the strongest tracks are the ones you’ve known for years. There are blasts from the past in the shape of acts you haven’t thought of for years – some welcome (Ma$e), some not so welcome (112) – but they’re still not enough to justify such an exhaustive collection.
The ‘Bad Boy 20th Anniversary Box Set’ is a fascinating document inasmuch that it chronicles a label immediately hitting upon an imperial period then, like an addict constantly trying to recapture the feeling of that first fix, struggling to ever hit those highs again. It’ll inspire you to dig out your copies of ‘Ready To Die’ and ‘Life After Death’, true, but it’s evidence that Bad Boy needs huge changes if it’s ever going to be exciting and relevant again.
Words: Joe Rivers
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