I have a vivid memory of a brief moment in my childhood back when my record collection was just starting. I recall the busy wintry high street, the sizeable store, the layout of the sanitized shelves and myself picking this record up and staring at it for ages. I vaguely recognized the name Puff Daddy but had no idea who his family were, or that the Notorious B.I.G was one of them. This was back when every record on display was a mystery, something of interest. I had permission from my parents to buy one album and after contemplating for sometime I believe I settled on something I knew, Micheal Jackson if I recall correctly. It occurred to me a while back that their is nothing stopping me from ordering myself a copy. Its a strange sort of nostalgia, hearing something for the first time yet knowing this would of been "that" album to bring me into the wonderful world of Hip Hop.
No Way Out is Puff's debut as a solo artist, one that unsurprisingly incorporates many of the artists from his Bad Boy records who huddle together to make one heck of a statement. Its a marvel of the 90s sound but finds itself having a unique angle, the death of Biggie Smalls who was assassinated during the recording stage, he appears on three of the tracks delivering his usual brilliance, it has a strange contrast when Puff's lyrical direction is reflecting on death and people around him dying. Its saddening and captures a very dark moment in Hip Hop history direct from one of Biggies closest friends.
The music is on point, a classy production that brings out the best in the scenes transition into less sample orientation with programmed drums and instruments. There is however a lot of interpolation and snippets loaded between the beats. As the lyrics lead, the instrumentals reflects on a healthy variety of vibes. Summery, uplifting tales of wealth and success with bold jiving grooves can then swing to the shadows as they dive into the gangster oriented braggadocio with shades of Mafioso Rap and the horrifying sounds of gun splatter. Two sides of a coin that find a path as the record flows smoothly between its luscious Disco, R&B influenced tracks and its gritty, tragic side.
Production is Puff's strength but as a rapper he does nothing wrong. Such an easy flow and tone of voice amends his lack of lyrical gymnastics or tenacious wordplay that other rappers use to dazzle. Smooth and steady his very direct use of language goes down a treat, engaging us in his thoughts, narratives and stories at a steady pace. This of course resonates with the moment this record resides within, immortalized by the tragedy that looms over tracks like "Pain" and "Is This The End", where Puff picks up the pace and holds his own with some tighter flows in brief moments.
The features across this record are great, everyone brings their best and The LOX turn up again, I keep hearing them dropping slick verses, featured on many records. Their debut, released a year later, hasn't particularly aged well with me, perhaps they save their best for other peoples records. Black Rob really impressed me with his rhymes on "I Love You Baby" and Faith Evans on "I'll Be Missing You" gives so much soul on a fitting tribute to the death of Biggie. Ive always adored that song, I fondly remember watching it on MTV as a kid, perhaps that's were I knew the name Puff Daddy from, all those years ago.
No album is perfect and as stunning as this one is it has a couple of duller tracks as it draws on. An icky skit at the end of "Friend" we could of done without and the final track, a remix of "The Message" just doesn't hold up, its a bonus track but the rhymes and tone of Puffy and Mase just don't gel with the beat. Other than that its a pretty stellar record that Ill be enjoying for years to come. Should of brought it! But hey maybe I wouldn't of appreciated it in the same way back then.
Favorite Songs: Victory, Been Around The World, What Are You Going To Do, Don't Stop What Your Doing, If I Should Die Tonight, Do You Know, I Love You Baby, It's All About The Benjamins, Pain, I'll Be Missing You