Release Date: May 19, 2017
Record label: Rhino
Genre(s): R&B, Contemporary R&B, Gangsta Rap, East Coast Rap, Hardcore Rap
F rom Kurt Cobain's basement tapes to Amy Winehouse's leftovers, a posthumous release poses ethical problems at the best of times. Even more so when said release is a duet, which may feel ill-judged at worst, weird at best (see: Justin Timberlake teaming up with Michael Jackson). It's a challenge Faith Evans tackles with class on this 22-track album featuring her late husband's unmistakable flow - not always nimble but dominating and wry.
Its co-billing notwithstanding, The King & I is more a Faith Evans release that frequently samples the voice of the Notorious B.I.G. than it is the third posthumous B.I.G. album. It's a sprawling nostalgia trip of sorts through the duo's relationship, one that even incorporates an interlude where Jamal Woolard reprises his lead Notorious role to re-create a lighthearted early moment in Evans and Biggie's courtship.
On The King & I, Faith Evans chronicles her whirlwind relationship with the late Notorious B.I.G. through a series of duets that, although heartfelt, are largely painful and clumsy. There's no effort at all to modernize Biggie's sound on this album, which, though probably deliberate, is also detrimental. Evans tries to preserve authenticity by enlisting producers like Chucky Thompson, Stevie J and DJ Premier (who all worked with Biggie in life).
If nothing else, The King & I isn't as cynical as the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. albums that came before it. Granted, that's a low bar: 1999's stingy Born Again stretched a hambone of unreleased material into an album's worth of split-pea soup, while 2005's Duets: The Final Chapter resorted to even more shameful recycling tactics. The world didn't need another tour of rap's emptiest vault, but at least this one's guided by his widow, singer Faith Evans, whose intentions are ostensibly beyond reproach.
Biggie's active career lasted less than three years, yet his estate still wanders the graveyard with a spade and a spreadsheet. Ex-wife Faith Evans might deliver some impressive vocal performances, but her careful curation of his legacy utterly misses the point. Biggie was a monstrous, visceral mix of trash and class, sex and death, tragedy and comedy.
40 years in, hip-hop has aged enough to feature a classicist contingent. Apart from the interminable arguments about what constitutes real hip-hop, this contingent has helped fuel interest in the posthumous appearance industrial-complex, whereby the voices of the deceased are continually repurposed under the guise of exaltation. Hence we hear Tupac Shakur's "interview" on To Pimp a Butterfly , Pimp C's awkward guest spot on the glossy Views , the steady flow of unmined J Dilla songs--all of this part of some rich tradition, we're told, or at least a lucrative one.