The Underrated: Puff Daddy and The Family's No Way Out

By @TrueGodImmortal

1. No Way Out (Intro)
2. Victory 
3. Been Around The World
4. What You Gonna Do 
5. Don't Stop What You're Doing 
6. If I Should Die (Interlude)
7. Do You Know
8. Young G's
9. I Love You Baby
10. It's All About The Benjamins (Remix)
11. Pain
12. Is This The End 
13. I Got The Power 
14. Friend 
15. Señorita
16. I'll Be Missing You
17. Can't Nobody Hold Me Down

It's really tough to show love to an album that has the lead artist using ghostwriters for the entire project, but here we are. Now that I have my disclaimer out the way, this album is one of the most popular albums of 1997 and with good reason. Released just over 19 years ago, Puff Daddy and The Family put together an album that isn't necessarily classic, but still stands the test of time as one of the most noteworthy releases in the history of Bad Boy Records. Puff wasn't the best rapper by any stretch and though he had solid ghostwriters, very few of his verses were truly quotable. What carries this album is the Family and the production. This album is more so a compilation that almost drove home the infamous comments that Suge Knight uttered 2 years prior to its release. The executive producer went from being all in the videos to being the star of the label and the lead rapper.

The loss of The Notorious B.I.G. rocked the hip hop world and the Bad Boy landscape, but some of the last remnants of his greatness can be found in this album, as three classic Biggie verses are on this album. After a brief intro, we are led into one of the best songs in the history of Bad Boy, with "Victory", as Puff and Big trade bars over a booming and triumphant production alongside a Busta Rhymes high energy hook. Although the verse itself is nothing truly special, it's something about the delivery and the lyrics themselves from Puffy that makes the intro of the song a classic. See for yourself below:

"Yo, the sun don't shine forever/
But as long as it's here then we might as well shine together/
Better now than never, business before pleasure/
P-Diddy and the Fam, who you know do it better?/
Yeah right, no matter what, we air tight/
So when you hear something, make sure you hear it right/
Don't make an ass outta yourself, by assuming/
Our music keeps you moving/ What are you proving/"

Puffy isn't a rapper by natural talent, but these lines are some of the most iconic lines in hip hop, at least from the 90's. Now, while Puff came and entertained with a solid verse, it would be Big who truly steals the show as expected with an amazing verse. He masters the flow and lyrically decimated the production, check the verse:

"In The Commission/
You ask for permission to hit em/
He don't like me, hit him while wifey was wit em/
You heard of us/ 
The murderers/
Most shady/
Been on the low lately/
The feds hate me/
The son of Satan/ 
They say my killings too blatant/
You hesitating/
I'm in your mama crib waiting/
Duct taping/
Your fam/
Destiny lays in my hands/
Gat lays in my waist
Francis, M to the iz-H phenomenal/
Gun rest under your vest by the abdominal/
Rhyme a few bars/
So I can buy a few cars/
And I kick a few flows/ 
So I can pimp a few hoes/
Excellence is my presence/
Never tense/
Never hesitant/
Leave a nigga bent/ Real quick
Real sick, brawl nights/
I perform like Mike/
Anyone -- Tyson, Jordan, Jackson/
Action, pack guns, ridiculous/
And I'm, quick to bust/
If my ends you touch/"

This was absolutely brilliant. Big was one of the best ever and the way he switched flows and utilized wordplay would be something special here. However, Big wasn't done on this album. He would do the hook on the next song "Been Around The World", a smooth Lisa Stansfield sample (or remix really) that saw Puffy alongside Mase on the verses. Now, the verse I'm going to talk about here is from Mase, because he steals the song here with his opening lines, but it's always bothered me that Puff uttered the line "don't kiss right there girlfriend I'm ticklish" along with a "hehehe" adlib to follow. The fuck was wrong with Puffy to think that was cool or even acceptable? Regardless, aside from this Puff blunder and somewhat suspect line, Mase kicked it off just right with some of his most well known lines in his career:

"Now trick what? Lace who?/
That ain't what Mase do/
Got a lot of girls that'd love to replace you/
Tell you to your face Boo/
Not behind your back/
Niggaz talk shit, we never mind that/
Funny, never find that/
Puff a dime sack/
Write hot shit, and make a nigga say, 'Rewind that'/"

Some very simple lyrics, but spit and worded smoothly enough to captivate the listener. After ending his verse by saying he pops champagne like he won the championship, Mase departs from the album for a while and Puff is on his own for the first time so far during the whole project. This leads us into "What You Gonna Do", a very laid back yet mafioso-rap style track where Puff doesn't spit anything that makes you want to rewind it back, but it's a solid song regardless. The content of the song is mostly about the concept of dying and recognizing your fate and the fallout from that. After the death of Biggie, Puff seemed to be in a dark place, and he allowed his writers to convey that sense of mortality in tracks like this. This would be revisited later on in the album.

Changing the pace, the Lil Kim and Kelly Price assisted "Don't Stop What You're Doing" follows, which has a sample of the classic "Don't Stop The Music". To be fair, I always had a big gripe with Bad Boy remixing the classic hits and not utilizing any form of creativity with their sampling. Regardless, this song was a decent listen, but is one or my least favorite songs on the project. It's not that it's a bad song or that it's lyrically inferior, because the entire album is a bit off on that end, but it lacks something in energy and vibe. I think the blatant sampling and the lack of Mase or Big weighs the song down just a bit. Revisiting the death theme, Puff has an interlude on if he were to die that night, before a smooth sample of the Mahogany theme and the Gaturs track "Concentrate" provides the instrumental for "Do You Know" as Kelly Price appears again to set the tone with a beautifully sung hook. Puff doesn't flow that well on this song and while his verses aren't that bad, they fall behind the strength of the hook. It would be after this particular track that we arrive to what I feel is the apex of the entire album.

Anytime Jay-Z and Biggie did a song together, it was always something special and the following song was yet another testament to that. Kelly Price, who is in many ways the uncredited MVP of this album, provides the hook for the Puff, Jay, and Big collabo "Young G's", and while I've always felt Jay got the best of Big on most of their tracks, this is an example where I think Big took the title. However, Jay wasn't a slouch as his verse had some gems within them. Check it out:

"Some say I been here before because of the way I zone/
Some said, Jigga zone is like the falling of Rome/
That he thinks like that cause he's observing/
Won't be known until I'm gone and niggaz study my bones/
Mentally been many places, but I'm Brooklyn's own/
In the physical, but unseen, like a lost body/
In fact, my thoughts don't differ much from that of Godbody/"

Jay comes through with a great verse for sure, but Big absolutely kills it with a masterful flow and top notch lyricism on this track. See how Big kills it?

"Damn it feel good to see people up on it/
Flipped two keys in two weeks and didn't flaunt it/
My brain is haunted/
With mean dreams/ 
GS's with BB's on it, supreme schemes/
To get Richer than Richie/ Quickly/
Niggas wanna hit me/
If they get me/
Dress my body/
In linen by Armani/ Check it
My lyrical carjack/
Make your brains splat/
High caliber gats/
Is all I fuck with/ 
Now peep the rough shit/
In my circumference/
Mad bitches, with mad lucci/
Bulletproof vests under they coochie/
Spittin my uzi/
Don't lose me/
My trigga niggas represent/
Drivin dirty in J-30's gettin bent/
And to my hit hoes, my murder mommies/
I be smokin trees in Belize when they find me/"

Excellence. This would be one of the greatest highlights on this album, as Big would have what I consider the two best verses on the entire album, though that's not necessarily surprising. The next track "I Love You Baby", with Black Rob and Puff is another solid one, and a story of a deceitful chick who gets caught up in the game. Both Rob and Puff tell their stories and create a pretty dope song here. However, this track was the lead in to the big hit from the album and one of the greatest singles from Bad Boy in their history. From the drums to the bass line to the sample itself, the sounds of "Its All About The Benjamins (Remix)" carry us into a great moment on this particular album, to be honest.

From the opening note, this song bangs and each verse has something special within them. Puffy kicks it off and this might have been his greatest moment as an artist. Check the verse:

"Now... what y'all wanna do?
Wanna be ballers?/
Who be dipping in the Benz wit the spoilers/
On the low from the Jake in the Taurus/
Trying to get my hands on some Grants like Horace/
Yeah living the raw deal/
Three course meals/
Spaghetti, Fettuccine, and Veal/
But still, everything's real in the field/
And what you can't have now, leave in your will/"

Puff has a simple verse of course, but his energy here was perfect for the track. Jadakiss came with a controversial verse honestly, and his last few lines are still seen as that to this day. Jada pulls no punches and delivers:

"Enormous cream/
Forest green/
Benz jeep, for my team/
So while you sleep I'ma scheme/
We see through/
That's why nobody never going to believe you/
You should do what we do/
Stack chips like Hebrews/
Don't let the melody intrigue you/
Because I leave you/
I'm only here, for that green paper with the eagle/"

Now, I enjoyed Puff and Jada's verse, but it felt like the verses were getting better and better as the song continues, and as Sheek jumps in to spit after Jada, we're treated to what remains one of my favorite Sheek verses still. His wordplay, his focus, his flow and his lyricism was actually top notch on this particular song and Sheek ALMOST steals the show. See for yourself:

"I'm strictly trying to cop those/ Colossal/
Sized Picasso's/
And have papi flip coke outside Delgado's/
Mienda, with cash flowing like Sosa/
And the Latin chick transporting in the chocha/
Stampeding over/
Pop Mo's, never sober/
Lex and Range Rovers/ 
Dealing weight by Minnesota
Avoiding narcs with camcorders and Chevy Novas/
Stash in the building with this chick named Alona/
From Daytona/
When I was young I want to bone her/
But now I only hit chicks that win beauty pageants/
Tricking and taking me skiing, at the Aspens/"

Now, of course, we know that Lil Kim follows next in the order of the song. Kim is revered for her verse here, especially the end as she reminds us that she can "kick shit like a nigga do, pull the trigger too" before yelling out that ever so famous "Fuck you" at the end of her verse. Some highlights of that verse can be found here:

"What the blood clot, want to bumble with the Bee/
Huh...Bzzz throw a hex on the whole family/
Dressed in all black like The Omen/
Have your friends singing "this is for my homies"/
And you know me/
For making niggas so sick/
Floss in my six/
With the 'Lex on the wrist/
If it's murder, you know she wrote it/
German Ruger for your ass bitch, deep throat it/"

Ah yes. The beauty of abrasive and aggressive Kim. While this was one of her biggest shining moments, we also were treated to a final verse courtesy of Big, and it was another dope contribution to this album as expected. While not my personal favorite verse here, Big shows up and kills it with a dope flow and great verse. Check some of it below:

"Rockin Redman and Naughty, all in my kitty-kat/
Half a brick of yay, in the bra, where her titties at/
And I'm living that, whole life, we push weight/
Fuck the state pen, fuck hoes at Penn State/
Listen close it's Francis/
The Praying Mantis/"

The best part of the song to me is how it flows so easily and has one of the most simple yet catchy hooks. The verses are all dope and it's really just a cipher style posse track. The tone switches some as the album continues however, and things get a bit darker. When we arrive to "Pain", we see Puff in a remorseful mood, wishing he could shake the death of Biggie, and be spits somber verses alongside a sadly harmonized hook, before finishing the track with a clip of Biggie talking about dealing with stress and how to keep on going through it all. This track sets the tone for the next song, which is one of my favorites on the whole album, the Midwest influenced "Is This The End" featuring Ginuwine and Twista. Puffy employs the faster flow that Twista was known for in his career and paints yet another story of being set up and attempts to take his life. With the title of "No Way Out" being strategic, the meaning behind this album almost feels as if Puff thought he was the next one to go after the death of Biggie. He seemed to be in a paranoid state in this album, and once you take away the hits, that paranoia is rampant throughout. I can't say I blame him, but it's just interesting to observe in the music.

On the Lox track (with Puff on the hook) "I Got The Power", we get a glimpse of why the Bad Boy and Lox partnership might have been a bad idea from the start. While I personally loved the Lox as a group and thought they had great potential, this song falls a bit flat due to basic lyricism and the music just lacks something. Verse wise, I'd say Styles has the best one, as he is a bit more solid than the rest of the squad, but the song in general just falls a bit flat. Another song that falls a bit flat to me would be the Foxy Brown assisted "Friend", which is still sort of enjoyable, but this songs is a bit lifeless. I'd consider this the down part of the album, as we get back to back bland tracks, and it's honestly surprising because the songs featuring The Lox and Foxy Brown are two of the worst on the album. Puff outshines Foxy on this track, and that's not something I expected to be honest.

As the album reaches its close, I'll skip over the decent "Señorita" track, which is mildly entertaining, and talk the final two tracks, which both became huge hits. First, there's the Faith Evans and 112 assisted "I'll Be Missing You". Outside of a Sting sample, and the somber feel behind it, it's a traditional tribute track to Biggie. Though Puff's lyrics aren't anything special, he does deliver this first verse in a heartfelt yet simple way. See below:

"Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show/
I laced the track, you locked the flow/
So far from hanging on the block for dough/
Notorious, they got to know/ 
That, life ain't always what it seem to be/
Words can't express what you mean to me/
Even though you're gone, we still a team/
Through your family, I'll fulfill your dream/
In the future, can't wait to see/
If you open up the gates for me/"

With Faith setting the tone with the hook and 112 supplying a dope background and ending bridge, the song is a solid way to pay homage to Biggie and it's no surprise it became such a big hit.  Though I've always wondered about the sincerity of Puff and his love for Biggie, I can't deny the infectious nature of this song. The feeling of this album is mostly somber due to the death of Big and I sometimes wonder if that's premeditated or if it was really where the rest of the crew was along with Puff during recording. Regardless, as the album comes to an end, we get one more Puff and Mase track, which serves as a one-two punch so to speak.

The hit track "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down", which samples about 4 different tracks in itself, shows the chemistry between Mase and Puff in full effect yet again. The two trade bars back and forth throughout the verses and it just works well. The song is a dope way to end the album, as the message of "nothing will hold us down or hold us back" is a great note to end on. That's the beauty of the album, honestly. It features a dark vibe but it begins with Puff and Big affirming victory, and ends with Puffy and Mase letting the world know that nothing or no one will hold them down. It's a solid story weaved into this album that often goes unnoticed, through the paranoia, deceit, and the feeling of mortality, Puff and the Family rise above it in the end.

The message behind this album is the greatest story in Puff's career and with this album selling almost 8 million copies in the United States, it remains his greatest achievement as and "artist". When we look back on 1997, Bad Boy Records, and the career of Puffy, this will be one of the most noteworthy things to mention. If you've forgotten how solid this album was, take some time to revisit it. Take that, take that. We won't stop because we can't stop.



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