“Young G's” was the second song Jay-Z and Biggie ever recorded together, and it would also be the last. Released on Puffy’s solo debut, No Way Out, just a few months after Biggie’s still-unsolved murder, the record marks a painful moment in time.
“Biggie pushed me to go harder,” Jay writes of this song in the the new afterword to the expanded paperback edition of Decoded. Upon hearing this song, or the aptly named “Brooklyn’s Finest,” even a casual listener can sense that there was a special bond between the two BK legends, seasoned though it was with a healthy dose of competition.
Jay’s decoding of his virtuoso verse from “Young Gs” had us rewinding this ’97 classic from the top. With each play we gained new appreciation for Biggie’s verse—which opens with a line interpolated from the Biz Markie classic “The Vapors”—as well as Puffy’s—which almost certainly flowed from B.I.G.’s pen. But don’t worry if Puff writes rhymes; he writes checks!
Who better to make sense of these hip-hop hieroglyphics than dream hampton, the original decoder herself? Lyrically she’s supposed to represent. So check it...
Written by dream hampton (@dreamhampton)
Puff Daddy f/ The Notorious B.I.G. & Jay-Z “Young G’s” (1997)
Verse One: Puff Daddy
Out of this world like Mars when I spit these bars
Come fuck with these stars up in luxury cars
We built them radars to stay free from the cops
Crucial choices to make, like AC or the drop?1
Are we gon’ stop?
Shit man, if my squad go broke
Your squad oughta choke
Watch your circle vanish like cigar smoke
Ain't no joke, when your ones don't show
Nigga I know, might say 'Been There Done That' like Dre2
Through hard work I earned the vault
Promise God to never look back or I turn to salt3
Got nice watches, nice cars, nice bitches and rings4
Guess it's safe to say a nigga like me got nice things
Can't relate to motherfuckers who ain't go no cake
When you all fucked up, and can't get no break
When your fake-ass friends don't help you out when you need it
Be on some real bullshit, politely tell you to beat it
Fuck that, get your own nigga,
Don't ask me for shit5
That's what I did, now they all askin’ for hits
Nigga it's on for the simple fact I let it be known
We still fly6 but separately cause now I, charter my own
Goodfellas, leave all them playa-haters jealous
Billboard charts should tell us,
They can't touch us
Why niggaz bring the ruckus?
Because release day is bigger than Mandela's7
1. Should he stay cool by turning on the air-conditioning or just drop the top on his convertible?
2. There's not another hip-hop album that was more influential to Puff than Dr. Dre's The Chronic. His own productions referenced and were inspired by that album's ambitiously cinematic arc again and again, from Mary and Jodeci's second albums to both of Big's albums.
This nod to Andre Young carries added significance because it came in the first months of 1997, after Tupac had died and Dre had left Death Row Records and Suge Knight (who was serving time when this song was recorded) to form Aftermath. So while it's a simple name check, it's also a loaded political gesture from Puff to Dre, who in some ways Puff considered to be his counterpart on the West Coast
3. In the Book of Genesis, Lot, nephew of Abraham, is visited by an angel. When Sodomite enemies arrive at his door to rape the men in Lot's household—the angel strikes them blind. As Lot's family flees for safety in nearby Zoar, Lot's wife, ignoring the angel's strict admonition, glances over her shoulder to see Sodom destroyed from sulfur and fire from above. As punishment she is transformed into a pillar of salt.
4. On Puff's laundry list of possessions, "bitches" rank third, and are covered in the following line by the noun "things."
5. "Don't ask me for shit" is both an allusion to the chorus from Big and Method Man's collab "The What" on Ready to Die, and a personally conservative, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps philosophy. After being publicly fired from his job at Uptown, and being constantly whispered about by industry colleagues, Puff adopted a guarded, almost isolationist way of doing business from early on.
6. His verse’s sole double-entendre: the ’80s term "fly" is used here to reference private jets, which in the ’90s were still largely aspirational for rappers—even Puff.
7. On February 11, 1990, this South African political prisoner was released after serving 27 years for his anti-apartheid organizing. An international hero, Mandela made his way to Harlem that June and was received in the streets by tens of thousands as he launched a limited tour across America.
New York's first black mayor, David Dinkins, had to obtain special permission for Mandela's visit, as he remained on the U.S. Terrorist Watch list into the 21st century—although he was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994.
CLICK NEXT PAGE TO SEE BIGGIE'S VERSE DECODED
Verse Three: Biggie
Damn it feel good to see people up on it1
Flipped two keys in two weeks and didn't flaunt it2
My brain is haunted, with mean dreams
GS's with BB’s on it3
Supreme schemes, to get
Richer than Richie, quickly,
Niggaz wanna hit me
If they get me,
Dress my body in linen by Armani4, check it
My lyrical carjack, make your brains splat5
High-caliber gats is all I fuck with, now peep the rough shit
in my circumference, mad bitches, with mad lucci
Bulletproof vestes under they coochie6
Spittin’ my uzi,
Don't lose me,
My trigga niggaz represent
Drivin dirty in J-30's gettin bent
And to my hit hoes, my murder mamis7
I be smokin trees in Belize when they find me
While you still killin niggaz with punany,
Like Connie and Cyrus up in Cypress8
Fuck you raw, you on the floor with the virus
While I just, slang coke, smoke pounds to choke
Got lawyers watchin lawyers so I won't go broke9, now check it
Them country niggaz call me Frank White
I'm squirtin off in my loft of course I know my shit's tight
Sunrise open my eyes no surprise
Got my shorty flyin’ in with keys taped to her thighs
With all the utensils, who hang my china thing
She half black half oriental
Eighty-six she got the rental
The situation ain't accidental..
From a, from a young G's perspective…
1. TJ Swan was an early, off-key version of Nate Dogg, and his partner Biz Markie gave him a verse when he graduated from his UPS uniform to slick silk suits. People proceeded to "get up on it."
2.Moving two kilos of cocaine in two weeks is an impressive posting of numbers, but it also refers to the sales success of Big's debut, Ready to Die, which went gold the same September it was released and was platinum by the end of 1994. When Big began recording Ready to Die, he'd hoped to sell as many copies as Illmatic; he accomplished that in two weeks.
3. Lexus GSs fully tricked out with custom BBS wheels.
4. Here Big invokes paranoia and sleeplessness as two of success's higher prices. Death, invoked by the designer linen he hopes to be buried in, being the highest price. The song was recorded a few weeks before he was shot dead and after he'd completed his own opus, Life After Death.
5. “Lyrical carjack” is a visual metaphor of Big's dominance and takeover of the rap game. By the time he recorded this song he was widely regarded one of the best living emcees, even though he'd only released one album.
His reference to car-jacking likens his sudden ascent to rap's proverbial driver's seat to the jack moves that Newark, New Jersey auto thieves used to perform at red lights before the practice spread nationwide. Splat brains would be a more gruesome way of describing his mind-blowing ability.
6. & 7. One of Big's favorite recurring characters is the "Bonnie" type female companion, a rider—often personified by Lil’ Kim—who’s willing to move drugs taped to her thighs and even perform executions if need be.
8. The alliteration of Connie, Cyrus and Cypress is audibly broken by the first hard C. But the second two C's are hardly soft. The 15 seven-story public housing apartment buildings that comprise the Cypress Hill projects in East New York, Brooklyn are notoriously dangerous.
9. This line is a testament to Big's business savvy, showing that he distrusts the music industry so much that he hires lawyers for the sole purpose of monitoring his other lawyers. If only he'd had two sets of attorneys to oversee the unwise publishing deal he signed early in his career.