The Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher George Latore Wallace (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997), also known as Biggie Smalls (after a stylish gangster in 1975’s Let’s Do it Again) and Frank White (from the film King of New York), but best known as The Notorious B.I.G. (Business Instead of Game and, since his death, Books Instead of Guns), was a popular Brooklyn-born rapper of the mid-1990s.
His career was overshadowed by the Bad Boy/Death Row Records feud during his life, but following his untimely death in 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. has been celebrated as a hip-hop legend. He is remembered for his storytelling ability, talented freestyling ability, and his easy to understand yet complex flow. The Notorious B.I.G. is considered by many to be one of the greatest rappers of all time.
Christopher Wallace was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. His father, George Latore, left the family shortly after his birth, and his mother, Voletta, was a schoolteacher. While he is known to have dropped out of school and become a drug dealer, his mother has claimed that the family was not poor and that Wallace exaggerated his childhood situation in his lyrics. His best childhood friend and inspiration was a chubby kid who went by the name of Lil Punisha.
Wallace, who originally didn’t stray much farther than his Brooklyn neighborhood to sell drugs, began to traffic drugs to Virginia and Maryland where it was sold at a higher price. He was eventually busted, and served 10 months in jail. Shortly after he was released, he had his first child, T’Yanna.
With a baby on the way, Wallace decided to start rapping. He developed into a talented lyricist, recording a demo tape with local performer Mr. Cee, who was the DJ for Brooklyn MC Big Daddy Kane. This tape reached The Source magazine and they co-signed Biggie in their “Unsigned Hype” column, which is dedicated to aspiring rappers.
The demo tape found its way into the hands of then Uptown Records employee Sean “Puffy” Combs (now Diddy, who subsequently arranged for a meeting with Wallace. Combs and Wallace became instant friends, performing together on the 1992 reggae song “Dolly My Babii” by Super Cat.
Wallace first gained notice with “Party and Bullshit,” his first single. He made his second mainstream appearance on the remix of Mary J. Blige’s smash hits “Real Love” and “What’s the 411”. He also appeared on the “Flava in ya Ear” remix. He appeared on the album One Million Strong on a song called “RUNNIN’” with 2Pac & Dramacydal. He also made an appearance on the Trapp album Stop The Gunfight on a track called “Be The Realist” with 2Pac & Trapp. This album also contained a remix of “RUNNIN’” called “Stop The Gunfight.” All of these guest appearances built a sizeable buzz around Wallace’s name leading up to his solo debut.
In 1994, he released “Juicy”, his first mainstream single. He also released Ready to Die, his debut album, which is regarded as one of hip-hop’s all-time classics and credited with revitalizing East Coast hip hop. The album features one of rap’s most famous “playa anthems,” “Big Poppa,” which samples the The Isley Brothers. Wallace’s album drew critical acclaim for its vivid story-telling and razor-sharp lyricism, an example being the line “They don’t know about the stress filled day/Baby on the way, mad bills to pay/That’s why you drink Tanqueray/So you can reminisce and wish/You wasn’t living so devilish” from “Everyday Struggle.”
In 1995, Wallace’s protegés, Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Junior Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes), released the album Conspiracy. That same year, Wallace introduced to the mainstream his crewmates Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease. His single “One More Chance” debuted at #5 on the pop charts, tying “Scream/Childhood” by Michael Jackson as the highest debut single in music history at the time, although this record has since been surpassed by Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone,” which debuted at number one. “One More Chance,” which sampled the R&B song “Stay With Me,” was a remix of the song by the same name that originally appeared on Ready to Die. “One More Chance” was also his highest selling single, going Platinum in a matter of weeks.
Also in 1995, Wallace featured in Michael Jackson’s song “This Time Around”, which can be found on Jackson’s HIStory album. This was not the only Michael Jackson song in which Wallace featured in. In 2001, Jackson included a rap verse sung by Wallace in his song “Unbreakable”, which is found on Jackson’s “Invincible” album.
By the end of 1995, Wallace had become one of the most famous and popular rappers in the world. He was named “Lyricist Of The Year” by The Source, and many dubbed him the “King Of New York” (a play on his “Frank White” persona.)
Big was notorized early in his career mostly for his lyrical content, which included hardcore gangsta-rap lyrics at a time when that style dominated the West Coast, and most of his native New York was dominated by the jazziness of A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr and the blend of Five Percenter/far East-influenced/gangsta stylings of MCs like Afu-Ra, Jeru the Damaja and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Over the course of his career, fans who called him the greatest would cite his flow, topical diversity, and vivid, detailed storytelling; he also moved from simple thug lyrics to mafioso-like tales of “gangsterism”, a posturing which some speculate probably contributed to his death.
East Coast West Coast Feud
Although Ready to Die made Wallace a star, he is most famed for his involvement in rap’s infamous feud between the East and West Coast scenes. Before Ready to Die was released, he began to associate with rap superstar Tupac Shakur, a New York City native who moved to Baltimore and later Marin City. The two recorded a number of songs together, and Wallace even performed alongside Shakur in a now-famous Madison Square Garden freestyle in 1994. However, their friendship ended when Shakur was shot in November of that year. Though there is no evidence suggesting it, Shakur claimed that Combs and Wallace knew about the shooting beforehand based on their behavior that night and what he had heard from his sources. He also thought that the lyrics in Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya,” were disrespectful and shouldn’t have been released at such a time. Shakur subsequently joined Death Row Records after his release from prison in late 1995.
Death Row Records and Bad Boy Entertainment were the two most successful labels of the 1990s, and with the two biggest stars in rap now associated with different labels, the feud escalated. In 1996, Tupac recorded a song called “Hit ‘Em Up”, in which he claims to have slept with B.I.G.’s wife Faith Evans, and claims that Biggie copied his style. Biggie never made a response, and the two even met before the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. However, when Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, rumors of Wallace’s possible involvement in the murder cropped up almost immediately. He denied the allegations. Also around this time, he was involved in a car accident that shattered his leg and would force him to use a cane for the rest of his life.
On March 9, 1997, Wallace was shot and killed in Los Angeles, where he had been attending a party by VIBE Magazine near the Petersen Automotive Museum. As his car pulled up to a red light, another car opened fire, hitting him six times and killing him almost instantly.
His murder has never been conclusively solved, though theories abound as to the motives and identities of the murderers. Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight and the Mob Piru Bloods gang with whom he associated are among the prime suspects for involvement. In his book, LAbyrinth, LAPD officer Russell Poole probes the circumstances and figures involved in the shootings.
Biggie’s death was a vicious shock to the entire music industry and sent shock waves around the world. The Notorious B.I.G.’s public funeral, however, was anything but peaceful. Wallace was loved in his neighbourhood, his funeral was a massive event. Thousands flooded into his Brooklyn neighborhood to catch a glimpse of his hearse, jumping on cars and clashing with police; ten people were arrested. When someone put on “Hypnotize”, the whole crowd erupted.
Theories about his death
Director Nick Broomfield and co-producer Dmitri Leybman have released an investigative documentary called Biggie & Tupac which implicates the LAPD and Suge Knight. Proponents of this theory defend it because the LAPD’s elite robbery and homicide unit didn’t begin to investigate Wallace’s murder until a month after it happened, and the job was given to a poorly funded division of LAPD investigators; and several prison inmates who were once members of the Mob Piru Bloods have come forward and said that they know for a fact that Suge Knight ordered Wallace’s murder due to their own personal connections.
Conspiracy theories abound about Wallace’s murder: Some believe that the Crips gang may have shot Wallace in retalliation for his not paying for the security services they provided at a previous party. However, it should be noted that such theories are simply speculation, with no hard evidence backing them up.
The Los Angeles Times ran an almost universally discredited article entitled “Who Shot Tupac Shakur?” by reporter Chuck Phillips, which concludes that Wallace was ultimately behind Shakur’s murder. Evidence to the contrary has since surfaced, most notably a dated and timed excerpt from a recording that Wallace made in a studio in New York when he was supposedly providing the murder weapon to hitmen in Las Vegas. The article also claims that he checked in and out of a hotel without being noticed by a single individual, despite being a 6’3”, 300-pound national celebrity.
Life After Death, Wallace’s second album, debuted at #1 on the charts. The album was released only two weeks after his murder. Its lead single was “Hypnotize”, which was also the last music video he would take part in. Life After Death hit number one on the Billboard charts and spawned several hit singles in the United States. The album sold over 18 million copies worldwide and is one of the best selling hip-hop albums of all time. His biggest chart hit was “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” which featured Combs (under the rap alias “Puff Daddy”) and rapper Mase, and sampled the disco song “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross for the beat. The video is noted for having started the “Shiny Suit” era in hip hop. The last video single from Life After Death was “Sky’s The Limit,” featuring 112. The video for this song, directed by Spike Jonze, was noted for the use of children portraying Wallace and his contemporaries, such as Combs, Lil’ Kim, and Busta Rhymes. This technique has been recently used in the Three 6 Mafia music video for “Poppin’ My Collar.”
During the summer of 1997, Combs released his debut album, No Way Out, which featured Wallace on a number of songs, notably in the chorus of the single “Been Around the World” over a David Bowie sample (“Let’s Dance”). However, the single that carried this album to the top was “I’ll Be Missing You,” which was dedicated to Wallace’s memory. The song featured Puff Daddy, Wallace’s widow Faith Evans and 112. The song sampled The Police’s hit song “Every Breath You Take.” All these artists performed the song with former Police vocalist Sting during the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.
In 1999, Combs released Wallace’s third album, Born Again. It had two hit singles: “N.O.T.O.R.I.O.U.S.,” featuring Puff Daddy and Lil’ Kim (interpolation to the Duran Duran’s song of the same name), and “Dead Wrong” a single that later was remixed with a verse from Eminem. The video for “N.O.T.O.R.I.O.U.S.” also featured appearances by 98 Degrees and Fat Joe.
In 2001, one of Wallace’s raps was featured in Michael Jackson’s song “Unbreakable,” which was included on his multi-platinum album Invincible. Wallace previously collaborated with Jackson in his 1995 song “This Time Around” from the autobiographical album HIStory.
In 2002, Combs gave 50 Cent rights to sample Wallace’s verses from “Niggaz” (a song from the Born Again album) into a song called “The Realest Niggaz.” It got out as a single and was a big hit on New York radio stations. Many have attributed that song as the first big break for 50 Cent, who is now one of hip-hop’s biggest superstars. The song was later put on the soundtrack for the 2003 hit movie Bad Boys 2 with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. Later on in 2003, Eminem remixed the 1994 Wallace/Shakur collaboration “RUNNIN’” and added a sample of Edgar Winter’s “Dying to Live.” Titled “Runnin’ (Dying To Live)”, the song was released as a single from the soundtrack of Tupac: Resurrection.
On August 28, 2005, at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards, Combs (who was hosting the event) and Snoop Dogg paid a well-received tribute to Wallace: an orchestra played while the lyrics from “Juicy” and “Warning” played on the arena speakers. In September 2005, VH1 had its second annual “Hip Hop Honors,” with a tribute to Wallace headlining the show. The long awaited The Notorious B.I.G. Duets: The Final Chapter album was released December 20, 2005. The album spawned the singles “Nasty Girl”, which became his first UK #1, as well as “Spit Your Game” “Whatchu Want” and “Hold Ya Head”.
On March 19, 2006, a judge ordered that sales of Ready to Die be halted because the title track apparently sampled “Singing in the Morning” by the Ohio Players without permission.
After Death - If He Were Alive
Many people associated with rap music continuously speculate about how different rap would be today if rappers like Wallace had never died. The rapper Jadakiss, who was a close associate of Biggie’s, stated in an appearance on MTV’s The Shop that most rappers popular today would “be taking fast food orders” if Wallace were still producing music. However, Wallace’s friends Lil’ Cease, Lil’ Kim, and Puff Daddy, all insist that he was not going to be in hip-hop for a very long time. In an interview with XXL Magazine (conducted in 1995 but released in 2003), Wallace himself said he was planning to retire from rap music in 2000 to manage the careers of Junior M.A.F.I.A.
In the song “1970 Somethin”, a song featuring West Coast Rapper The Game and Faith Evans, Game dedicates an entire verse to the New York Emcee. Similarily “copying” his rap style, emulating B.I.G Here is an excerpt:
“If I was in Brooklyn and B.I. was still alive In 2006, it might sound like this NY, 7-1-8’s, 2-1-2’s With Sue’s rendezvous, it’s like Moulin Rouge High fashion, uptown Air Force Ones and Vasquez Puerto Ricans with fat asses Blazed dutch masters, we dump ashes On models in S classes for you bastards Catch a cab to Manhattan, with that Broadway actin’ You hype, that Belly shit’ll get you capped and wrapped in plastic Tell the captain to ask Rog’ What’s Happenin’? I hear, nor speak no evil inside the magnum”
There is a movie in the works about Wallace’s life. Antoine Fuqua, the director of Training Day, will direct the film. The film is being produced by Wallace’s mother and by his former managers, Wayne Barrow and Mark Pitts.
Biggie is widely celebrated as one of the all time greatest hip-hop artists. His lyrics have been sampled by many of today’s more famous names in hip hop, such as Jay-Z, Fat Joe, 50 Cent, Nelly, Pharrell, Snoop Dogg, Juelz Santana, Busta Rhymes, and even R&B stars such as Usher, Akon, Alicia Keys, and Ashanti. He is also sampled in Michael Jackson’s 2001 album INVINCIBLE in the song UNBREAKABLE.
In 2001, elite hip-hop magazine The Source crowned him as the greatest MC of all time. Likewise in 2003, when XXL Magazine asked many elite names in hip hop who they felt was the top 5 rappers of all time, Biggie’s named appeared on more rappers’ lists than any other MC. During Canibus’s 1998 feud with LL Cool J, Canibus responded to LL Cool J’s claim to be the greatest rapper of all time on the song Second Round K.O. by saying “the greatest rapper of all time died on March 9th.”, which was the day Biggie died.
Unfortunately, a huge knock on Biggie’s legacy is the fact that he only recorded two albums while alive, with only two posthumous releases in the near-decade since his death. In 2006, MTV ranked Biggie as the #1 MC of all time, but later recinded that decision primarily due to a lack of material. However, he still ranked number #3, with 2Pac and Jay-Z ranked ahead of him.
At the time of his death, Wallace created a hip-hop supergroup called The Commission, which consisted of himself, Jay-Z, Lil’ Cease, P. Diddy and Charli Baltimore. A song on the duets album called Whatchu Want (The Commission) featuring Wallace and Jay-Z is based on the group.
* Among the performers Wallace discovered, or in some way helped further their rap careers, were Jay-Z, Cam’ron, Jadakiss, Styles P, Sheek Louch, Lil’ Kim, Mase, N.O.R.E. and Charli Baltimore
* He attended the same high school in downtown Brooklyn as Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes.
* He was one of the first MCs ever to successfully bridge the gap between commercial and underground success.
* He first signed with Uptown Records in 1993, his first recording deal.
* Method Man is the only artist to feature on Ready To Die, on the track “The What”
* A line from his song “Me and My Bitch” is sampled on Mary J. Blige & Method Man’s Grammy winning single “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need.”
* He collaborated with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, the only group who have had the opportunity to collaborate with Wallace and each of the late rappers 2Pac, Eazy-E, and Big Punisher in their lifetime. They were first featured with Wallace on the track “Notorious Thugs” which has been recently remixed in the track Spit Your Game. On “Notorious Thugs,” Biggie flips his usual flow to match the speed rapping of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
* His song Big Poppa was featured throughout the 2001 movie Hardball.
* Both “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems” hit #1 after Biggie’s death giving him two posthumous #1 hits - more than any other singer. Other posthumous #1 hits belong to Otis Redding (“The Dock Of The Bay”); Janis Joplin (“Me And Bobby McGee”); Jim Croce (“Time In A Bottle”); and, John Lennon (“(Just Like) Starting Over”).
* Wallace had the ability to create verses in his head and was able to freestyle tracks on the mic without the use of pen and paper. This skill was also shared by Jay-Z, which lead to their eventual friendship.
* Other artists who use this unique style of rapping (and cite Biggie as an influence) include Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West, Common, and Ja Rule.
* According to people close to him, Biggie had as much as five albums worth of lyrics in his head when he died.
* His song Big Poppa was featured in the 2007 movie Superbad.