In the very few years he had on this planet, Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G. a.k.a. Biggie Smalls not only acquired a ton of nicknames but he became one of the most influential figures in rap of all time.
In the mid-90s, West Coast rap dominated the field with artists like Tupac, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube to name a few. Biggie hailed from Brooklyn and the release of his debut album, Ready to Die, in 1994, he put New York City on the map in regards to rap music. Ready to Die went platinum four times and included hits like “Juicy”, “One More Chance”, and “Big Poppa”:
In 1995, Biggie helped his protégé group Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Junior Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes) release their first album, Conspiracy. Despite the stupid acronym, the group included artists like Lil’ Cease and Lil’ Kim who, if I can state the glaringly obvious, went on to have successful solo careers. During this same year, Biggie helped a couple other groups release their albums and racked up awards including Rap Artist of the Year and Rap Single of the Year (“One More Chance”) at the Billboard Music Awards.
However 1995, wasn’t a completely good year for Biggie. That same year, he became embroiled in a East Coast vs. West Coast rap feud against his former friend, Tupac Shakur.
The feud continued through 1996 and in September of that year, Tupac was killed. A few months later, Biggie and Lil’ Cease were in a car accident that shattered Biggie’s left leg and temporarily confined him to a wheelchair. With physical therapy, he was able to walk again but he needed the assistance of a cane.
Throughout all of this, Biggie continued to record his sophomore album tentatively called Life After Death . . . ‘Til Death Do Us Part, a title that would later prove to be sadly prophetic. On March 9, 1997, Biggie was shot in a drive by shooting in Los Angeles and died within the hour at age 24, just six months after Tupac. The two deaths were immediately linked but both murders remain officially unsolved.
Sixteen days after Biggie’s death, his second album was released with the shortened title Life After Death. This two disc album featured mega hits like “Going Back to Cali”, “Mo Money Mo Problems”, and, of course, “Hypnotize” which was also Biggie’s last music video:
No joke, the intro to this song is my ringtone. Also, I think my favorite part of this video is Sean Combs/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/whatever the fuck we’re calling him this week, hopping around behind Biggie like the bully’s sidekick in A Christmas Story.
Life After Death hit #1 on the Billboard Chart, was certified diamond, and continues to maintain popularity 20 years later. A second posthumous album, Born Again, was released two years later in 1999. It consisted mainly of previously recorded verses from Biggie heavily cut with new beats and guest rappers. This, too, hit #1 on the charts and went double platinum but despite it’s strong commercial showing, the critics were none too impressed. One reviewer in Rolling Stone said that “the album won’t damage his legacy. But Born Again won’t improve that legacy much, either.”
It’s hard not to wonder what Biggie might have done had he not been killed so early on in his life and his career. Conversely, it’s easy to romanticize what might’ve been–maybe he wouldn’t have done anything and he would’ve just flamed out. I doubt it, but we’ll never know. So instead, we’ll just have to be content with the music we do have.
Happy Throwback Thursday!