Real Name: Christopher George Latore Wallace
D.O.B.: May 21st, 1972 Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, New York ; Died March 9th, 1997
Label: Bad Boy Records
Certified as the best and considered Brooklyn’s crown royal, the world celebrated the legend of Notorious B.I.G. with great pride as he shared the same streets of Bed-Stuy for a hot minute of the mid nineties. None come higher than the original Notorious One. From barbershops to bars his skills seem mythological to those eavesdropping on streets-side’s most important critics debating hip-hop’s best. To talk turkey, The Source magazine named Biggie the greatest rapper of all time in 2001. All Music Guide described him as “the saviour of East Coast hip-hop”. In 2003, XXL put the question of top five emcees to several industry peers, to find Biggie’s name listed more often then any other rapper. In 2006, he was ranked at #3 in MTV’s The Greatest MC’s of All Time. His face is up in the Source quite often, and mom is still smiling.
Biggie sat comfortably in the upper echelons of the G.O.A.T. cut, a fact well-known. He eclipsed his opponents from a young age from the corner to the charts with his brilliant god-given artistry. To pin-point how he had it all over the rest is to define the immeasurable purity of his lyrical ether. Compounded with the flow of delivery, the lubricated ease in which the words were expelled in poetic precision crowned him the best lyricist, hands down. Biggie’s assault came in waves of verbal rapid-fire with a knack for layering multiple rhymes upon one another in snappy succession with effortless grace. This gave him the immortality that exists today and made him a legend larger than his own shadow. He came and went with one breath, one album.
Christopher’s story opened up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of New York’s Brooklyn borough where he was born. He was the only child to mother, Voletta Wallace who was a Jamaican immigrant working as a pre-school teacher. His father George Latore was a welder and small-time Jamaican politician. He left mother and child when Christopher was two years old. Years after Biggie attended the Queen of All Saints Middle School, where upon he excelled, winning awards in English. At this period in his life he was already carrying the later-to-be enormous nickname, “Big” relating to his physical size over his classmates before he turned ten years old. Allegedly from the age of twelve, he began his hustle in the dope game.
Soon after Big was transferred out from the private Roman Catholic school to attend George Westinghouse Information Technology High School, the state-funded facility alongside future superstars, Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes. By the tenth grade Biggie had forgone his high school education to further his hustle on the streets of BK dealing crack cocaine and was subsequently arrested in 1989 on weapons charges and sentenced to five years’ probation. In 1990, he was arrested on a violation of his probation. His game moved up to trafficking the narcotics out to Virginia for a higher priced market. A year later at only seventeen, he was arrested in North Carolina with intent to distribute. For this he spent nine months in remand prison until he made bail. His hustle was persistent no matter the game.
Big started displaying lyrical finesse at an early age, performing freestyles with local groups, The Old Gold Brothers and Techniques. After his release from remand prison he recorded a demo tape under the moniker, Biggie Smalls. Aside from a character from Harlem Nights it pointed to his stature, at 6’3” and well over 300 plus pounds. The four-track recording was circulated with no expectations of being picked up, however it was promoted by New York DJ, Mister Cee who had a resume including producing for Big Daddy Kane, whose “Half Steppin’” sample was used. This was passed onto the editor of The Source magazine, and in 1992 he made the March issue of Source’s Unsigned Hype. From here he was invited to join other unsigned rappers in a recording. This joint had caught the attention of young producer and Uptown A&R, Sean “Puffy” Combs who told reporters years later, “I just kept rewinding and rewinding it. I had to meet him.” He arranged for Biggie to be signed to Uptown where he joined label act, Heavy D & The Boyz on “A Buncha Niggas” from Blue Funk. He also performed a verse on Craig Mack’s signature track, “Flava In Ya Ear” helping it reach the 9th spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1994. This also became Biggie’s first video appearance, directed by the hip-hop video Great, Hype Williams.
Industrial politics forced Biggie to follow Combs out of Uptown in 1992 with Andre Harrell firing the brash, upstart. Combs opened his own imprint label, Bad Boy Records with Biggie as its main draw card. Big was still yet to reach the heights of success, and by August 10th, 1992 his long-time girlfriend gave birth to their first child, T-Yanna. This forced Biggie to take up the drug game once again to support his new family. Combs later found out and forced him to quit for the promise of riches and fame. Here began the tale of going from ashy to classy.
His next performance was on label mate Mary J. Blige’s single, “Real Love”. The hit peaked Billboard’s Hot 100 at number 7. Here he was known as Notorious B.I.G. the professional brand he would use for the entirety of his career. To a lesser extent, Biggie furthered this success in 1993 on “Buddy X” remixes with Nenah Cherry and reggae artist Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby”, featuring Combs. In April of ‘93 his solo track, “Party and Bullshit” which was featured on the Who’s the Man soundtrack. In July the following year he appeared alongside Def Jam legend, LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes on Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear” remix reaching #9 on the Hot 100. In the same year, Biggie collaborated with New York born, west coast bred rapper, Tupac Shakur on “Runnin’” with Dramacydal and again on a Trapp album with, “Be The Realist”. They met in Los Angeles California.
On August 4th, 1994 Big married Bad Boy R&B voice, Faith Evans after they had met ten days prior on a photo shoot. This was a moment in the calm of his whirlwind rise to fame.
On the eve of dropping his first album release, Bad Boy Records introduced him on the “Juciy/Unbelievable” single, reaching a commercial number 27. The second single, “Big Poppa/Warning” reached number one and the classic, “One More Chance,” third single opened at top spot on every format. In June of 1995, the single tied Michael Jackson’s “Scream / Childhood” as the highest-debuting single of all time. Weeks later on September 14th Ready To Die dropped to shelves and hit the Billboard 200 at 13th.
Ready To Die was released with incredible reception. The superb writing and autobiographical first-person narrative vividly painted an honest cinematic portrayal of his own rags to riches. The timely lyrical delivery and chilling realism raised the standard of hip-hop. B.I.G.’s talent shined through each track as his character narratives flowed with seamless change. “Gimme The Loot” narrated the story of a stick-up thug while “Me & My Bitch” saw Big as a romantic hustler, with “Warning” telling the grit of being robbed of riches before violent demise. “Everyday Struggle,” “Things Done Changed” and “Ready to Die” reflected on the soul-drenching depressive nature of the ghetto with stark visions of the struggle and overbearing day-to-day life. The storytelling through the album saw BIG develop into many BK figures, identities inspired by the neighbourhood tales. Ready to Die continued its success throughout 1995, leading to sales upward of four million units.
The album dropped right in the middle of the West Coast hip-hop dominance with Death Row Records’ stamping their authority over specifically Bad Boy. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “almost single-handedly… shifted the focus back to East Coast rap.” The Source gave it four and a half mics. The powerful reviews it received had clamped down the western conference in a period of what the media dubbed an “East/West war”. Notorious B.I.G. had become a perfect commercial blend of thug machoism and materialism. Ready To Die became one of the classic albums in hip-hop.
Big Poppa brought out his Bed-Stuy neighbourhood click, protégés Junior MAFIA (Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes) featuring Lil Kim, Lil Cease and starring himself. They shared the spotlight under Biggie and signed with Bad Boy Records before releasing their 1995 joint, Conspiracy, selling gold. The single, “Player’s Anthem/Get Money” feature Biggie, went Gold and Platinum. From here, Brooklyn diva, Lil Kim matured into a multi-platinum recording female MC, dope as fuck in her own right. He followed his début with various collabos with R&B upstarts associated with Bad Boy. 112’s “Only You” and Total’s “Can’t See You” both of which sat inside the Hot 100’s top 20. In July 1995, his face was up on The Source cover standing over the Twin Towers with the words, “The King of New York Takes Over” Biggie took home three awards at the Source Awards later that same year, including Best New Artist, Lyricist of the Year and Live Performer of the Year. At the following Billboards, he took Rap Artist of the Year and his single “Big Poppa” was awarded Single of the Year. By the end of the ‘95 Notorious BIG aka Frank White aka The King of New York had become the number one male solo artist and rapper on the U.S. pop and R&B charts and the largest commodity in hip-hop.
During this steep ascent to success Big’s life was plagued with overwhelming relations to the West Coast hip-hop scene. His tenured friendship with west coast all-star, Tupac Shakur provided an incredible roller-coaster ride for both artists. The bi-coastal feuding resulted from Bad Boy and Shakur’s label, Death Row backing their stars who fell out after a brief professional union. They recorded several tracks together and once shared an audience at Madison Square Gardens in ‘94. Tupac repeatedly claimed Biggie stole his style and swagger and switched his game on the advice of Tupac without giving him his deserved props. It was initially a personal beef which was highly-publicised by the media to a national arena of East vs West. Vibe Magazine, in April ‘95 featured an imprisoned Tupac accusing Uptown Records’ Andre Harrell, Bad Boy’s Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and Biggie of having prior knowledge of the attempted murder and robbery that resulted in Tupac being hospitalised with multiple gunshot wounds, as well as losing expensive jewellery in a Time Square, New York building housing a recording studio on the evening of November 30th 1994 . Involved parties all denied any knowledge or involvement. The case remains unsolved, the beef however brought on the most tragic scenario for both sides.
“It just happened to be a coincidence that he was in the studio. He just, he couldn’t really say who really had something to do with it at the time. So he just kinda’ leaned the blame on me.”
- Notorious B.I.G.
After Shakur’s release from prison he signed with Los Angeles powerhouse, Death Row Records and instantaneously it took onboard the viscous beef as a bitter quarrel ensued in the following months. Both artists battled on more than wax and units, and Tupac drew sides against anyone who associated themselves with Bad Boy. It remains the most infamous beef in hip hop.
During September of 1995 Biggie had begun recording for his follow-up album. Keeping the title in reference to Ready to Die, the inevitable Life After Death mimicked Shakur’s ground-breaking first double album, All Eyes On Me with the second hip-hop double. Recorded in New York, Los Angeles and Trinidad. However this became an eighteen-month project for Biggie with interruptions from legal situations and personal injury. On March 23rd, 1996 Big was arrested in Manhattan, New York outside a nightclub for allegedly chasing and threatening two fans requesting autographs. Allegedly the larger-than-hip-hop artist smashed the taxi cab windows containing the fans and dragging them out before assaulting them. He was sentenced to 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to second-degree harassment. A further accusation of assault was filed by a concert promoter who claims he and his entourage physically threatened him after Biggie refused to pay an agreed fee. He was arrested again mid-year on drug and weapons possession charges following a raid at his Teaneck, New Jersey home.
1996 brought on a dramatic climax to his short-lived recording career, still working on his next album, Biggie helped launch the fist solo album of Lil Kim’s as well as further his relations with the seductive emcee to the public appearance of an affair while still holding an estranged marriage to Faith Evans. Tupac by mid-July had released “Hit Em Up” one of the most venomous battle spits in hip-hop, Here ‘Pac claims to have fucked his wife, Faith out of pure insult to Biggie’s personal life. On a Jay-Z collabo, “Brooklyn’s Finest” Biggie retaliates with references to his wife’s pregnancy. At the 1996 Source Awards Death Row had attempted to establish a New York recording branch and poach several big name artists to their imprint label, angering those close to Bad Boy and Biggie. On camera Tupac further vehemently threw down towards those against Death Row. Bad Boy’s entourage and security were heavily under security details from Los Angeles hired Crip gang-members, to counteract the Blood-soaked affiliated Death Row Records. Several weeks later both parties would come to boiling point in Las Vegas.
September 7th, 1996 on the post-match side of a Mike Tyson fight with Bruce Seldon, Tupac Shakur was shot several times in a fatal drive-by assassination and hospitalised for six days before passing on due to complications resulting from the gunshot wounds suffered. Speculation of Biggie’s involvement spread through the media about his involvement immediately. Reports of a MGM Grand lobby scuffle between Tupac, Suge Knight and an L.A. Crip associated with Bad Boy fuelled blame towards the East Coast giant label. In the wake of Tupac’s death, an anti-violence hip-hop summit was held with the notable exception of Biggie and for his absence he received criticism. He soon suffered a shattered left leg in a car accident and was confined to a wheelchair, then a cane for support. The case remains open and unsolved by the L.A.P.D. The devastating aftershock of Tupac’s death was thought to have awaken the hip-hop community and force artists to take stock of Gangsta Rap in general, with battles on wax being taken to the streets and turned into life or death beef. Unfortunately the wake-up call would cost another martyr. Six months later the cold dish of revenge was served in Los Angeles, California.
On October 29th, 1996 wife Faith Evans gave birth to Biggie’s first son, Christopher “CJ” Wallace, Jr. The next month Lil Kim dropped her début album, Hard Core. The pair were still in arms despite Biggie’s marriage to Faith.
Goin Back to Cali
On March, 1997 Biggie travelled to killer California to promote his new album and record the music video for “Hypnotize”. The album was due out on the 25th. He attended the 11th Soul Train Music Awards in Los Angeles. He was there to present an award to Toni Braxton. Biggie was booed as he took the stage from a defiant West Coast crowd. After the event Biggie and his Bad Boy family attended the after-party hosted by Vibe Magazine and Qwest Records and held at the Peterson Automotive Museum in L.A. Alongside him was his wife, Faith Evans and label chief, Puffy Combs and security entourage of the Southside Compton Crips faction as well as Death Row’s MOB Blood gang.
At 12;30am on March 9th, 1997 Biggie and entourage left the party in two GMC Suburban vehicles en-route to the hotel, after the closing of the party was announced early. Biggie was riding shotgun alongside long-time friend Damion “D-Rock” butler. Junior MAFIA’s Lil Cease was beside driver, Greg “G-Money” Young in the following vehicle with three bodyguards. Both SUVs were trailed by a Chevrolet Blazer with Bad Boy’s director of security. By 12:45 a.m. the streets were crowded with people exiting the event. Biggie’s SUV stopped at a red light 40 plus metres from the event location. While awaiting the change of lights, a white Toyota land Crusier made a sudden u-turn and cut in-between Biggie’s truck and the Blazer. Simultaneously a black Chevrolet Impala pulled up beside Biggie and the driver, a black male dressed in a blue suit and tie rolled down the window to extend a 9mm blue-steel handgun and fired off numerous rounds into the side of the GMC truck, with four bullets striking Big in the chest. He was immediately rushed to Ceders-Sinai Medical Center by his security team. He was pronounced dead at 1:15am that same morning. A retaliation hit was logically assumed putting Death Row CEO, Suge Knight and his MOB Piru blood gang as prime suspects. Also rumours opened with Knight hiring the Nation of Islam’s Fruits of Islam security to appoint the trigger man. This today is still another unsolved murder case much like Tupac’s assassination. Several L.A.P.D. investigators have put in print the accounts of these unsolved cases laying out conspiracy theories and circumstances to the murders as well as several investigative documentaries. Layered ties to corrupt L.A.P.D. officers, gang associations and music industry politics made both slain rappers’ cases highly-sensitive.
The ambitious long-awaited sequel, Life After Death dropped immediately after mourning on March 25th, 1997. After three years in the works the posthumous works of Notorious B.I.G. exceeded expectations in a double-disc (24 track) conclusive drama with an eerie parallel to the real life tragedy of his young life. Ready To Die gave us the street hustler, Life After Death gave us the Don, the godfather icon. If Ready To Die was classic, Life After Death was epic. Here he used an array of some of the industry’s best producers, Easy Mo Bee, Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Wu-Tang’s RZA and more to compile a diverse effort. In the same style he collaborated with various hip-hop and R&B artists including, R-Kelly, Jay-Z, Faith Evans, Lil Kim, Too $hort, LOX and Mase. Of course Puffy made his presence felt, more so here than Ready to Die. Here he deserves thanks for producing and starring in the album’s biggest hit singles, “Hypnotise”, (#2 – Billboard 100) “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” (#1 – Billboard 100) and “Sky’s The Limit”. The 1997 Billboard Awards awarded Life After Death with R&B Album of the Year. It also won the MTV Video Music Award for “Best Rap Video,” and two ASCAP Awards. By 2000 it was certified diamond by the RIAA, (only six other rap albums have ever been certified diamond.) Despite the glittery successes the album garnered, Life After Death tipped the scales to a new heavyweight class of hip-hop.
“The stakes were raised,” before B.I.G., you might put out anything, now you knew, okay, it’s real out there, you gotta come correct, ‘cause this cat is spending time on his shit.”
- Wu-Tang Clan founder and producer RZA.
The void left behind by the immeasurable presence of Biggie Smalls was patched with remixed, re-mastered and recycled lyrics in new mixtape-like releases until 1999 when Bad Boy dropped the third studio album of Big aptly named, Born Again. Given more credit than a 3 R’s album, Born Again came with unreleased tracks sharing the spotlight with guest spots by Busta Rhymes, Redman, Method Man, Missy Elliott and Ice Cube plus more in what many considered a copycat posthumous album to that of Tupac’s resurrection, Makaveli. Nevertheless the original recordings of Biggie’s lyrics were produced into collaboration joints by none other than running-mate, Puff Daddy. The Billboard 200 had it at number one Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums had it also peaked at number one. The encore of Born Again celebrated the recording life of Notorious BIG with nothing short of class. Continued duets, remixes and remastered projects of his works drop to the streets with great reaction. The life of Bad Boy Records rode on the might and reputation that Biggie carried.
Biggie’s last A&R recruitment was the super group, The Commission consisting of himself, Jay-Z, Lil Cease, Diddy and Charli Baltimore. The Commission was mentioned through the lyrics of Biggie’s “What’s Beef” track from Life After Death and Diddy’s No Way Out album’s “Victory”. The only released recording of the group came from The Duets album from 2005 with, “Whatchu Want (The Commission)” featuring Jay-Z. A clothing line was also released before he was laid out called Brooklyn Mint which honed in on the plus size market, this project never took off due to his untimely passing. Since then, managers Mark Pitts and Wayne Barrow launched the same line of clothing with help from mogul, Jay-Z. Proceeds from t-shirt sales went toward the Christopher Wallace Foundation and Jigga’s Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation. His mother, Voletta Wallace hired branding and licensing agency, Wicked Cow Entertainment to oversee the company’s legalities. Products also released were action figures, blankets and mobile phone content. The Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation annually holds, “B.I.G. Night Out” (a black-tie dinner) in aid of the children’s school equipment and supplies as well as honouring the memory of the late rapper. For this particular event, because it is a children’s schools’ charity, “B.I.G.” is also said to stand for “Books Instead of Guns”.
Big Poppa remains one of the dopest hip-hop artists of all-time. Ten years down and posthumously Biggie is remembered through his lyrically flawless aptitude behind the mic. Frank White, the King of New York dominated the industry like Bill Russell did boards. His short recording life was magnified by the incredible success that preceded him. In three short years he rose from Carolina hustlin’ to become the face of hip-hop for the eastern conference of rap music. He quietened the upstart West and held down Bed-Stuy Brooklyn like Fort Knox. Big Poppa is today honoured through various Industry awards. MTV Video Music Awards, 2005 saw Bad Boy Records CEO, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg pay homage to the fallen relic. An orchestra played to the tunes of “Juicy” and “Warning” with his vocals through the arena speakers. Later September, 2005 at the second VH1 Hip-Hop Honors Big headlined the show’s honourees. The legend of Notorious B.I.G. lives and breathes everyday through hip-hop, a man to be admired, artist to be revered. We’ll always love Big Poppa, Thanks Diddy.
- 1994 Ready To Die (4x Platinum)
- 1997 Life After Death (Diamond (10x Platinum))
- 1999 Born Again (2x Platinum)
- 2005 Duets: The Final Chapter (Platinum)