From Ashy to Classy
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.