Biggie Smalls was a well-respected hip-hop artist and the face of East Coast gangster rap. He was also known by his stage name, “The Notorious B.I.G.” On March 9, 1997, he was murdered by a gunshot wound.
Who Was Biggie Smalls?
The life of Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls and the Notorious B.I.G., was cut tragically short. His murder in Los Angeles in 1997, when he was only 24 years old, has never been solved to this day. He was shot dead. Smalls was from New York and had practically single-handedly created East Coast hip hop. However, in the early 1990s, the “g-funk” sound popularized by Dr Dre and Death Row Records displaced East Coast hip hop as the dominant style on the West Coast. Smalls swung the emphasis back towards New York and his label home, Bad Boy Records, with his clear and powerful baritone, smooth mic flow, and willingness to address the fragility and the harshness of the hustler lifestyle. He fancied himself a mobster, but in reality, he was more of a performer than a hardcore criminal. However, he was certainly not a saint. In this way, he was comparable to Tupac Shakur, his one-time friend who turned out to be his fierce adversary. The competition between the two men descended into a terrible spiral out of control, and neither survived to tell the tale.
Christopher George Latore Wallace was born in the United States of America in the borough of Brooklyn on May 21st, 1972. His mother, Voletta, was a preschool teacher, while his father, Selwyn, was a welder and a local Jamaican politician. Both of his parents were natives of the island nation of Jamaica in the Caribbean. Biggie was only two years old when Selwyn left the family. Still, Voletta worked two jobs to send Biggie to a prestigious private school, the Roman Catholic Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. Rudy Giuliani and Arthur Ryan, the former CEO of Primark, are among the school’s notable alumni. After that, however, Biggie enrolled at George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School, whose other notable graduates include DMX, Jay-Z, and Busta Rhymes. Biggie graduated from this school. Biggie had done exceptionally well in English, but he frequently skipped classes at Westinghouse, and when he was 17 years old, he quit school completely.
According to an interview he gave to the New York Times in 1994, he began selling narcotics at 12, working the streets outside his mother’s apartment on St. James Place. As a child, he was given the moniker “Big” because of his plus-sized girth, and this nickname stuck with him throughout his life. As a result of her long work hours, Voletta was completely unaware of her son’s activities. After dropping out of school, Biggie increased the number of drugs he sold, quickly landing him in legal jeopardy. After being arrested on allegations of possessing guns in 1989, he was given a probationary sentence of five years duration. The following year he was arrested for breaking that probation. The next year, he was charged with distributing cocaine in North Carolina, and according to reports, he spent nine months in jail while he waited to make bail after being arrested for the crime.
Bad Boy Records
Biggie started rapping as a teenager to keep the folks in his area entertained. After he came out of jail, he recorded a demo cassette as Biggie Smalls, naming himself after a gang leader from the movie Let’s Do It Again (1975), which was also a reference to the moniker he was given as a child. He had no intention of pursuing a career in music—”It was fun just hearing myself on tape over beats,” he later said in a biography for Arista Records—but the tape made its way to The Source magazine. The editors there were so impressed that they profiled Biggie in their Unsigned Hype column in March 1992. As a result, Biggie was invited to record with other unsigned rappers. Biggie eventually signed a record deal with Arista Records. This tape was brought to the attention of Sean “Puffy” Combs, who worked as an A&R executive and producer for the most successful urban label, Uptown Records; he began his career with the company as an intern in the year 1990. Biggie got signed to a record label thanks to Combs, but shortly after that, Combs departed the label after disagreeing with Andre Harrell, his boss. Combs went on to establish his record label, Bad Boy Records, and by the middle of 1992, Biggie had become a member of the label’s roster.
Uptown released music that Biggie recorded during his brief stint at the label, including a remix of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” in August 1992 that featured a guest verse from The Notorious B.I.G. Before he had the opportunity to put anything out on Bad Boy, Uptown released music that Biggie recorded during his brief stint at the label (He had been forced to change his recording name after a lawsuit; though he continued to be widely known as Biggie). “Party and Bullshit” was the first song, The Notorious BIG, released as a solo artist, and the label issued it in June 1993.
Friendship With Tupac
During the same year, Biggie Smalls had his first encounter with Tupac, who he met for the first time while working on music for his debut album. Their meeting, described in detail in the book Original Gangstas written by Ben Westhoff, took place at a party that a drug dealer in Los Angeles hosted. They consumed food, drank alcohol, and smoked cigarettes together. During this time, Tupac, a popular recording artist, gave Biggie, a relatively unknown outside of New York, a bottle of Hennessy. After that, whenever Biggie and Tupac got together, Tupac served as a role model and mentor for Biggie. At one time, Biggie even asked Tupac to become his manager. It’s been reported that Tupac told Puff to stick with him. He will make you famous, that’s for sure. Since he had just become a parent the previous August to T’yanna, his daughter, with his high school love, Jan, Biggie was particularly anxious about money during that period. It has been alleged that Biggie resumed his career as a drug dealer at this point and that it wasn’t until Combs discovered what he was doing that he was forced to stop.
‘Ready to Die’
Bad Boy Records released Notorious B.I.G.’s debut studio album in September 1994, exactly one month after his breakthrough single for the company, titled “Juicy.” Within the first two months of its release, the album, Ready to Die was declared gold. The next year, it was certified double platinum, and eventually, it was certified quadruple platinum. A Grammy nomination was submitted for “Big Poppa,” the second song released from the album, in the best rap solo performance category. Biggie received widespread praise for the narrative ability he demonstrated in the semi-autobiographical tales from his wayward past featured on the album Ready to Die, which is credited with marking a renaissance in East Coast hip hop. Away from the more lighthearted and radio-friendly tracks — “Birthdays was the worst days/Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay,” he chortled on “Juicy” — Biggie did not sugar-coat the lifestyle of a drug dealer. The album’s concluding track, “Suicidal Thoughts,” seemed like a plea for assistance. According to statements made by Sean Combs to the New York Times, “in street life, you’re not permitted to indicate whether you care about something.” “You can’t have a smile on your face at this point. This album can be thought of as the reverse side of that. He is exposing himself to every possible danger.”
On August 4, 1994, amid the buildup to the release of Ready to Die, Biggie tied the knot with R&B singer Faith Evans, who was also his label-mate on Bad Boy. After only a few days of knowing each other, they tied the knot. Later, Evans was featured on the song “One More Chance,” the fourth single released from Ready to Die. The song peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was later awarded the platinum certification. The 29th of October in 1996 was when she gave birth to their son, Christopher “CJ” Wallace Jr.
Feud With Tupac
However, the 30th of November, 1994, may have been the day that had the most impact on Biggie’s rollercoaster year. Tupac Shakur was fatally wounded on this day in New York City during a heist in the lobby of a recording studio. Tupac was able to survive the attack, but he was certain that Biggie and Combs, the head of Biggie’s record label, were behind it. The fact that the song “Who Shot Ya?” was featured on the B-side of Biggie’s single “Big Poppa,” which was released a little more than two months after the shooting, did not help the situation. Tupac believed that Biggie was making fun of him, so he responded by releasing an explosive diss track the next year called “Hit ‘Em Up.” On this track, he accused himself of sleeping with Biggie’s wife. (Evans would speak about this many years later in 2014 when she told MTV that Tupac once hit on her after a recording session, “but that ain’t how I do business,” she said.) (Evans would speak about this many years later in 2014.)
Biggie and Michael Jackson, More Legal Problems
The following album that Biggie released was a collaborative effort with Junior MAFIA and was issued on August 29, 1995. (an acronym for Masters at Finding Intelligent Attitudes). He first founded the group to mentor aspiring rappers, notably Lil’ Kim, who would later become his lover. In the same year, he also joined forces with Michael Jackson to create “This Time Around,” a song making him one of the few hip-hop musicians to do so. (According to the legend, Biggie was hanging out with another one of his Junior MAFIA proteges named Lil Cease, who was 16 years old at the time, when he received a call to come into the studio to record with Michael Jackson. However, according to Cease, Biggie would not permit him to meet the King of Pop because he didn’t “trust him with kids.”) Biggie did not allow Cease to meet Michael Jackson. In addition, Biggie appeared as a guest on R. Kelly’s self-titled album, contributing to the song “(You to Be) Be Happy.” Notorious B.I.G. was not only the top-selling solo male artist in the hip-hop genre on the Billboard charts by the end of 1995 but also the top-selling solo male artist in the mainstream and R&B genres.
In September 1995, Biggie started recording his second studio album and continued doing so the following year. However, this would lead to more problems. After following two people in Manhattan with a baseball bat and threatening to kill them in March 1996, he was arrested and sentenced to one hundred hours of community service. After a few months, the New Jersey police conducted a search warrant on his home and discovered four automatic guns and fifty grams of marijuana. During the summer of the same year, he was accused of assaulting and robbing a friend of a concert producer at a nightclub in the state of New Jersey. The next year, in the autumn, he was detained again, this time in Brooklyn, for using marijuana inside his vehicle.
Death of Tupac
Tupac, his buddy in the past, was killed in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996. Nobody has ever been charged with the murder. Still, as a result of the ongoing East Coast/West Coast rap beef that Biggie and Tupac’s rivalry had come to embody, and also as a consequence of Tupac publicly blaming Biggie and Puffy for his non-fatal shooting in 1994, there were plenty of people who believed that the East Coast rap kingpins were behind Tupac’s murder. However, nobody has ever been charged with the murder. (Both Biggie and Puffy have vehemently denied involvement, and since then, several significant suspects have come forward.)
“It’s a funny thing, I kind of understood how powerful Tupac and I was,” Biggie reminisced to the interviewer Jim Bean following the passing of his great opponent. “It’s a funny thing, I kind of realized how powerful Tupac and I was.” “We, being two separate individuals, engaged in a beef down the coast. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? One man’s vendetta against another man stoked the flames of animosity between the two coasts. And vice versa. And that irritated the crap out of me to no end… Just so you know, man doesn’t dig me, and as a result, his entire coast doesn’t dig me. Because I don’t like for him, nobody else on my coast does either. It revealed to me how much strength I actually possess. Therefore, what I’m attempting to do now is to be the one to try to turn the situation around. And take my power and turn it on its head, like, yo, because Pac can no longer be the one to attempt to stifle it now that he’s been eliminated. Therefore, I am required to bear the burden of both sides.”
Sadly, Biggie did not live long enough to experience the contentment and tranquillity he longed for. In the early morning hours of March 9, 1997, he was the victim of a murder. It took place not long after he had finished attending a party hosted by Vibe magazine at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. A vehicle came up alongside Biggie’s SUV as it waited at a red light, and a gunman started the fire. Biggie was travelling in the SUV with a bodyguard and Lil’ Cease at the time of the shooting. Biggie was taken to the hospital as quickly as possible by his bodyguard, but it was too late.
In the same vein as the murder of Tupac, the death of Biggie Smalls would never be explained. There would be no conclusion to this. In a manner very similar to that of Tupac, Biggie would posthumously issue a double album. In Biggie’s case, this occurred only two weeks after his passing. Bad Boy Records issued the eerie album Life After Death on March 25, 1997. It featured collaborations with artists such as Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, 112, Lil’ Kim, Mase, R Kelly, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Angela Winbush. It would go on to be nominated for three Grammy awards: one for best rap album, one for best solo rap performance for the lead single “Hypnotize,” and one for best performance by a duo or group for the album’s second single, Mo Money Mo After selling more than 10 million copies, the album was given the diamond certification in the year 2000.
Many hip-hop fans interpreted Biggie’s death as a “tit-for-tat” slaying, and the album track “Long Kiss Goodnight” gives the impression that Biggie is carrying on the rivalry from beyond the dead. When my men explode, you move with such stamina / Slugs missed you, I ain’t upset atcha / When my men bust, you just move with such stamina / When my men bust, you just move with such stamina / When my men bust, you just move with such stamina / When my men bust, you just move with such sta The hip hop publication XXL asserts, on the other hand, that it is highly likely that the song was recorded before Tupac was murdered. Whatever the reasons may have been, the East Coast versus West Coast rap war came to a stop when Biggie’s tragic death occurred. The situation had become completely out of control. The world lost not one but two of the best rappers who ever picked up a microphone when they passed away. The reputation of hip-hop had been dragged through the mud at this point. Nobody was interested in having anything else to eat.
On March 18, 1997, a memorial service for Biggie was held at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. There were 350 guests in attendance, including some notable musicians such as Lil Kim, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifa, Run DMC, Busta Rhymes, and Foxy Brown. Other notable guests included Queen Latifa. Biggie was laid to rest in an open casket made of wood while wearing a white suit. His cremation took place immediately following the service.
But the world has not seen or heard the last of Biggie Smalls just yet. On Puff Daddy’s album, No Way Out, which was released in 1997, he was featured on no less than five of the songs. Ironically, Biggie himself was beaten to win the Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group in 1998, as his song “Mo Money Mo Problems” was nominated for the same award as the song “I’ll Be Missing You,” which went on to win the Grammy. “I’ll Be Missing You” was a single from the album dedicated to Biggie’s memory. Two more posthumous albums used previously unreleased material: Born Again in 1999 and Duets: The Final Chapter in 2005. These albums featured many guests, including Eminem, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, and, bizarrely, Bob Marley from beyond the grave and the metal band Korn. Born Again was released in 1999, and Duets: The Final Chapter was released in 2005.
In 2009, the actor Jamal Woolard, a rapper and comedian, portrayed Biggie Smalls in a biopic that ended up grossing $44 million worldwide. It started a verbal spat between Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim, who was angry about how the movie portrayed her. Lil Kim was outraged about how the movie portrayed her. However, they have made amends, and Kim made a guest appearance on an album of duets between Evans and Smalls titled The King and I, which was released in 2017.
In 2016, only a few days before she and Evans embarked on their tour together, Kim stated, “at the end of the day, we’re family, whether we like it or not.” “My family has a stake in the estate. She is included in the will of the estate. Both of us are members of Big, which is only one of the many things that unite us. We discovered how powerful we could be when we were all working together.”
Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G., a documentary aired on A&E in 2017, focused on the legendary musician as its subject. The fact that he will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 2020 proves the breadth and depth of his influence.
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