“Excellence is my presence. Never tense, never hesitant.” – Biggie Smalls.
These were the words left to us by mere mortal like the man whose government name was Christopher Wallace aka Biggie Smalls, also known as Notorious B.I.G. Gone too soon, but his impact will live forever. He was born May 21, 1972, in Bedford–Stuyvesant (colloquially known as Bed-Stuy) neighborhood in the north-central portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn where some say is city’s roughest borough. There he grew up to become a drug dealer and a hustler, but his legacy was that of a master lyricist.
I have known many artists in my lifetime who have recorded and sold millions of records whereas Mr. Big recorded only three that solidified his place in music history for all-time. He started experimenting with music as a teenager and, not long after, befriended Puffy Combs and with the guidance of Tupac Shakur turned ashy into classy. His 1994 debut album, Ready to Die, was a smash hit and Life After Death became a classic.
Around his neighborhood, Biggie Smalls, as he called himself then, began building a reputation as a musician. After a tape of his landed in the hands of Mister Cee, a well-known DJ, Smalls was featured in the hip-hop publication, The Source.
Almost immediately, the Notorious B.I.G., as he now called himself, appearing on the 1993 remix of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” and followed it up with a second Blige remix, “What’s the 411?” His debut as a solo artist came with the single, “Party and Bullshit,” on the soundtrack to the film, Who’s the Man?
In my view the release of his debut album, Ready to Die, which told the story of his life, from a drug dealer to rapper, was as prophetic as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” With hits like “Juicy” and “Big Poppa,” the record went platinum, and the young hip-hop artist became a full-fledged star. That same year, The Source named the rapper “Best New Artist,”Best Live Performer” and “Lyricist of the Year.”
As his star power increased, Biggie did his best to share his prestige. He backed the work of several rappers that he’d originally performed with while starting out in Brooklyn, and took to the studio in support of other artists on Sean “Puffy” Combs’s label. He also teamed up with such stars as Michael Jackson and R. Kelly. By the close of 1995, Biggie was one of music’s best-selling and most sought after performers.
Big’s success and wealth hardly brought peace to Biggie’s life where he was often quoted as saying “more money more problems.” In the immediate aftermath of Ready to Die’s popularity, the rapper found himself in constant fear. In 1994, he told The New York Times that he was disliked for having more money, which came with his fame.
It was after the murder of Tupac Shakur that amplified Biggie’s fears about his own life, and his concern was tragically validated on March 9, 1997. Biggie, who had just come out of the Soul Train Music Awards, was sitting in an SUV when another vehicle pulled up to his car, opened fire and killed him. His murder shook the music world, prompting fears that the hip-hop world might erupt into a full-fledged war, ending numerous other lives. Biggie was only 24 years old at the time.
In the wake of Big’s killing, the record Life After Death was a giant hit, selling nearly 700,000 copies in its first week. Two years later, Born Again, an album of unreleased material from Biggie, was released. The third album of extra material, Duets: The Final Chapter was released in 2005.
Today, Biggie is still one of the music industry’s most admired hip-hop artists. Several musicians have paid tribute to Biggie by mentioning him in their songs, and his musical style has been emulated by countless up-and-coming artists. There is little doubt that Biggie’s talent, as a writer and rapper, propelled him from a place where so many have been lost and will continue to be acknowledged for decades to come.
If Biggie were alive today, it is safe to say there would be many so-called rapper starving and unknown. Knowing it or not, maybe call it destiny, the Notorious B.I.G. proved there is “Life After Death” and it’s called eternity. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…