March 9th, 2007 marked the 10 yr anniversary of the death of arguably the greatest rapper of all time. It doesn’t seem like its been that long and it probably won’t matter how many years pass, his music and memory will live on.
I remember getting the phone call that he passed that morning and I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t believe it. I still recall waaaay back when my brother (producer/rapper Lord Digga) brought home Big’s demo and the first few songs that he produced for him. The week before his death I was just at school arguing with some Jersey dudes about Biggie being better than Redman. I was telling folks Big was better than everybody, or maybe he was just MY favorite.
When it comes to Christopher Wallace a lot of questions arise. Would he still be on top if he was here? Would Jay-Z be Jay-Z? Was Tupac the better artist? Was he really the best emcee?
Who knows the answers to these questions but after some conversations with some hip-hop enthusiasts and fans of B.I, here are 10 reasons why Big was the greatest of all time in no particular order.
#10.THE JUICY FACTOR
Big’s first commercial single “Juicy” had a vocal intro where he shouted out the people who called the police on him when he was trying to make money to feed his daughter. He introduced the world to a hustler with a heart and a motivation anyone could understand. His story was that he was on his way out of town to continue selling drugs and Puff (his name at the time) heard his music and begged him to come back and record an album. Rap was his way out the hood. We identified with his rise from ashy to classy. Everyone saw Big in the hoodies and fatigue jackets and watched him step up to the shiny shirts and diamonds. “Birthdays was the worst days, now we sip champagne when we thirstaay.” Who can’t appreciate that?
Biggie’s rhyme pattern was always innovative but very simple. He didn’t use many big words but he managed to maintain the wit and cleverness in his bars. He would say so much with so little and with that method he satisfied the party goers that wanted to be able to spit his lyrics while inebriated and the hip-hop head that wanted to break down bars listening in his crib. You may not get what I’m saying but picture “your heartbeat sounds like Sasquatch feet… or “I perform like Mike/anyone Tyson, Jordan, Jackson…” or “they used to call me fatso now they call me Castro.” The words in these lines stand alone without rhythm or trying to accent a punch line. It just sounds like things someone would say in a conversation and it made Biggie great. He didn’t force feed you these raps. “Rolex and bracelets, frostbit, rings too/n***as round the way call me igloo, stick who?” And one of my favorite examples of wordplay: “Don’t fuck with B.I that’s that ‘Oh I, thought he was wack’ oh come come now/why yall so dumb now? Hunt me or be hunted I got three hundred and fifty-seven ways to simmer sauté/I’m the winner all-day, lights get dimmer down Biggie’s hallway…”
#8. THE TRENDSETTER
“Ain’t shit change/cept the number after the dot on the range.” Not many people knew what Big was talking about until Jay went into depth about the difference between range rovers and maybe we didn’t care but it sure did set a standard for those who wanted to floss whips out there. “My Moschino ho, my Versace hottie… We have to admit that although these clothing lines existed before the shout out, Moschino and Versace became the hottest gear for awhile. The prices soared and the fakes popped up and the black community was rocking em like crazy. The funny thing is that Biggie didn’t even wear the clothes he bigged up. He said they couldn’t fit him. He wasn’t the first to pop Cristal in the video but he made the name bigger than ever. He hipped the general population to what the good life was all about. “I know you sick of this name brand n***a wit/flows girls say he’s sweet like licorice…”
He may not have been the first one to have an alias but he made it hot. You knew who Frank White was when he spit it out and if you didn’t catch the correlation between the character in the movie “King Of New York” then you wanted to know what the hell he meant. Wu-Tang may argue that they started the names from another universe first but Big did make it very popular by choosing a name that subliminally suggested what he wanted you to think and what became unavoidable. One thing that Big did make famous was the “no pen” syndrome. Nowadays nobody writes rhymes down if you ask them, they just think em. From Jay to Ja to Kanye all say that they dont actually pen their lyrics but Big was the first to say it and make how you construct your rhymes a big deal in the industry.
This may seem like a weird case to point out but Christopher Wallace was not only aware of his physical shortcomings but he made light of them. Now let me say that I don’t judge men so him being ugly is not a fact I would back up but Big did what some would call taking the bullets out of the gun when it comes to things you could say about him. “Black and ugly as ever…” Lines like that tend to make the ladies look at him as if he’s more than just the exterior and he knows it. Of course you heard the stories about how funny and charismatic he was, or how the ladies loved him no matter what he looked like. It all added to the mystery of Biggie Smalls. Aside from the ladies, men have so much hate in their blood that if Big was a pretty boy it would be harder to love him. Guys rocked Biggie shirts all day because in the back of their minds he was no threat to their girlfriend. He couldn’t be a literal heartthrob and be admired by so many dudes. It just wouldn’t work. The King has to have some flaws so we feel better about ourselves right? Not to mention he jabbed himself any chance he got. “If Fay have twins she probably have Two Pacs…” “When I die fuck it I wanna go to hell/cuz I’m a piece of shit it ain’t hard to fuckin tell.” “Its unreal, out the blue Frank White got sex appeal/bitches used to go ill!…”
The King is not always loved but feared and respected. The Notorious B.I.G may have been respected more than loved by some people but Christopher Wallace was humble, soft-spoken and kind and he made everyone want to work with him. He gave himself to the crew Junior Mafia and got his boys from the hood on the stage and even got them a plaque on their walls. He introduced Lil Kim and Lil Cease to the world when they didn’t even know rap would be their ticket. He put his CEO on the mic and lent his vocals to every artist on the label from Mase and The Lox to Total and 112 and even did classics with his rival Jay-Z to help solidify Jay’s place as a great emcee. On his way to the top Big didn’t hesitate to do a joint with everyone from Shaquille O’neal to Michael Jackson. He respected the grind and he was willing to give back. He heard Cam’ron spit live and made sure Un made him his first artist. Biggie extended himself over and over jumping on his manager Mark Pitts’ artist Tracey Lee’s “Keep ya hands High” to spill some of the hottest bars ever on a feature record. On every joint his presence stood out and you remembered his rhymes. Bigs willingness to do features made him likable by all regions and it also allowed him to steal fans because he demolished any track he was a guest on.
#5.THE DIDDY FACTOR
Sean Combs is responsible for molding the careers of quite a few successful rap and R&B artists. When Mase said “I was Murder, P. Diddy made me pretty/did it for the money, now can you get wit me?” the same held true for The Notorious one. His image was hardcore, his lyrics were abrasive but when teamed with Puff, Biggie was able to make records like “One More Chance,” “Big Poppa” and “Hypnotize.” If you questioned his dedication to remaining thug you could always look to his CEO as the reason for going commercial. When they did their shows and split the room up into 2 sides, Big would command the “n***as” while Puff would shout out the ladies. It was a perfect balance that would make for a great look throughout his career. It was Diddy that reversed the word ‘pregnant’ in “Gimme the Loot.” Blame Puff for muting ‘Son of Satan’ in “Victory” and he also changed the ending of “Somebody’s Got to Die” to something much more friendly. The public accepted Big in the fanciest of clothes or using samples from the 80’s because they knew it was Diddy’s formula. We knew if it was solely up to Big, his album wouldve sounded like 12 joints just mirroring “Warning” and “Machine gun Funk. And even when Mr. Wallace was a tad bit reserved and let his lyrics do the walking, the roles reversed and Diddy was the one screaming ad libs and providing the missing link on songs like My Downfall and Long Kiss Goodnight. Puff was yelling and cursing at the haters while Big killed em with the verses. Odd couple, perfect match…Take that.
Not many emcees can paint a precise picture when they’re in the booth. Slick Rick had a knack for it, LL made you visualize what he was saying and Nas is still today a vivid, yet intricate storyteller. But Chris Wallace took twisted plots and ill scenarios that made you question whether or not it was reality or fiction. His attention to detail made the listener forget this was a song and it was like you were just hearing a story. He didn’t hesitate to throw himself in the mix and tell it in first person which always made it that much crazier. In the aforementioned “Somebody’s Got to Die” he vows vengeance for a lost homie and takes you through every thought and deed up until retaliation. He even brings up his own conscience and reluctance to hit anyone else other than his primary target. That sets up the ending which makes you feel for him as the victim and as a criminal. In “N***as Bleed” he tells a tale about a transaction that turns into a robbery and in the process introduces characters like Arizona Rob and a Maxi Priest look-a-like that he has to take out to get away with the bread. He takes a violent story and ends it with a silly surprise to add color. While in “Story To tell” he makes a first person account about sleeping with a New York Knickerbocker’s wife and having to pretend to be a thief once he gets busted in the crib one of the most memorable joints of our time. It is one of the few stories other than “La Di Da Di” that can be recited in a club word for word. Big was a Michelangelo with the pen or without it in his case.
#3. RECORD SALES
Before Soundscan arguments in the hood and talks about first weeks of sales, people actually cared about rhymes and who was nicer. Kane or Rakim? KRS or Redman? Biggie or Pac? In the mid 90s we saw a shift of importance from who was better to who was selling. Hip-hop gave birth to the rap business and record companies respected artists that were bringing in plaques. In turn, the fans began to respect the same thing. So when the west coast rappers were moving units and the east was content with being the pioneers of this, Big came along and showed the world that an east coast rapper from Brooklyn could get people to go to the store and spit some hot verses at the same time. It was tough to argue that he wasn’t the best when he was outselling all the underground rappers he was being compared to. Of course sales aren’t everything and in the long run there were other artists who sold more but a platinum album from a solo New York artist in 1994 was rare. Life After Death was a double CD that went on to sell more than 5 million copies. Its hard to compare Tupac’s album every year’s sales to Big’s 2 Lps but while he was here the King ruled.
#2. THE FLOW
Maybe it’s the baritone vocals, the tough delivery or the audible flow that keeps him still banging in our decks today. Big was able to alternate flows within verses but keep it playful and simple enough for the audience to follow. For instance, if you’ve ever been to a Jay concert where he pays tribute to B.I.G he plays his verse from “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and cuts it for the crowd to chime in with the words after “B.I.G P.O.P.P.A/no info for the DEA….” Everyone seems to get lost a lil within the rhyme but the bounce is maintained, all of a sudden the whole crowd gets it back at throw your rollies in the sky His rhyme pattern switches up showing the signs of a true lyricist but his approach is still bright and distinct. Even when borrowing the Bone Thugs flow on Notorious Thugs he is colorful and easy to sing along with. You may not agree but consider that Shyne got a tremendous buzz and deal just for resembling Bigs vocals early in his career. When you listen to every song on his 2 albums you notice that every track gets a different flow and on every beat he uses a new approach. The man sang, he harmonized on hooks he rhymed words within the bars: Who shot ya/separate the weak from the obsolete its hard to creep them Brooklyn streets He was ahead of his time and it is evident because his work is timeless.
Of course there was and will always be rappers out there who have messages in their music. There will always be someone trying to say something to the people. However only a few will be heard, accepted or even be hot enough to make a change. The fine line between education and entertainment is tested by many artists but when it came to Big, it always seemed like entertainment was his motive. In his defense his content was at times very educational. “Ten Crack Commandments” may not seem like your typical schoolbook lesson but in the streets its a serious code to live by. “Suicidal Thoughts” may seem like some demented song but it represented the album’s theme which was “ready to die.” Big’s mentality before his deal was that he was living like a dead man and he knew it.
His music was the realization that his life was going down the drain and “Life After Death” was supposed to be the rebirth. “Sky’s the Limit” talked about never giving up, “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Kills You” is an ironic song that talks about how one can become a memory in a blink of an eye. What is most disturbing is that his content would have progressed much further had he been alive. His social commentary would have been out of this world by now. The fact that he is still relevant today says a whole lot. We miss u Big and well always love Big Poppa.