So you wanna be hardcore, with your hat to the back, talkin bout the gats in your raps? – Notorious B.I.G., Machine Gun Funk
Despite Kobe Bryants changing his number from 8 to 24, and a whole portfolio of clippings on Lebron James, there will never be another Michael Jordan. Its sinful media hype to make the short-thought comparison the sports cliché that its become. As another cliché blossoms in bringing New York Rap back to anything more than mini-movements, dumb rappers need teaching. You can aspire to adapt the block-meets-business acumen of Jay-Z, the resiliency and unpredictability of Nas, but leave Christopher Wallace out of your wildest dreams. There will never be another.
Todays rapper rarely speaks on behalf on the have-nots, let alone the unwanted. Its an era of Make it Rain, Diamonds on My Chain, and claiming, Im everywhere you never been. Although Biggie would eventually acquire a braggadocious style for Junior M.A.F.I.A.s Conspiracy and his own Life After Death, the centerpiece of his catalog, and perhaps 90s Hip-Hop, came by way of Ready to Die, an album that was anything but proud. Instead of lying about how much his jewelry cost or the cars he owned, Big bent the truth on Juicy to appeal to his audience. Birthdays was the worst days and sardines for dinner were not real accounts, according to Biggies mother, Ms. Violetta Wallace. Rather than focusing entirely on crack sales and catching bodies, Biggies exaggerations were bold left turns in the face of a Hip-Hop audience that had grown accustomed to hearing how its heroes spent their hundreds. Juicy, if nothing else, is the most linear rags to riches rap song that ever existed outdoing Biz Markies The Vapors. Biggie tells you how bad it was and how good its gotten. Whether it was Wu-Tangs C.R.E.A.M. and All I Got is You basking in the humility of poverty, or Jay-Zs Money Aint a Thang or You Dont Know opening up bank statements, Hip-Hop never likes to mix the now and the then. Biggie took it there.
Biggie wasnt just broke; he was Black, and ugly as eva. Few rappers today will ever admit to getting the Heisman from the ladies. Instead, weve got numerous 80s babies claiming to be blowing backs out since Reagan was prez. The closest to Biggie mayve been Mike Jones, with his 2005 Back Then, admitting to be shunned in the past, only to be desired now. Unfortunately, while Mike managed to convey this message with a downright unforgettable hook, the verses did little to reveal any pain, emotion, or poke any fun at the artist saying it. Jay-Z, who admittedly studied Big’s blueprint, attempted this on “Song Cry,” stating, “Used to tell they friends I was ugly, wouldn’t touch me.” Still, neither Mike Jones nor Jay-Z ever showed the kind of routine vulnerability that made Big feel like your closest friend, if not yourself. A clown by nature, Biggie mayve been hard on Kwame, Della Reese, and a certain vic in that 1990 Bed Stuy battle footage belonging to Mister Cee, but he was always harder on himself. Presumably, he had to be.
Within his similes and playful jabs, Biggie showed his knowledge of Hip-Hop history. Name-checks of Rappin Duke or Oaktowns 357 revealed that Biggie wasnt just listening to the radio, and had he lived in these times, his iTunes Playlist would be something worth looking at – sorry E-40. Recently, I was interviewing an unnamed rapper signed to a major, who told me that Kool Herc mixtapes were dope, an indication to how fraudulent todays stars sense of history has become. The closest talent, in this regard, we have to Biggie is The Game, whos been scrutinized for his own name-checking, mostly because they rarely leave the vicinity of Aftermath personnel and Dre-relations, particularly on The Documentary. To his credit, The Black Wall Street CEO did hip some young’ns to MC Eiht and Kool G Rap. But Biggie took it one step further, and as Kwame will tell you, looking back at the mid 90s, those messages had impact. Biggie not only represented the poor getting rich, but he also embodied the rap fanatic getting put on, and making the dream album – with beats by Easy Mo Bee, DJ Premier, and Lord Finesse.
Agreeably, its hard to look at 2007s Diddy as the same Puff Daddy who put Biggie on in 1993. Still, for a man so associated with his dapper image, Puffy may be the one executive who consistently ignored the standards for image and marketability in his roster even in recent years with Black Rob or Eightball & MJG. However with Craig Mack and Biggie, Bad Boys first two artists, that statements never been truer. As 50 Cent claims he put M.O.P. in the gym, Nas got his chipped tooth fixed, and Lil Wayne inks his body and ices his teeth, we see the value of image. Aside from expensive Gucci sunglasses, Biggie was carte blanche. Whether it was donning Coogi sweaters on MTV or wrinkled tees in other photo shoots, Biggie had a style, but hardly a marginal image. There was no such thing as camera-ready, and even the Barron Claiborne photo session, which presently appears in The Source, despite Diddys dissatisfaction, is the Biggie image frequently used on t-shirts and art prints. This was the artist how you would see him on the block. Although suits and colorful jackets were featured in his last days, Biggie was always palpable – on records and visually.
No artist can ever equate to Biggie, because the Hip-Hop audience will never trust another artist the way they trusted him. The leaps that Biggie took between 1994 and 1997 would be unforgivable in todays climate. The artist went from the king of the corner freestyle flow to somebody with mo money, and mo problems. In many ways, Suicidal Thoughts marked the death of Biggie Smalls. Moments later, the Frank White character was born, and fully developed by 1997. Despite its Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick interpolation, Hypnotize lacked the populist views of Juicy. Lyrics were pushed aside for beat and chorus, following a song that had one of the most memorable and yet minimalist choruses ever written. Still when hardcore rappers like Nas, Busta Rhymes, and 50 Cent have made this leap for the club, after rugged rap beginnings, theres always been a backlash. Some might say that there would have been different critical responses had Biggie not died shortly before Life After Death released. I highly doubt that. Not even Tupac was ever anticipated like Biggie for the simple fact that Tupac never made fans wait as long.
Even trapped in an era of cocaine rhymes and gun talk, Biggie outshines everybody 13 years earlier with his seven mac 11s freestyle at The Palladium. Off the dome, Christopher Wallace was more charismatic, more energetic, and more tangible to the streets than any rapper since. When I remember Biggie, I have two albums to go by. The first is Mister Cees Best of Biggie mixtape, which helped me understand the hard work and pressure that formed this Bedford Stuyvesant diamond of our times. The second is Ready to Die, a masterfully produced album that chronicled the ill side of fame, fortune, and growing up against the grain. From its Sugar Hill intro to its tragic ending, no album encapsulates a rappers life, psychosis, and glory better. It was urban art that spoke of the times bluntly, like James Weldon Johnsons writing in the 20s, Thelonius Monks ivories in the 50s, or Futuras index finger on a can of Krylon in the 70s. I miss the dangerous thinking and creativity of Christopher Wallace, the most Notorious B.I.G. And in tribute of the man that gave so much hope to the socially, sexually, and sonically ignored, I refuse to tolerate any half-assed rapper drawing comparisons. So what better way to close my opinions of Biggies legacy than to use the very closing words from the source, as I choose to remember him. Perhaps on Suicidal Thoughts, the Notorious B.I.G. was speaking to Hip-Hop over a decade later:
I’m sick of n***as lyin’, I’m sick of b***hes hawkin’,
matter of fact, I’m sick of talkin’.
Paine is the Features Editor at AllHipHop.com, and can be contacted at Paine@AllHipHop.com.