Biggie Smalls: Gone But Never Forgotten
Every year these tribute posts get harder and harder to create. It has been 19 years since The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in Los Angeles, CA. That’s 19 R.I.P. posts, articles and video countdowns. That’s 19 birthdays, and “Best Biggie Moments,” or “The (Insert age or years since passing) Best Biggie Smalls Verses.”
The difficult part about writing these posts is coming up with something creative, catchy, and original –just like Biggie as an artist. You have to make something flashy, jiggy, but raw, just like him. If you write these posts, you have to be on your game, you have to challenge yourself as a writer and a fan to represent Frank White well. How do you do that? You speak from the heart about Biggie as an artist and his undeniable influence.
The most shady, Franky Baby could not be denied from the moment he appeared in the March 1992 issue of The Source magazine as “Unsigned Hype.” Not long after Matty C.’s blurb about Biggie’s four track EP with his DJ The Hitman 50 Grand, Big caught the eye of the-Uptown Records A&R Sean ”Puffy” Combs. Big then signed to Uptown, after Combs was fired, Big went with Combs, becoming the first artist to sign to Combs’ label Bad Boy Records.
Biggie’s influence from 1993-1997 has yet to be match by any artist in the same short period of time. After creating a buzz by appearing on remixes for Supercat and Mary J. Blige, he out shined everyone on the Who’s The Man? Soundtrack thanks to his first solo effort, Party & Bullshit. Party & Bullshit was something you can dance to, but the lyrics were gritty. The unique thing about Party and Bullshit was it was a song that said “Hey, I’m here for a good time, BUT I will fuck you up if you step out of line.” It was the perfect set up for his debut album Ready To Die.
Ready To Die as an entire body of work shifted hip-hop’s focus to east coast rap. Before ’94 the west coast dominated the charts thanks to the success of N.W.A. and the solo careers of both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Biggie became the poster child for east coast rap thanks to amazing imagery and storytelling. Someone who described himself as “heartthrob never, black and ugly as ever,” had east coast hip-hop on his back and he was straight out of Brooklyn. Ready to Die included; Gimmie the Loot, Me & My Bitch and Suicidal Thoughts, while the singles were Juicy, One More Chance (remix) and Big Poppa, showing his versatility as an artist, no matter how reluctant he was to make those singles. After listening to the 68 minutes and 58 seconds debut album, you knew Biggie was here to stay. He had something special. He created an audio movie covering all things about growing up in Bed-stuy at the time and living the everyday struggle (no pun intended), but it wasn’t exclusive to Bed-Stuy, you could’ve lived anywhere in the Untied States and related to Big’s struggle and hustle.
In 1995, while beef with former friend Tupac and Death Row Records owner, Suge Knight was hitting a new height, Biggie began building a legacy with Junior M.A.F.I.A., Biggie was becoming a mogul of sorts. The crew made up of his friends from his old neighborhood saw commercial success thanks to the Biggie-assisted singles Get Money and Player’s Anthem and thanks to the group’s breakout star, Lil Kim. In ’96 while Kim’s star was on the rise thanks to her debut single No Time, Big started recording his sophomore album, Life After Death and created the group The Commission with Jay Z, Puff and Charlie Baltimore. All while carrying the burden of beefing with a former friend, someone he admired. The pressure of staying silent while the NYC streets blasted Pac’s diss record, Hit ‘Em Up seemed to eat Big alive. His way of addressing it wasn’t the traditional route of replying back with a diss track, his way of addressing it was focusing on himself and making a dope follow up to Ready To Die.
While we never got to hear what The Commission had to offer, but 16 days after his death, Life After Death was released. It was a somber, bittersweet time to celebrate such an amazing album. Versatility was at the forefront with songs like Nasty Boy & Somebody’s Gotta Die and storytelling wins again thanks to I Got A Story To Tell, which is still making headlines thanks to Fat Joe and Puffy comfirming the urban legend that the song was about former Knicks and Nets player, Anthony Mason. Biggie is hella confident and extra jiggy on songs like Hypnotized, I Love the Dough, with Jay-Z and The World Is Filled with Too $hort and Puff. No one is outshining him on the album, he blended just as well with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony as he did with The Lox. This isn’t the Biggie Smalls from Ready to Die, this is Frank White. He got some money now, he’s more flashy, he’s transitioning from boy to man, from Coogi to Versace, or from “ashy to classy” as he said in Sky’s The Limit. He’s still gritty as hell, as heard on Last Day, My Downfall and You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You), but something is different. Big seems like he’s having fun, or at least having fun through the bullshit, but if you listen closely, there’s still a struggle. The struggle on Life After Death isn’t comparable to the struggle of Ready To Die. This is a different type of struggle that comes with fame and success, not as relatable as the struggle of hustling to feed your daughter. *cues Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems. Unlike Ready To Die he’s scared of death, but unfortunately he knows death is coming. The life of being a walking target is highlighted throughout this album.
19 years later, debates will always ensue over Life After Death. Should it have been a double disc album? Is it too “pop” for the gritty Brooklyn rapper? Is it overrated? One thing is for sure, that album has been copied time and time again, not only confirming its place in hip-hop history, but confirm its place in music history.
Biggie has an entire family tree spanning over two decades of rappers eating off his existence. Without Biggie, would we have Jay Z? If there’s no Jay Z there’s no Ja Rule, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Kanye West and more. Biggie got Cam’ron his first deal with Lance “Un” Rivera, without Cam there’s no Dipset, there’s no Max B. there’s no “Touch Me, Tease Me” by Case and most importantly, there’s no Crush On You remix with Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease! Of course, there’s Rick Ross, 50 Cent, Shyne and Pusha T, an entirely new era directly inspired by Big. Almost 20 years later, you still hear his name mentioned in the top 10 and top 5 greatest rappers of all time dicussions. Biggie used his voice to bring people into his world, and inspired a generation. How will you use yours?