“The greatest rapper of all-time died on March 9th”, said a fired up Canibus on his LL Cool J diss record,Second Round K.O.That line forced me to give Canibus the “W” in his battle against Uncle L.
I’m from the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York where Christopher Wallace, aka the artist known as Big, was King and his death was still fresh for some of us at the time of Canibus’ record.
March 9th 2018 marks 21 years since the murder of Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G.
A sad day for Hip-Hop, indeed. A senseless death that, to the media, was a result of the East Coast/West Coast Beef. Though that entire situation could be viewed as propaganda to sell magazines and misdirect fans, we all know that his unsolved murder has a deeper plot.
Honestly, it’s less about remembering the events that surrounded his death and more about celebrating his life.
The first time I heard Big rhyme was on Heavy D’s 1992 album Blue Funk. The track was called “A Bunch of N*ggas”. I know, right? The song was a posse cut that featured Heavy D, Guru of Gangstarr, Rob O, Third Eye, Busta Rhymes, and Biggie . Big’s flow, energy, and rhymes quickly caught my attention.
As soon as Big’s verse started, I was like, “Who the F*** is this?!”.
I was locked in. The rewind button was mandatory. I played that part over and over again. I hadn’t even gotten to Busta’s verse before I thought to myself, ‘I have to find out more about that dude.’
There was no Google back then, but there was The Source Magazine. Biggie appeared in the Unsigned Hype section in 1992.
It felt like a year had passed, even though it wasn’t near that long, until I heard my first Biggie solo record. “Party and Bullsh*t” was the perfect record for describing what a house party in the projects was like. Dangerous!
It also was one of the first records to show off Big’s skill as a storyteller. The first time I heard it on the radio, I was pissed that I hadn’t recorded it. Then I saw the single in Beat Street record store in downtown Brooklyn. You already know I scraped up some pennines to cop it.
A lot of people outside of New York at the time might not have known, but before Biggie’s debut album dropped, DJ Mister Cee’s “Best of Biggie” mixtape was platinum in the hood. It featured all of Big’s guest appearance on other records, along with some unreleased and soon to be released heat, like “Dreams (I’m Just Playin’)” and “The What”, featuring Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan. The intro record set the tone though. “Freestyle Live at Mister Cee’s Crib” is still lit til this day!
When his debut album, Ready to Die, finally dropped in September of 1994, I had to have it. It was everything I’d hoped for and more. No matter where you went in New York, you heard someone playing “Gimmie the Loot”, “Warning”, and my personal favorite, “Everyday Struggle”.
I swear I played that record a million times walking to and from “The High” (Boys and Girls High School). Though I wasn’t in the streets, I could absolutely relate to the choices some of us young black males had to make while living in the ghetto.
“I know how it feels to wake up F'd up. Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell. People look at you like you’s the loser selling drugs to all the users. Mad buddha abuser. But they don’t know about your stress filled days, baby on the way, mad bills to pay…” – The Notorious B.I.G, Everyday Struggle
Biggie had the city and eventually the country nodding to his music. The time between his debut album and his sophomore album was during my college years at Morgan State University. Big didn’t even have a new album out and he was all over the radio. From features on other artists records to new music with Lil Kim and Junior Mafia, the dude kept himself relevant for about two-and-a-half years without a new solo album.
When I got the news that he’d been killed, it was a peculiar and unexpected moment. When I heard that Tupac had died, I was in the club. It was shocking because Pac had been shot up before and we just assumed that he would make it out. Biggie’s murder completely caught me off guard.
It was a Sunday morning and I was sleeping off last night’s party. My roommate Jay knocked on the door and my first thought was, this has to be an emergency if he’s up before me.
He opened the door and said, “Yo son. Big got killed in L.A.”
I was completely in disbelief. I kept thinking maybe he was talking about someone else.
There was no social media timeline for me to run to and verify back then. I didn’t want to believe it, but I turned on MTV and sure enough there it was. I felt like a family member had died. I was angry. I knew this East versus West bullshit had gone way beyond diss records.
The thing that made the loss sting a little bit more was the fact that we had early copies of his sophomore release, Life After Death. It was a sad yet profound listening experience. Hearing the album’s intro, that was all too close to real life events, with Puff Daddy talking to a hospitalized Big.
When the music began one thing was clear, Biggie Smalls was better than ever!
Life After Death was released nearly two weeks after his death. I remember being in the record store the day it dropped on March 25th , and the place was silent. It was like every Hip-Hop fan was there to pay their respects to the great “Frank White”
The album felt like healing; like a celebration of one of the best to ever do it.
I was proud to be from that era. The Notorious B.I.G made Brooklyn proud. He was everything to us. He was our personal representative on those stages. He cemented his legacy and increased the legend of my hometown.
As sad as it was, there is one song that always brings a smile to my face when I hear it. Big left us with a lot, and told us that nothing was off limits because the “Sky’s The Limit”.
You did good, Biggie. Rest in Paradise…