March 9th, 2009 marks the 12th year since the world lost Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace to a senseless murder back in L.A. in 1997. While some might lay claim to being the greatest rapper alive, there can only be one greatest rapper of all time.
On this 12th year of his passing, a little bit of joy was spread around due to the biopic film Notorious, which chronicled his life. The movie was released back in January, and to this day has grossed over $36,813,000.00 million dollars. [Click to read soundtrack review]
The first time I saw and heard The Notorious B.I.G. was on the ‘Dolly My Baby’ remix by Super Cat; which featured him, Puffy, and Mary J. Blige.
To be honest, I didn’t really think too much of his or Puffy’s performance, probably because at the time, Mary J. [Blige] and Super Cat were the bigger artists, and that was the first time I ever laid eyes on the tandem of “Puff & Big.”
Puffy’s verse didn’t leave a lasting impression on me, (irritating me more than entertaining me) and Biggie’s really didn’t stick in my mind either.
The next time I had a run-in with Biggie Smalls was on BET’s Rap City when his ‘Juicy’ video premiered. By that time, his initial appearance on Super Cat’s song had escaped my memory, and I was completely oblivious to the fact that he was the same rapper.
Just like it did for everybody else, ‘Juicy’ captivated me, and the lyrics were embedded into my brain by the third time the record was played in my presence.
“Remember rapping duke/the ha, the ha/you never thought that Hip-Hop would take it this far/now I’m in the limelight cause I rhyme tight/time to get paid/blow-up like the World Trade/born sinner/the opposite of a winner/remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner.”
Those words still echo through me as if I penned them myself, and even through those people who weren’t fans of Hip-Hop. By this time, his debut album Ready To Die starting picking up steam, but me being a lowly money-deprived high school student, I couldn’t afford it.
Then one morning walking to school, one of my best friends at the time had a copy and gave me his Walkman with ‘Everyday Struggles’ blaring out of the headphones (you read right, it was ‘walkman’ as in ‘cassette’).
“I had the master plan/I’m in the caravan on my way to Maryland/wit my man two techs to takeover these projects/they called him two techs, he tote two techs/and when he start to buss, he like to ask who’s next.”
Basically after hearing those lines walking to school on a cool and breezy morning, I made the conscious decision that I was going to have that album no matter whatever it took. But back in 1994 you either had to buy the album at a store, get a copy from your friend using his or your stereo’s two-deck hi-speed dubbing function, or you just didn’t have it. I’m from the era where Internet downloading didn’t exist yet, so those were the only options available.
I was never one to accept a cheap copy with hand-written song titles scribbled on a Memorex blank tape, and I didn’t have the money to get a real copy of my own, so I did the unthinkable act of stealing one out of the music store.
In those days I didn’t know anything about the music business as I do now, in fact—nobody really did outside of the people who actually got a paycheck from doing music as a career.
My ignorance to the “the biz” at that time lead me to believe that as long as you had a record out, you were automatically a millionaire, so I thought by me stealing one, it wouldn’t really affect him and his cash flow.
Needless to say, me taking that one cassette obviously didn’t disrupt his sales, but if I knew then what I know now, I would’ve begged my parents harder for the money just to support good music. That album was the first one to finally get me out of my Illmatic and Enter The 36 Chambers mode.
‘Machine Gun Funk’ stayed on rewind, how could it not with lines like, “So you wanna be hardcore/wit ya hat to the back/talkin’ bout the gats in your raps/but I can’t feel that hardcore/appeal that you’re screamin,’ maybe I’m dreamin’/this ain’t Christopher Williams/still some MCs got to feel one/gats I got to peel some.”
Those were some of the cleanest and sharpest lyrics of the time, and finding anyone to dispute that would be like saying former President Bush isn’t responsible for digging the country in such a gigantic financial hole.
The Source unconstitutionally gave the album a 4.5 mic rating at first, then they finally got it right by reneging on that absurd ranking and giving it the justifiable 5-mics it deserved years later.
As the newly anointed king, he endorsed a young, skinny, and brash MC from his Brooklyn stomping ground. This particular Brooklynite talked a good game and backed it up, all while drinking champagne when 40oz. were the norm. If it hasn’t hit you by now, it was some guy named Shawn Corey Carter.
Little did we all know Biggie was inadvertently training Hova to one-day carry on his legacy. Especially with their ode to metaphors and punch lines in ‘Brooklyn’s Finest.‘
Jay-Z: “For ’96, the only MC with the flu/yeah I rhyme sick, I be what ya tryin’ to do/made a fortune off Peru/extra dike China white/Heron n*gga please/like short sleeves I bare arms/(stay out my way from here on).”
Biggie: “Me and Gutta had two spots/the 2 for 5 dollar hits, the blue tops/gotta go Coolio means it’s getting too hot/if Faith have twins she’ll probably have two Pacs/(Get it? Two—Pacs).”
Not too many MCs have the lyrical dexterity to poke fun of their private situations and make it come out hot. During his layoff before Life After Death was released, he fed his fans just enough with guest appearances on all other Bad Boy projects to keep everyone’s mouth watering.
Then when the world was getting ready to gear for a second dose of his version of Hip-Hop heroin, his life was snatched from underneath him.
On March 9th, 1997 (a year after my high school graduation). I got a call around 12pm from a friend telling me that he was shot to death.
Of course my first reaction was that of disbelief, until he shouted at me, “N*gga turn on the TV!” “Biggie is dead!!!!!”
Up until then, March 9th only symbolized the birthday of a girl I had a SERIOUS crush on back in high school, but now it took on a whole new meaning.
All of our parents can remember where they were when John Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota, and I’m sure that Generation-X can recollect their whereabouts on March 9th, 1997 when they heard the news.
When Hip-Hop was going through one of its gloomy periods, it was momentarily resurrected by an interesting battle with living legend, LL Cool J, and a young upstart named Canibus. In his song, ‘Second Round K. O.‘
He had a line that went something like; “That was the worse—rhyme I ever heard in my life/cause the greatest rapper of all time died on March 9th/God bless his soul, rest in peace kid/its because of him, now at least I know what beef is.”
I remember my girlfriend (at the time) asking me who died on March 9th that Canibus was talking about. I was so infuriated by her not knowing; I gave her a death stare s if she insulted my heritage. After I emphatically answered her question, that date was too stuck in her mind for years on end.
The Notorious B.I.G. can be easily considered as the James Dean of Hip-Hop. He came in so fast, and influenced so many people with his short body of work, and in a flash; he was gone.
His spirit lives on through artists like; 50 Cent, Nas, Fat Joe, Nelly, Pharrell, Lil’ Wayne, Ludacris, Big Pun (before his passing), Beanie Sigel, Juelz Santana, Usher, Ashanti, Alicia Keys, Nelly Furtado, (of course) Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim and a mountain of other performers who continue to quote his lines.
His song ‘Warning’ is and will continue to be the ring tone on my cell phone for as long as it rings; “Who the f**k is this/pagin’ me at 5:46 in the mornin’/crack of dawin’/now I’m yawnin.’” It’s just too bad that he is no longer with us in this—the 12th year of his passing to share enjoy the fruits of his labor.
But he shines above us, and the rest of the Hip-Hop community for now and for eternity. Big Poppa, you’ll be missed for now and forever.