Rapping has existed for over 50 years, but it only truly became popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s. During this time period, there was a sort of civil war between the East and West coast, rappers versus rappers. Representing the East coast was Christopher Wallace. By the streets, he goes by Biggie Smalls, and by the stage, goes by The Notorious B.I.G.. He was a troublemaker as a child, who happened to be at the right place at the right time, and eventually grew up to become one of the most iconic rappers of the 90’s. How do such things happen? And what was the reason behind his murder? Though his life was short, his legacy is big, and it’s easy to see why he would become some sort of icon to the rapping community.
Christopher George Letore Wallace was born on May 21st, 1972, in New York city. He was the only child of Voletta Wallace, a preschool teacher who raised him in Brooklyn. He was described as shy, overweight, and a troublemaker as a child. Naturally influenced by the gang members around him, he sold drugs for a long time.“He never finished high school and, at the age of 17, was arrested on drug charges in North Carolina and spent nine months in jail”(Kellman 1). Biggie once said in an interview that he “wasn’t proud of dealing drugs, but you do what you do to survive in the hood. Live in the real bad of the ‘hood for a while and you’ll see how desperate it can make you.” Occasionally, “He appeared on a few recordings by other artists under the name Biggie Smalls”(Brennan). This name was a teenage nickname he had gotten during school. One day, “music producer Sean Combs heard Wallace,” and decided that he had what it takes to become a rapper.Middle Years
Sean left in 1993 and formed his own label, Bad Boy Entertainment, and took Wallace with him (Brennan). Wallace took the stage name of the Notorious B.I.G., which the B.I.G. is said to stand for business instead of games. His first solo release was featured on the soundtrack of the comedy,”Who’s the Man?”(Brennan). Even after finding success in the music industry, Biggie still ran into trouble often. In 1995, he was arrested in New York and charged with assault after he supposedly chased two people with a baseball bat. “He was arrested twice in New Jersey, first for allegedly robbing and assaulting a man, then on drug and weapon charges” (Kellman 1). In the rapping world, incidents like this established respect and credibility to a rapper. Biggie was definitely well acquainted with the streets, but he was also very aware of the dangers of living like a gangsta. Wallace continued to work on his musical career, and eventually came up with his own album. This is when Wallace begins to become recognized by the community.
“The Notorious B.I.G.’s first album, “Ready to Die”, was released in 1994”(Serpick). The album featured themes such as sex, violence, incarceration, and death. This made his popularity spike upwards. A few weeks before he was about to release his second album, he was killed by an unidentified killer from California. It is commonly thought that this happened because of the rappers’ rivalry between the East and West coasts, Biggie representing the East. Recently before that, West coast Rapper Tupac Shakur was shot and killed (Ray). Biggie and Shakur were once recognized as friends, but it evolved into a passionate rivalry. It is theorized that Biggie’s death was in retaliation to Tupac’s death, as they had clashes before (Serpick). Biggie was sitting in the passenger side of a GMC Suburban, shortly after midnight on March 9th, 1997, listening to a tape of his second album which was to be released in two weeks. Tupac claiming to have had an affair with Biggie’s wife. The media immediately picked up on this as a possible motive for the murder, however despite the very public nature of the murder, committed in front of dozens of witnesses that included several off-duty officers, there were no suspects or arrests and the case was permanently stalled.
Legacy and Critic
It seems that Biggie was aware of his imminent demise (Serpick), with album named like “Ready to Die”, it is implied that he knew he would be shot. And his second album, ironically and prophetically named “Life after Death”, confirmed that he had the skills to really become great. “It quickly rose to number one on the United States album chart” (Serpick). This album released after he had died, making the title have meaning. Biggie was also “the first artist to have two number-one hits after his death, with songs “Hypnotise” and “Mo Money Mo Problems,””(Brennan). Biggie commented on the day before his death that he wanted to “see my kids get old”, a wish that was not to be fulfilled. Biggie’s funeral attracted many rappers and hordes of fans onto the streets of Brooklyn to honor the late rapper. He was buried in a white double-breasted suit in an extra-large mahogany casket.
Biggie Smalls fully embodied the gangsta life he portrayed on his rap albums. A troublemaker in school, B.I.G. rapped his way into a new and greater life. Unfortunately, all his talents was spilled when he was killed by the street violence he was trying to avoid. His ratings on his album “Life after Death” prove that he could have been one of the greatest rappers of all time, and the ratings don’t lie. His impact is large among the rapping community, and his legacy will be remembered and represented by rappers alike throughout the years.