Today, March 21, 2018, would’ve been the 46th birthday of one Christopher George Latore Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G.
Despite only dropping two full feature length LPs in his lifetime, Ready To Die and Life After Death, both have gone down in the annals of music history as pure classics.
‘Classic’. That word gets thrown around a lot these days but during the much lauded golden age of hip-hop (aka the 1990s) both albums were received with critical and commercial acclaim, and just like fine wine both albums, like his legacy, have aged well with time.
‘So you wanna be hardcore, with your hat to back?’
Why, yes I do, Mr Wallace. Growing up in the 90s I can honestly say I was spoilt with a plethora of hip-hop content. Before the trap, Xanax, lean and white kids with braids on YouTube infiltrated the culture the only way to to make a name for yourself was via your skills on the m-i-c.
As a scrawny kid from East London, Brooklyn, NY, seemed a million miles away, but the minute I popped Ready to Die in my Walkman I was immediately transported across the Atlantic. The same way Snoop would take me to Long Beach and Nas would take me on a trip to Queensbridge, Bigge’s music was a deep and intimate dive into his neighbourhood.
A neighbourhood, which has vastly changed over the years – thanks to gentrification – for better or worse. I can imagine if B.I.G. was here today taking a walk through his native Brooklyn he’d be taken aback at how vastly different it is. In many ways, Brookyln’s transformation from its gritty, black hoodie, Timberland-wielding mystique to super cool and trendy digs for cappuccino-drinking-hipsters is in line with the transformation of hip-hop itself.
During his come up, the Bedford Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy, do-or-die) Brooklynite wasn’t the ideal rapper you’d want as your marquee artist at your newly established record label. Here was a plus-sized rapper who didn’t possess the good looks of LL Cool J (let alone his muscular physique), how do you sell an artist like him in an image-conscious industry?
You sold it in skill and Biggie had it in abundance. From his early rap battles in front of corner store bodegas, his skill was evident. All it took was some extra refinement and belief from Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, aka Puff Daddy, aka P Diddy aka Diddy,
aka Brother Love.
With Puffy’s guidance, the Notorious B.I.G. was able to lay down joints so memorable it didn’t even require a damn music video. The material he put out was an embodiment of the many faces of hip-hop; it could be dark and scary (Ten Crack Commandments, Warning, What’s Beef), funny (I Got A Story to Tell), braggadocious (Hypnotize, Big Poppa) and deal with issues of anxiety too (Suicidal Thoughts, Everyday Struggle).
While it’s hard to mention Biggie’s career without having to mention his rival Tupac Shakur, the truth is both men were completely different artists. ‘Pac was a poet but Biggie was an MC through-and-through. Tupac had deep lyrics but Biggie had a flow and cadence like no other.
In all honesty, if Tupac and B.I.G were to stand on stage and go-back-to-back in a rap battle, the latter would have him beat in terms of style and bars which would flow straight from the top of his dome. There was a visceral nature to Biggie’s style in the booth and on the mic which made him stand out from his contemporaries.
Thanks to his success he proved a plus-sized rapper, who was rough around the edges and spat in the face of etiquette, could be the D-O-N and achieve the highest of highs, despite his tragically short-lived career. His achievements paved the way for talented but aesthetically uncouth rappers like Big Pun, Fat Joe, Capone-n-Noreaga and Jay-Z.
He was proof you didn’t have to be pretty to sell records, you just had to make sure you were damn good at what they were paying you for.
At the risk of sounding like a cantankerous ‘old head’, I do honestly think no artists dead or alive could ever match Biggie’s skill in his prime – Lil Yatchy be damned.
‘Biggie Smalls is the illest’ there styles ‘are played out, like what you talking about Willis’.
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