It is unlikely that a hip hop fan born in the 1990’s could truly appreciate what Biggie has done for the artists that now inhabit the spotlight. It is equally unlikely that a fan born in the 1980’s would appreciate rap legend Rakim’s contributions which provided a foundation for Biggie. Hip Hop is by nature the most trendy genre of music which often overlooks it’s greats. Today will mark 18 years since The Notorious B.I.G’s tragic death in Los Angeles. This is a day of mourning for the hip hip community, yet it allows us to honor an iconic figure whose life sculpted hip hop culture.
The undying question for hip hop enthusiast is- who is the greatest rapper ever? Many names are added to the list of consideration, but one name often fuels the discussion- The Notorious B.I.G.
Why is he listed as the greatest rapper ever? Some say it’s because of the media that surrounded his early death. Some say it was because of the feud with fellow legend Tupac Shakur and the coastal beef that surrounded it all. Others say it was simply the style and art of how he presented his views of the world. SongExam will focus more on the projects and style he left with us before his passing. These albums are prolific volumes of art that feature a rap genius’s ominous foreshadowing of death and “a step by step booklet for you to get, your game on track, not your wig pushed back”.
Lets first review the history. Biggie was raised by his mother, who like many single mothers, struggled at keeping Biggie on track and away from city street life. Eventually, he became a young drug dealer in New York City in the 1990’s, with crack cocaine as his drug of his choice to sell. He experienced legal trouble with firearms and drugs, all while honing his rap skills in his spare time. He released a demo tape and it made it’s way to then Uptown Records A&R Sean Combs, who would eventually leave Uptown Records and create Bad Boy Records. Biggie was signed as one of the 1st artists on the label.
The Notorious B.I.G completed two albums before his death (one released several days after his passing). The first was Ready To Die. This album was completely raw and introduced Bad Boy’s love for sampling old 80’s hits for singles while allowing the rest of the songs to be dirty and filled with street tales and grim outcomes. This album showcased Biggie’s original and precise flow about drug dealing, sex, mortality, and surviving while not being overly complicated. The album went 4X Platinum and is now widely recognized as one of the greatest hip hop records to ever be created.
Last but definitely not least is Life After Death. This was a double disk album (originally sold for more than $20.00) which was noticeably more commercial than Ready To Die. Although commercially successful, sinister songs like “Whats Beef” maintain grittiness by characterizing hard core criminals who kidnap kids for organizational gain. Like Ready to Die, Life after Death used the same formula of sampling songs with proven track records and spinning them into refurbished hits (check out Mo Money Mo Problems). All in all, this record completely embodied where hip hop could take a young black male, while simultaneously serving as a soundtrack for the price of fame for hip hop martyrs in the 1990’s.
The argument will continue to be debated, but Biggie will likely always be held in high regard for those who know hip hop history. He was just 24 when murdered and his murder remains unsolved.
Lets celebrate The Notorious B.I.G’s life by watching one of his lighter visuals “Juicy”.