Jul 31, 2009
I know many readers may not like rap and may complain about the selection this week, but like all of these articles, the band was chosen by user requests. If you’ve got a band you want to see tidbits about, just list them in the comments, thanks! Alternatively, if you want to see more rap artists, leave them in the comments too.
The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, was born Christopher George Latore Wallace on May 21, 1972. His father was a small-time Jamaican politician and his mother was a Jamaican pre-school teacher. His father left the family when Biggie was only two and his mother was rarely home, as she had to work two jobs to pay the bills.
Always a hefty lad, Biggie was nicknamed “Big” by the time he was ten years old. In adulthood, he measured about 6’3” and anywhere from 300 to 380 pounds.
At his school, he was a great student and won several awards in English programs. This master of the language would later prove crucial in his rapping career.
Biggie grew up during the peak of the crack epidemic and, like many kids around him, he ended up dealing drugs. Although he was selling crack since he was 12, his mother never knew about it until he grew up. He continued to sell drugs up until first child was born, at which time, his label manager, Sean “Puffy” Combs, insisted he stopped selling for good.
His high school, George Westinghouse Information Technology High, also had Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes and DMX in attendance. This was the same period that Biggie began rapping. He performed in a few groups, the Old Gold Brothers and the Techniques, and he sang on the streets by himself. By seventeen, he decided to drop out of school.
Notorious had long had a problem with the law, starting with his 1989 arrest for weapons charges. The next year, he was arrest on a probation violation and a year after that he was arrested for dealing crack. The third time, he spent nine months in jail. Much later in his career, he was arrested in 1996 outside of a New York club for threatening to kill two fans, punching one in the face and smashing the windows of their taxi cab. That same year, he was arrested again for drug and weapons charges. In 1997, he was ordered to pay $41,000 to someone who claimed to have been beaten and robbed by Biggie and his entourage in 1995, but the criminal robbery charges were dropped.
After his 1991 release from prison, B.I.G. decided to release a demo tape under the alias “Biggie Smalls,” the name of a gangster in the 1975 movie Let’s Do It Again. He later discovered the name was already in use and decided to change it to “The Notorious B.I.G.”
In 1992, The Source featured Biggie in their “Unsigned Hype” column, dedicated to unsigned rappers brimming with talent. This helped him get the attention of the A&R department of Uptown Records and one of their producers, Puff Daddy. He signed to Uptown, but almost immediately left to join Puffy’s brand new label, Bad Boy Records.
Biggie’s big break came when he added vocals to a remix to the Mary J. Blige song “Real Love,” which reached #7 on the charts.
In 1994, Notorious married singer Faith Evans only nine days after meeting her at a photo shoot for Bad Boy Records. Only four days later, he had his first commercial success with the song “Juicy,” which reached #27 on the charts.
His first full-length album, Ready To Die, was released at a time hip hop was dominated by West Coast artists. The album reached #13 on the charts and was certified four times platinum. Rolling Stone said the album “almost single-handedly… shifted the focus back to East Coast rap”.
By 1996, he was the top-selling male solo artist and rapper on the US pop and R&B charts. He also won the award for Best New Artist, Lyricist of the Year, Live Performer of the Year and Debut Album of the Year at the Source Awards. The Billboard Awards named him Rap Artist of the Year.
Unfortunately, his success peaked at the same time as the East Coast vs West Coast Rap feud. A former associate of Biggie, Tupac Shakur, accused him of involvement with a November 1994 robbery that left Tupac shot and out of thousands of dollars in jewelry. Notorious said that he was near the scene of the accident, recording an album but was not involved with the crime.
Tupac soon signed with Death Row Records in L.A. and the two labels became wrapped up in an intense rivalry. Tupac’s song “Hit ‘Em Up” involved claims that he was sleeping with Biggie’s wife and that Biggie stole his style and image. Biggie did not respond to this, saying it wasn’t his style to respond.
During all of this drama, Biggie was trying to record his second album. It took over 18 months to complete, between interruptions from the hip hop wars, legal problems and an injury he sustained during a car accident at the time. The accident resulted in the use of a cane for the rest of his life.
On Sepember 7, 1996, Tupac was shot and killed in a drive by in Las Vegas. The murder remains unsolved, but reports detailing Biggie’s involvement sprung up immediately. Notorious denied the rumors, saying he was in New York working on his album at the time.
Lil’ Kim had a working relationship with Biggie for a few years and when he helped direct her 1996 debut album, Hard Core, the two became entangled in a love affair. She became pregnant with Biggie’s child, but had an abortion.
After the events of 1996 unfolded, Biggie claimed he wanted to focus on obtaining a “peace of mind.” “My mom… my son… my daughter… my family… my friends are what matters to me now,” he explained.
Photo Via mcbill [Flickr]
On March 8, 1997, Biggie flew to L.A. to present Toni Braxton an award at the Soul Train Awards. He was booed by some of the audience who blamed him for the death of Tupac. After the award show, the entire entourage attended a Vibe magazine party at the Petersen Automotive Museum. When the Fire Department closed the party early, the streets became crowded with people leaving. Biggie rode in a GMC Suburban when a black Impala pulled beside his vehicle and the passenger, neatly dressed in a blue suit and bow tie, shot him multiple times with a 9 mm pistol. Biggie was pronounced dead at 1:15 and the murder remains unsolved.
While many murder suspects include members of the West Coast hip hop family, one of the more popular theories was detailed by Randall Sullivan in his book LAbrynth. Sullivan’s thesis is that both Biggie and Tupac were murdered by Marion “Suge” Knight, co-founder of Death Row Records, and retired LAPD officer David Mack. His book supposes that the hip hop war was trumped up to make the murders easier to cover up. He backs up his assertions with the fact that the LAPD did not fully examine murder links to Death Row Records. This theory is further examined in the documentary Biggie & Tupac by Nick Broomfield.
Based on the evidence by LAPD officer, Russell Poole, and the book by Sullivan, Biggie’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the LAPD in 2005. Their claim accused the department of having enough evidence to arrest the murder, but failing to do so. The case was declared a mistrial after the judge worried the police were withholding evidence. The family attempted to expand their lawsuit, but failed, this was enough to get the case reopened in July 2006 though. The family filled a second wrongful death suit in April of 2007.
Of course, the pendulum swings both ways, and Tyruss Himes, a.k.a. Big Syke, was implicated of the murder by tv channel KTTV and XXL magazine and filed a suit against them for defamation. His case was later thrown out of court.
Fifteen days after the Death of Biggie, his double disc album, Life After Death, was released and hit #1 on the billboard charts. The album was later certified Diamond. The first two singles from this album, “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems,” were both #1’s and Biggie was the first artist to do this after his death. Spin magazine named him Artist of the Year and made “Hypnotize” its Single of the Year in 1997.
Since his death, Biggie’s vocals have been sampled in songs by many artists, including Ashanti, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Alicia Keys, Usher, Lil Wayne, Nelly and Michael Jackson.
He was named the greatest rapper of all time by both The Source and Blender magazines. MTV listed him as the third Greatest MC of All Time.
This year, a biographical film, Notorious, was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Producers of the film include Puff Daddy, and Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace. The film raised over $42 million worldwide. Unfortunately, the violence of hip hop continues. On opening night, a fan was shot by another film-goer in Greensboro, North Carolina.