Full disclosure: I was not on BIG when he first dropped. I didn’t even sleep on him, I just was outright not feeling him. I came up on Tribe, De La, Black Sheep, 3rd Bass, those cats. Innovators in beat making and sampling. So the rampant pilfering of hooks; the lifting of four bars from a song to make a beat [which was Puffy’s doing, but, guilty by association] combined with the lisp, the lazy eye, all the death imagery on his album covers…I just didn’t get it, I admit it.
I can’t say I know when I turned the corner. Long after he died, I know that much. Probably when I realized that all the things I’d criticized him for, he already knew and pointed out [Heartthrob? Never, black and ugly as ever]. Probably when I realized he was one of that rare breed of rapper that would sit silently for an hour, then spring up into the booth and drop three verses from memory. Probably when I realized that for all the shots 2Pac took at him in that whole ‘East Coast/West Coast’ bullshit, he never retaliated, because he was trying to leave that part of his life behind; because there were bigger things to work for than being considered the hardest motherfucker on the block. And it still got him killed fifteen years ago today.
Being a regular hip-hop karaoke performer, I’ve probably performed more songs by Biggie than any other artist. He’s my favourite artist to do songs by: his flows are deceptively hard, his accents so fun to emulate, even after all the songs by him I’ve already done, there are still at least three I want to get to. The narrative of the hustler who makes it in the rap game has been bludgeoned into the heads of music fans by Jay-Z, but BIG lived it first. He’s given more hip-hop quotables to the game than probably anybody, and the relatively small volume of posthumous work has kept his legacy intact.
His music is the quintessential example of an artist living again the moment you press ‘play.’ All you need is to hear that ‘Uh!‘ in ‘Hypnotize,’ or that ‘Jeee-zus!‘ in 112’s ‘Only You,’ and Christopher Wallace lives and breathes among us again.
Rest in peace to the King of New York, the G.O.A.T., he went from ashy to classy, the Notorious B.I.G.
Below, what is to my knowledge the only recording Big and Pac shared together [not edited together posthumously, they seem to have recorded it together in ’94], with production from Easy Mo Bee, a man who effortlessly produced solo hits for both of them. Remember the happier times, and hope something as beautiful as music never has to get so dark again.