It’s been 20 years since Biggie Smalls, also known as the Notorious B.I.G., was murdered at age 24 in a Los Angeles drive-by shooting on March 9, 1997. A staple in everyone’s top five emcees, in many circles Biggie is heralded as the greatest of all time. His flow, lyrical ability, wit and storytelling style endowed him the full package of a rap star. Combined with the fact that he could appeal to men and women alike made him the Lebron James of Hip-Hop. At age 24, he could do it all and since his murder, no one has quite filled the huge void left by his absence.
Born Christopher Wallace, Biggie put his hometown of Bed-Stuy Brooklyn on the map during his short lived rap career. When Sean “Puffy” Combs started his own label in 1993, Biggie quickly became the marquee act for the company. His debut album, “Ready to Die” (1994), shook the rap world. With its “rags to riches” themes and mix of radio friendly and hard street records – the album solidified his presence as the King of New York.
In the span of two years, Biggie, with the help of his Bad Boy mastermind, Puffy, would swap out his Guess jeans and suede timbs for Versace shades and Coogi sweaters. Biggie’s style and grace introduced a new era of rap, where artists were now envisioning themselves years ahead as businessmen and moguls.
On his last album, released two weeks after his murder, Life After Death showed a different side of Biggie with a renewed sense of purpose. A now father of two, songs like “Sky’s The Limit” and “I Love The Dough” displayed a much older perspective on life. With that said, the album featured Biggie at his apex, rapping even better than his first album. Songs like “I Got A Story To Tell” and “Kick In The Door” further proved that he was rap’s greatest story teller with his precise lyrical ability.
A huge reason why Biggie’s murder remains as painful now as it was 20 years ago is the fact that he was so young, with so much more to accomplish. Imagine if the careers of rappers like Drake, Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole were cut short? The rap world as we know it would be substantially different and with much less talent. At the time of his death, Biggie had his sights set on starting his own label and playing the role of mastermind. He was also about to try his hand at starting his own clothing line, “Brooklyn Mint.”
Biggie’s influence still permeates the present things. Undeniably the biggest rapper in the world right now, it is no secret that Drake has followed the Biggie blueprint like many before him. His ability to create a variety of of rap records channels Biggie style. In addition, where artists like JAY Z and Rick Ross have their own labels and have given opportunities to younger rappers, Biggie sought to do the same with his group, Junior Mafia, and the rapper Lil’ Kim.
Rap has changed in many ways since that night on March 9, 1997. Hip-Hop has now become Pop(ular) music and a multi-billion dollar industry. With the advent of the internet, artists now have unlimited professional possibilities. Though hip-hop/rap culture is in a great place right now, Biggie’s void is still missed. Since his murder, many have tried to imitate the slain Brooklyn emcee, but in earnest, weren’t quite it (Shyne and Guerilla Black come to mind). No one since has matched his all encompassing talent. Biggie had no flaws; he could do it all.
The rap world misses you Big. We hope life after death is treating you right, Big Poppa. Rest easy.
Muktaru Jalloh, Staff Writer