Christopher Wallace was “notorious” for his seamless ability to poetically create amazing, erudite stories about his plights and successes. But Brooklyn’s favorite son was “mysterious” for the way he came, saw and conquered the rap game in five short years, before suddenly being taken away. Rock icon Lenny Kravitz once paralleled Biggie’s brief dominance of rap music as Robert Johnson had done for the Delta Mississippi-based blues genre.
Biggie had presumably not sold his soul to the Devil in mythic fashion like the legend said about the similarly young and immensely talented Johnson had done before he passed away. In fact, Biggie had reportedly found peace via Christianity before he was murdered on March 9, 1997 in Los Angeles in front of his closest friends. As stated in his 1994 smash single “Juicy,” Biggie paid his dues and offered love to his friends and he assumed enemies as proof of how he was ready to live a joyous life. Plus, he wanted to eventually leave the music industry behind after completing his five-album deal with Bad Boy Records.
Since his death, Biggie has stayed relevant in Hip Hop through the myriad of hit records he left behind, even as his legacy has been marred by question marks. For the 20th anniversary of his passing, HipHopDX spoke to several rap industry legends about The Notorious B.I.G.’s impact on the culture, their personal stories about interacting and being affected by his music, and where he would measure up in today’s music climate.
Biggie Showed Utmost “Respect” To His Hip Hop Idols
Ralph McDaniels (founder/host of Video Music Box): I think the first time that I saw him rap, there was a showcase with Son Doobie at a Funkdoobiest party in 1993. I knew who he was, had seen him before then, but I never heard him rap. Maybe I heard “Party & Bullshit,” but I feel like this all happened around the same time. When he got on, the promoter cut the mic off after a little awhile, so he never really got on. So it was one of those things like, “Okay, I’m gonna catch him at the next one.”
The first time I actually met Biggie was when we were outside Tower Records on West 4th Street in Manhattan, the Village. I was there with my boy, and this woman walked up to me and said, “I don’t know if you ever met him, but I’d like to introduce you to The Notorious B.I.G.” We were actually ready to get some ice cream because it was the summertime, and when we got it, he was just standing there. He just looked like a big guy from Brooklyn, there was nothing scary about him. I said to my boy, “Is that the guy? There’s nothing that notorious about him.” [laughs]
But over the years, I’ve gone through old footage of parties that I did in Brooklyn, and [he] was there in the crowd just observing. We might have had Doug E. Fresh who came to Brooklyn or Big Daddy Kane, I’d see Biggie in the audience. I learned a lot from that footage that he was a student of the game. You could tell he was really studying, just like in the footage of J. Cole in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. He’s in the audience like that — up front. Half the people just don’t do that.
MC Eiht (Compton rap legend): I knew Biggie a little bit. We had a couple of shows together back when he first started. It was just mutual respect for one of the great New York MCs, so to speak, and you know, to be recognized by one of the great MCs in our era, I looked at it as a privilege when anybody supports what MC Eiht does. That was pretty cool. I was one of his favorites and one of ‘Pac’s favorites, as well. It just let me know my work resonated with a real nigga. There’s a lot of good MCs in this game, and to be one of his favorites, and a cat he listened to because of what I represented, that’s cool.
He was just a down-to-earth cat. Some cats can be serious or funny. I just took Biggie as a real nigga from where he was coming from and representing New York. I looked at him as somebody I could relate to. We all joke and we all laugh, but he was really about his business. The couple of times we were around each other, everything was mutual and cool. I went to a couple of his shows and would stand while he performed. It was history being made. Even though he’s passed, I was one of the cats he listened to. That’s big props.
Kool DJ Red Alert (New York City Hip Hop radio pioneer): Before I started hearing freestyles and certain things like that from him, I heard “Party & Bullshit” and was like, “Yo! What the hell is this?” I had seen how popular it was in the streets and in the clubs. I said, “Who is this guy?” People kept telling me about how he was from Brooklyn, and his name, “Biggie-Biggie-Biggie.” So I had to do my homework and find out what this guy is about. Then I heard him rap on Supercat’s “Dolly My Baby,” which I would play in my show.
Ralph McDaniels: Puff and I had a really great relationship. As soon as he was almost done with a music video, he’d call me. “Hey, I’m gonna give it to you in an hour,” before they’d finish a video shoot because we didn’t to go through clearances and all kinds of stuff like that. You could get on right away and get immediate reaction in New York. Most of the ones that I have are not the MTV version. It’s right off the editor’s desk. No label or nothing. It would just be “New B.I.G.” or whatever. That’s the way we did with Craig Mack and B.I.G. There was also the “Big Mack” event, the promotion that they did from McDonalds. I remember taping some of that. That was pretty cool, when they first came out together.
Friends of Mine
Easy Mo Bee (co-producer for Ready To Die and Life After Death): One thing about Big was that he was hard on me for beats I did. He wouldn’t just take anything I threw at him. He didn’t care that he met me and I was more experienced in the rap game than him. He would sit with me as I’d play him beats and he’d say [imitating Biggie’s voice], “No, Mo, no!” or “Gimme that one.” He was honest.
(Biggie, Nas, Method Man on stage 1995, Video Music Box)
Ralph McDaniels: In that particular footage [of Nas and Biggie], that was Miss Jones’ birthday party. The same Miss Jones who used to be on Hot 97 and [an] R&B recording artist. I think that was around the time of when her single “Just Where I Wanna Be” was out. That event was at a place called The Country Club on 86 Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. O.C. did “Time’s Up” that night, Method Man was there, Fat Joe performed, Common was there but he wasn’t really making a difference at that point other than just kind of hanging out. Nas was hot, and Miss Jones is from Queens, and they’re from the projects down the road, so they’re friends. And O.C. was kind of hot as a Brooklyn-Queens guy. “Time’s Up” was hot, and I always tell people Nas killed O.C. because O.C. was hot, but then Nas came and people just forgot about him. It wasn’t like O.C. was bad, but the buzz for Nas was just crazy. People see Nas onstage, and they’re all like “Yo, he’s ‘bout to get busy.” Then DJ Enuff and Notorious B.I.G. come, then Nas and B.I.G. get together talking, hanging out. They’re kind of trying to play it low but they know I got the camera on them, and they looking like “Damn, Ralph, you’re blowing us up. Half of everybody knows that we’re here [laughs].”
They did this routine that they either practiced or recorded somewhere called “The Good Fellas.” Some people tell me that was supposed to be an album they wanted to do. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Nas got on, and there were a lot of Queens people there. They were all “Nas is our man.” But Nas was like “I got B.I.G. with me, we about to get busy.” For Biggie and Brooklyn, it wasn’t as many people, but the rest was all Queens. When the Brooklyn people saw B.I.G., they were “Oh, B.I.G. is here!” Right after that, there was a fight (laughs). You know it was bound to happen. Then Method Man got on, and then Doug E. Fresh got on after that. Half the crowd cleared out. I saw it coming. Just like the end of “Party & Bullshit.” Nas and Biggie were so hot, that too many people wanted to be on the stage, and security was trying to get them off. But people weren’t about to leave because it was a moment, and they knew it. Brooklyn and Queens had a way of going back and forth because they were both hot. In that era, the streets were hot. That was still the crack era, it was just a lot going on. The guys that were with them were real street cats, so anything could’ve happened.
Steve Lobel (Bone Thugs-n-Harmony manager): I just went by the Record Plant Studio [in Los Angeles] where we recorded the Bone and Biggie “Notorious Thugs” track. We were trying to figure out from the interns the room where it happened. We found it in the back.
I knew Biggie numerous amount of years before he passed. I met him many times because of Lil Cease, Puff Daddy and Fat Joe. I used to run around with Joe and Joe used to always see Biggie. Then Bone Thugs gave Biggie his award at the Billboard Awards, so we saw him there. Being in the industry so long, I’ve known Biggie since he was coming up. Back then, Lil Cease was his DJ. I got a call one day from Fat Joe and he said Puffy was going to call me, then Puff called and said Biggie was in town and is at Record Plant right now. He wanted to do a song with Bone.
Bone was so hot at the time that I was getting calls from different people to do a record with them. I tried to get everybody to come to Record Plant. I think it was ‘96 and it was hard to get them on the phone, but I got them all to pull up at separate times. Wish Bone was in Cleveland and this was way before Flesh went to jail. Flesh was in the studio, but didn’t get on the song. Out of all of them, Wish Bone was coolest with Biggie.
So, we did the song. Lil Cease, B.I.G., Puff and [producer] Stevie J were there. Stevie did the beat and Puffy put a little sprinkle on it. It was crazy. There was like 30 people, tons of weed, tons of Hennessy, and the song got done in an hour or two. I just remember Biggie saying, “Wow this is crazy.”
Things Done Changed
Easy Mo Bee: For the second album, I came with these similar gritty beats that we did on Ready To Die. But Puff’s idea was like, “Nah, we already did that. This is growth.” That’s what he was telling me. A lot of people don’t know that the beat for “I Love The Dough” I had offered that up for Ready To Die. But Puff didn’t want it at that time because I guess it wasn’t time for that yet. So doing the submissions for Life After Death, was a more mature, radio-friendlier sound. Puff turned all of them down. I almost didn’t have any beats on that album. So I told him, “Remember that ‘I Love You More’ beat I did?” I remember his exact words saying “Yo, hook it up.”
(Big and Jay Z on stage together)
Ralph McDaniels: My birthday party in 1996 was at this place called Exit on 56 & 10th Avenue, a little hot spot at the time. We had The Notorious B.I.G. to host it. He said, “I’m down. I’m not going to perform, but just host this.” I was like “Yeah alright,” but we knew we’d play something that would make him maybe a song. And Jay Z was not planning on being there at all, and Jay came. It was a hot party for that night, and everybody knew there would be a lot of women dressed up, and I was gonna have the black tie thing. Foxy Brown showed up, and Joe — the singer doing one of his first performances — and Monifah singing “Happy Birthday.”
Jay and B.I.G. came out and said “Happy Birthday to Ralph McDaniels.” DJ Ace was the deejay. I told Ace, “As soon as that finishes, play ‘Get Money.’” And as soon he dropped the instrumental, Big was in the moment, and that’s why he then said, “I guess I’m supposed to do my rhyme now.” Puff even said he’s not going to perform, but Puff wasn’t there so it really didn’t matter, we were going to play it anyway.
Easy Mo Bee: I had done my research on what is that record like in New York, from Harlem to Brooklyn as far back as the ’70s, for a house party of block party anthem. That’s definitely “Love Is The Message” by MSFB. So I asked this manager at the time who was from L.A. what is that house party record anthem, and he said, “More Bounce.” I was trying to find a way to unite and get people on one accord, and I knew he would sound good on it. Musically, to pull that off and to make it happen, that was my ultimate goal because you know as they say “music calms the savage beast.”
But if you want to talk about the title of “Going Back To Cali” as kind of a spurning force towards his demise, I don’t know. If anybody wants to derive that from the lyrics and the title, they can do whatever they want it to be. I just know when I made that track for him, and this is the last time that I saw Big. I tracked that one and “I Love The Dough” as Daddy’s House [studio]. I had no idea of what he was going to put to these beats. I waited for Big and Jay Z doing that “writing in their head” thing for about a good awhile, maybe an hour. Then Big came to me and said, “Yo, me and Jigga are out. We’ll be back.” That was a late afternoon, evening time. So I sat there and waited and waited for him to come back. I had another session early the next day, and I tried to wait as long as I could but it was somewhere about 2:30 in the morning. I told D-Dot [Angelettie] who was engineering that session I had to go home and let me know when the next session would be. But I never got a call for what I consider as “The Last Session.” I never got a chance to see what they were mumbling to themselves and what those lyrics ended up being.
I did see one of the members of Junior M.A.F.I.A. had come back from L.A. early after a trip out there with Big. After I tracked the beat in Brooklyn weeks later, I saw him in a convenience store. He said, “Yo, Mo! What’s good? They’re still out there havin’ mad fun. And by the way, he laced your joint!” I said “Which one?” He said, “The ‘More Bounce’ joint. He called it ‘Going Back To Cali.’” I said “Noooo he didn’t.” But he told me that it was a tribute to the West. I was still concerned about it in a climate like that. I took a trip out there after it came out and I was playing everywhere. I said to myself, “Man, you did it.”
Where Were You When Biggie Was Shot?
Ralph McDaniels: I had just come home after I worked an overnight slot that night at Hot 97. That girl that worked with me on production in the many videos that I was doing at the time had called me crying. I asked her what happened. “They killed Notorious B.I.G. They killed Biggie!” I said “What? What are you talking about?” She said, “He was in L.A. and he got killed.” I was like “Why would he be in L.A.?” It made no sense to me with so much tension going on, why is he in L.A.? She was in L.A. and told me that they were at this party. It was surreal. Then I turned on the radio, and then the word starts to roll out that it’s true, hoping maybe not true.
I went back to the station because this was just weird to me. I first thought it happened in New York because anything can happen in New York. But when she said it was in L.A., it didn’t make sense to me. “Why were you in L.A.?” And that part still bothers me to this day. I just felt like it was not the right place to be. There’s gotta be something true. I don’t know, something’s out there. It’s one of those things where it could’ve been anything. Do I feel it has something to do with Suge, absolutely. That would make sense. But maybe it didn’t, and maybe it was something else. There was so much going on at that time. I know that in L.A., if you’re not from there, you move a little different than you do in New York. Even though Notorious had been to L.A. plenty of times, you’re not familiar with as many people.
Kool DJ Red Alert (former Hot 97 radio personality): The first time I heard about it, my wife woke me up early that morning before getting ready to go to work. And right after that, Sway and his partner Tech from The Wake Up Show in San Francisco called me. There’s a three-hour difference from the West to the East, but they still called me and had me live on the air with them about this crazy, scary situation about Biggie. I was shocked.
The funny part is when I got to work, before I got on the air, someone in management had me come inside their office and said, “Were you on the radio out in the West Coast.” I said, “Yeah, they had me on the radio talking about that Biggie had died.” They had then said, “That was a competitor’s station.” I told them that I knew. “Yo, you gotta be careful…” but then I said “Yo, my man, are we talking about business or are we talking about someone that just died? The choice is yours, I’m asking you.” I understand business is business. They called me, and I’m supposed to hang up on them because they are a competitor’s station? You gotta understand that this touches the culture, and you’re talking about business? They backed off me and never asked me another question. I guess they had respect for what I said.
Steve Lobel: Biggie took the song [“Notorious Thugs”] back to New York to finish it because he wanted to master the style, then he died. When the record came out, I called Puff and he explained Biggie had wanted to do it right. If he wouldn’t have passed, we probably would have done a video for it. It’s probably one of the best songs on that album. So many people loved that song. It really co-signed a lot for Bone in New York City. Even though they got a co-sign from “Crossroads,” people started calling.
Mariah Carey called me wanting to do a song with Bone after hearing that song. It opened a lot of doors and solidified a moment in Hip Hop, and Biggie really caught that flow. One of the last songs they finished for Life After Death. He died so young, but he did so much. Imagine how much more could have been done. We will always remember Big and do whatever we can to keep his memory alive — anything to support Puff, Big, Bad Boy and the family.
Would Biggie’s Career Have Lasted Through Today’s Trap Music Era?
Easy Mo Bee: I think Biggie would’ve tapped into the [trap] style right now. But I think he would be requesting a bit more than just what everybody was doing. He came from a line of greatness, and was on the cusp of helping to change music. Look at the joint he did with Bone Thugs was an indication that he was open to experimenting and changing with the times.
MC Eiht: You have to be able to adjust. Everything can’t be about crack selling and growing up in poverty. Some things have to be taken to the side, and not just revolve around grief and bad times. He could do a song like “Goin’ Back To Cali” then turn around and do something like “Sky’s The Limit”— that’s the versatility in good Hip Hop artists. That’s what I tell people. If you can only stick to one format, then your longevity in this game is going to be played out. I could do a song about drugs, poverty and police, but you gotta be able to do a song with Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, B-Real or Kendrick [Lamar] — whatever. You have to be able to adjust if you call yourself an artist.
You do that with all the greats — not just in Hip Hop— with all music in general. We still talk about Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson — a lot of those late greats because they were people who brought a specialty to this game. I think just being a true MC made him great. Being able to adapt and being able to just understand the Hip Hop community as far as fans, people and real life, and trying to incorporate it in his music made him a great MC. That’s the bottom line. You can’t put anything past his music or lyrics. That’s what you do to artists that left behind such a following. He will be talked about forever.
Biggie’s Impact on the Millennial Generation
DJ MICK (New York-based DJ/producer): I remember watching “Yo! MTV Raps” and seeing the “Dolly My Baby” remix. This is when Biggie was still rapping all ruffneck steez, before Puffy slowed him and smoothed him out. It was so raw and amazing. You could sense him being on the way to stardom. His music felt like a breath of fresh air in Hip Hop at the time. It was aggressive music with lyrical content … Plus it sounded great blasting out of my car!
Big made me want to live in BK one day. Big made me want to go from small beginnings to big accomplishments. Big gave me a blueprint to go from underground Hip Hop to a still respected mainstream approach. Biggie was 22 and incredible. Imagine if Nas only had his first two albums. Biggie would be Number 1 of all-time with no debate. I think Biggie still would have been incredible, but the margin for mistakes would be much higher. Music wouldn’t have gotten as unlyrical and simple, but Biggie would have killed all these trap beats. Listen to my Biggie / Metro Boomin project to see what I mean. He sounds fresh and amazing 20 years later rapping over some Future.
Aaron McKrell (DX contributor since 2015): I was six when Christopher Wallace was murdered — 19 years to the day before my niece was born — and I don’t have a personal connection to B.I.G.’s music like I do to 2Pac’s. Yet, there was one goofy memory that kept coming back to me. I had a cool homeroom teacher, a basketball coach named Kevin O’Connor who was really into sports and rap. We would always shoot the breeze about shared interests during the 20 minutes that led to the never-ending cycle of pencil pushing. One morning, I strolled into homeroom, walked right up to his desk, and in my best Biggie imitation, rapped, “There’s gonna be a lotta slow singin’ and flower bringin’ if my burglar alarm starts ringin’.” He looked at me like I had just come in naked doing the Humpty Dance. There was an awkward pause, followed by laughter from myself and my friend Nick. “I like it when Biggie says it,” O’Connor said. “Not when Aaron McKrell says it.” That’s the power of Biggie, though. The man’s music is so infectious, that more than a decade after his death, it connected a teacher and his student a generation apart.
Scott Glaysher (DX contributor since 2015): Being a millennial rap fan born in ’93 and growing up in the ringtone rap era meant that in order to find the “golden era,” I needed to do a lot of Hip Hop homework. This wasn’t always the easiest thing to do while sharing computer time with a family of four and spending most of that time sifting through every G-Unit project ever released. Luckily for me and my rap fan due diligence, Diddy dropped Biggie’s second posthumous album, Duets: The Final Chapter in 2005 — just in the nick of time.
The murmurs of Biggie and his out-of- this-world raps smacked me dead in the face once I heard his verse on “Nasty Girl.” From there, I immediately dove into his short, yet potent catalog. The obvious favorites were “Hypnotize,” “Juicy” and “Big Poppa,” but my pre-teenage angst was more satisfied with the likes of “Kick in the Door” and “Dead Wrong.” That diversity was the beauty of B.I.G.’s music. You could play “Juicy” around your parents (the edited version), you could slow dance to “Big Poppa” and you could zone out to “Machine Gun Funk.” It was remarkable as a kid from a Toronto suburb to have a rapper from Brooklyn find his way into every corner of your life.
Kyle Eustice (DX Media Manager): The first time I realized Biggie’s impact on the Midwest, more specifically in my hometown of Omaha, was when I was babysitting my younger brother and his friend. They couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9 at the time. Out of nowhere, Andrew says, “Money, hoes and clothes/All a brother knows,” which was a direct reference to Biggie’s smash hit, “Big Poppa.” Of course, I started laughing hysterically because he couldn’t have been more than 4-feet tall and here he was quoting Biggie. It took a lot longer for East Coast Hip Hop to reach us in the middle of the United States. When I first heard “Juicy,” I had to be a teenager, but it didn’t really stick with me the way 2Pac’s music did, which I’ve never really figured out. All I know is when I play “Going Back To Cali” or “Notorious Thugs,” his music makes me feel invincible. That’s magic.
Dana Scott (DX contributor since 2013): I didn’t take notice to Biggie until I heard “Juicy” during the summer of 1994. Honestly, I didn’t like the song, and thought it was another case of a fat rapper that was getting some shine on video shows like Video Music Box, BET Rap City, or Yo! MTV Raps. I would literally change the channel. I had more of an affinity to Craig Mack than Biggie because I had a blowout fade at age 14, a popular haircut at the time. But when I saw Biggie start the “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)” video, then I knew I was wrong because he wasn’t just a gimmicky fat rapper — dude had lyrics better than Craig. Then I saw Biggie’s video for “Warning” with that Isaac Hayes “Walk On By” sample and I was hooked.
I was such a fickle 14-year-old, and I thought his lyrics to “Big Poppa” gave me the confidence to talk to any female I wanted in school. Also, being from the Tri-State area in Connecticut, I grew up as a mixtape nerd and could get access to the best rap from NYC. I used to frequently visit my mother who lived in New York City back then, so I could record all the tapes off Hot 97 that I wanted and come back with the best. That summer of 1995, Biggie ruled the airwaves on that station. Wu-Tang and 2Pac, too, but Biggie made people feel like underground and mainstream rap was secured under his thumb. When he passed away just six months after 2Pac died, it felt like Hip Hop had lost its direction.
And it was still somewhat misguided according to many per his 20-year absence, but I’m glad that many of today’s artists are giving him the respect he deserves as they continue what he left behind.