Biggie Smalls is still the illest

“That shit was the worst rhyme I ever heard in my life/’Cos the greatest rapper of all time died on March 9th”

A stencil of Biggie sprayed on a telephone exchange in Cathays, Cardiff

A stencil of Biggie sprayed on a telephone exchange in Cathays, Cardiff, Wales UK

FIVE* years since The Notorious BIG was shot dead in Los Angeles and his giant frame still looms large on hip hop.

Just as Canibus referred to the Big Poppa during his 1998 lyrical beef with LL Cool J, today New York is buzzing as Nas and Jay Z do battle – and both state their relationship to, and respect for, Biggie.

Nas scoffs at Jigga’s assertion that he is now the king of New York. But if it wasn’t for Biggie it would be a crown that had long since lost its shine.

When Biggie stormed the scene with tales of blunts, designers clothes (and glasses), street hustling and womanising – all with an aura of danger – he helped refocus hip hop back from the west coast to the east and the NYC.

A true player for real, the former Brooklyn crack dealer debuted with ‘Party and Bullshit’ after appearing in ‘The Source’ magazine’s Unsigned Hype column. He and Craig Mack spearheaded the then Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs’  fledgling Bad Boy label’s assault on the streets and charts.

An infamous feud with Death Row Records’ Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur followed and Biggie’s wit served him well. In 1994 Tupac was non fatally shot in New York and it was rumoured that Biggie was behind the shooting, if not the gun. Biggie duly recorded the club hit ‘Who Shot Ya?’

This tastelessness and ability to court controversy always came out in the studio – where Big would lay down his rhymes straight from memory. The never released ‘Dreams of Fuckin’ an R’n’B Bitch’ is a prime example of an imagination that surely must have caused Eminem to cringe.

For Biggie dreams did come true – he left behind widow Faith Evans, mistress Lil’ Kim and girlfriend Charlie Baltimore.

Biggie’s death provided the initial momentum to Puffy’s solo success. ‘I’ll Be Missing You,’ a tribute to a man who in Britain was a relative unknown to non hip hop heads until his death, topped the country’s singles charts.

However Bad Boy is yet to find a successor to Biggie with Puffy having virtually publicly auditioned The Lox, Mase, Shyne and Black Rob for the role with only limited success.

‘Ready To Die’ and ‘Life After Death,’ now cruelly ironic titles for Biggie’s two LPs, and a third ‘Born Again,’ of unreleased and re-recorded material released in 1999, have left only a glimpse of an immense and surely unfulfilled talent.

Where would the Notorious BIG be in 2002? Partying with Diddy in the Hamptons or teaming up with the Neptunes or Dre? Would he still be the king of New York and would Jay Z even attempt to claim the crown?

What’s beef? It’s a part of hip hop and the streets.

Biggie Smalls, your career was short like leprechauns but your reign is still supreme.

*Biggie Smalls, birth name Christopher Wallace, was fatally shot 17 years ago on March 9, 1997 aged 24. The above post was an unsolicited article I submitted to London based black and urban music magazine, ‘Touch’ ahead of the fifth anniversary of Biggie’s death in 2002. When I phoned I was told my submission ‘sounds like something we would be interested in’ and to send it in but sadly I never heard any thing further from them. Not long afterwards I took paid employment in local newspapers…

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