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Notorious B.I.G
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley (to some extent), John Lennon, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were all taken from the world before their time. From drug overdoses to suicide, with the odd assassinations or execution thrown in for good measure, they were rock star deaths for people who lived the rock star life.

These were people that inspired us to strive for more than we were comfortable with. They made it okay for us to go on when things got hard, they sang or rapped about our feelings when we couldn’t find the words and they tried to make the world a different place from the one it was before they came on the scene. Eventually they crumbled under the weight of their own images and perished ~ case in point: the Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls aka Christopher Wallace.

The Music
Christopher Wallace wasn’t completely out of his teens when he first came to the attention of rap fans on America’s East Coast. In March 1992, he won the Unsigned Hype contest run by hip-hop magazine The Source. Five years later he would be dead. A tape of him rapping over an old Big Daddy Kane beat ~ an artist who was one of his heroes growing up ~ ended up in the hands of an aggressive A&R executive at a label called Uptown Records. That executive was Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and he would help Christopher Wallace be known to hip-hop fans the world over as the Notorious B.I.G.

Born on May 21, 1972, Wallace was an only child who got to see first hand the disrepair that his neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn was falling into. It was on those streets that he fine-tuned his rap and it was on those very same streets that he earned his early cash from selling crack. It wasn’t an easy life nor was it one that the young rapper felt could be improved by working hard at legal jobs. Like one of the points that were made in the movie Traffic, the neighbourhood was a victim of its stereotyping and there were very few ways to get out of life on those streets. Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie, as he came to be known, took whatever chances he could. His first appearance on a legitimate recording was the attention-grabbing Party & Bullshit, which featured on the soundtrack to the movie Who’s The Man, facilitated by Combs.

Puffy and Biggie had the same vision ~ that their music would play from every radio in every neighbourhood and that the success would help them buy all the girls, gadgets and goodies that would maximize their lifestyle. When Puffy lost his job at Uptown Records, it looked, for a while, like the vision would remain a mere dream, but in an act that is a testament to the rap impressario’s staying power, Puffy used his firing as an opportunity to team up with Clive Davis at Arista Records to set up his own label, Bad Boy Records. In the days to follow, the Notorious B.I.G. would become Bad Boy’s hottest property.

Biggie’s debut album, Ready To Die, came out in September 1994 and immediately showed all the signs of being a milestone for the sub-genre as well as a soundtrack for that time. The way many fans saw it, listening to that album was like being taken on a lyrical and musical tour of the neighbourhood Biggie grew up in and being brought face-to-face with the darkness that lay in wait around every street corner. One of the nicknames he used was Big Poppa and the attendant success that came with a multi-platinum record allowed him to actually live up to the name. Shiny music videos directed by Hype Williams (the man that defined the rap video) as well as magazine covers and music award trophies were his for the taking.

But perhaps it is true that those who live by the sword (or semi-automatic guns, in this case) are destined to die by the sword, because on March 9, 1997, barely two weeks before his sophomore album was due to hit the streets, Notorious B.I.G. was shot dead. He wasn’t even twenty-five years old.

You can read the rest of our feature on Notorious B.I.G in the January 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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