May 21st 1972 happened to be a historical day. It was the day when future rap legend Christopher Wallace, better known as the “Notorious B.I.G.”, was born. Throughout the years, he collected more iconic nicknames, including B.I.G., Biggie or Biggie Smalls.
Photo by: Barron Claiborne
In his early days, he seems destined for greatness with impressive accomplishments in school. But at the age of 13, his mother starts to lose control of her life and Wallace decides to persue a life on the streets, first by kicking rhymes in the neighbourhood, later living the life of a hustler.
Until Biggie drops out of school, his mother thinks he makes his money as cashier in the supermarket. But although she finds out that he was dealing drugs instead, she never looses faith in her son.
Luckily, the music always stays a constant part of his life and ultimately leads him to quit dealing and he makes rapping his priority.
Contacts to Big Daddy Kane’s DJ, Mister Cee, give him his first chance in the music business. A few tracks of B.I.G., passed through the right hands, find their way to ambitious businessman and Uptown Records appointee Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, who, at this point, is searching for a new artist in the style of LL Cool J. Biggie’s weight and “bouncer”face make Puffy change his plans, but don’t decrease his motivation. He wants to make Christopher the first “ugly sexsymbol”.
Label politics are standing in the way of the action and the debut gets delayed again and again. A lack of money pulls Biggie back on the streets, especially when daughter T’Yanna get’s born. That makes it easy for him to completely lay his carreer into Puffy’s hands, who decides to start his own label “Bad Boy Records”. Soon, B.I.G.’s debut album “Ready To Die” releases in 1994 and changes the genre. Or as rapper Nas sais later: “When ‘Ready To Die’ came out, you could feel it – a big change was about to happen.”
B.I.G.’s record emerges to be a masterpiece of hardcorerap and the first real success for the eastcoast since Dr. Dre’s G-Funk-movement a few years before. His style between complex imagery and bluff sexism catapult Biggie Smalls to the top of the Billboard Charts. Combined with Puffy’s production skills, “Ready To Die” conquers the charts of the world and Big becomes a platinum selling artist by the end of 1994.
Biggies private life is experiencing drastig changes as well. After breaking up with his babymama, he marries R’N’B singer Faith Evans just a few days later. That does not stop him from dating other music associates as Lil’ Kim and Charli Baltimore though. This would not stay the only gossip topic in his life for long…
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, someone else craves for the limelight: Tupac Shakur. After being friends in the first place, the two successful rappers develope to be personalized antipoles.
In November 1994, Tupac get’s robbed in a studio in New York and is shot five times. Biggie and his entourage happen to be at the same studio, at the same time. A few months later Tupac suspects his former friend to be involved in the incident – one of the biggest and most known feudes in music businnes comes to life. Biggie vs Pac, Bad Boy vs Death Row, East vs West.
In September 1996, the situation seems to escalate and Tupac Shakur loses his life in Las Vegas in a drive by-shooting. On May 9th 1997, Biggie becomes the victim of a similar crime. After leaving an aftershow party of the “Soul Train Awards” he gets shot by four bullets in the chest out of seven fired shots on the passenger seat at a red light near the party he just left.
About two weeks later, Biggie’s second album “Life After Death” gets released and sells over 10 million times and songs like “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and “Hypnotize” take over the mainstream radio and tv stations.
In deep dolor, mentor, friend and labelboss Puff Daddy records the single “I’ll be missing you” with Biggie’s widow Faith Evans and creates a song that helps many fans assimilate the loss of the “Big Poppa”.
Although Biggie did not accumulate hundreds of hours of material for posthum recordings like his foeman Tupac, his third album “Born Again” becomes a number one record in 1999.
Seven years later “Duets – The Final Chapter” comes out with a lot of overproduced features of big rap names, but the bitter taste of material “leftovers” slow down the sales and the album reaches only the third position in the U.S. Charts, which is less successful compared to the former records.
Even fifteen years after his death, the case of Notorious B.I.G. is still an obscure topic. The enlightenment of Biggie’s and Tupac’s deaths still seems impossible, but legends were created back then and will keep on influencing the business for a long time remaining.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of Biggie’s death, K1X released this “Tonz-O-Gunz” T-Shirt.
In memory of Biggie’s assassination 15 years ago, K1X has released this limited “Tonz-O-Gunz” tee in collaboration with acclaimed photographer Barron Claiborne.