Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (pictured) was gunned down on March 9, 1997, just two months shy of his 25th birthday. With fame and all the perks that came along with his stellar rapping ability, he was destined to achieve so much more. On Tuesday, Biggie Smalls, as he also known, would have been 41 years of age. NewsOne takes a look back at the life and legacy of the heavyweight Brooklyn rap legend.
Hip-hop music was in a curious place, as many were still mourning the death of Wallace’s rival, Tupac “2Pac” Shakur, who was killed a mere six months prior on September 7, 1996, in Las Vegas via a drive-by shooting. Because of the tensions between East and West Coast rappers at the time, many fans thought 2Pac’s death was a fatal warning serving as a salvo for the escalating coastal war. Dying in a similar fashion, Biggie’s murder left a foreboding cloud over the industry as it suddenly became less about the music and more about the violence it inspired.
Born Christopher George Latore Wallace to Jamaican parents George Latore and Voletta Wallace, the future Bad Boy star was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. According to his mother’s accounts, Wallace was a good student but succumbed to the trappings of the streets while in middle school. By the time he reached high school, his involvement in the drug trade increased and he was later jailed for his actions. Despite his life of crime, Wallace had a natural knack for rapping and made a demo tape using the alias Biggie Smalls.
The tape made its way to the hands of Mister Cee, a popular DJ who worked with another Brooklyn legend, rapper Big Daddy Kane. Mister Cee played the tape for editors at hip-hop magazine The Source who were so wowed that they featured Biggie in its “Unsigned Hype” column in a March 1992 issue and reportedly invited him to record more music. The demo caught the ears of Uptown Records producer and A&R Sean “Diddy” Combs who rushed to sign the hefty MC.
Wallace still sold drugs as he joined Combs’ newly minted label, Bad Boy Records, later in 1992. After an appearance on a remix of Mary J. Blige’s smash “Real Love” single as the Notorious B.I.G., Wallace became a household name.
Watch Blige’s “Real Love” remix with B.I.G. here:
Combs developed his protégé along slowly, having Wallace appear on tracks with reggae star Super Cat, LL Cool J, and more, but it was with his debut album, “Ready To Die,” in September of 1994 that Wallace cemented himself as a force.
Marrying R&B singer Faith Evans a month prior, Wallace’s career arc was exceptional, considering West Coast hip-hop ruled heavily on the air waves and among consumers. Spawning huge hits in the singles “Juicy,” “Big Poppa,” and “One More Chance,” the LP went on to go platinum four times.
Between his debut and sophomore effort, Wallace helmed the creation of off-shoot music group Junior M.A.F.I.A., featuring childhood friends Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease. The crew had hits in the singles “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money” — both staples of any old-school rap mix nationwide.
Surprisingly enough, Shakur and Wallace were once allies and had even performed live shows with each other. Things took a turn, however, when Shakur accused Uptown Records boss Andre Harrell, Combs, and Wallace of setting him up for a robbery and shooting in a New York studio in 1994.
Wallace denied all claims, and just last year it was revealed the beleaguered businessman and music mogul James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond was responsible for ordering a hit on Shakur.
The feud between the pair never went away and Shakur released his infamous and scathing diss record “Hit ‘Em Up” in the summer of 1996, squarely aimed in Wallace’s direction. Shakur also claimed to have slept with Wallace’s wife on the record, but it went largely ignored by the target.
As aforementioned, Shakur was killed later that fall and the rumors began to swirl. Was Wallace responsible for Shakur’s slaying? Did the diss record cut that deep to warrant the shooting?
While in California to promote his second album, Wallace was shot after attending the Soul Train Music Awards the evening prior, and as he was leaving an industry after-party in a SUV, Wallace was hit with four bullets by an African-American man who hopped out of a vehicle while Wallace’s entourage was stuck at a red light.
The murder remains unsolved, although it was initially rumored that Suge Knight, the owner of Death Row Records who counted 2Pac as a signee, ordered the shooting.
The “Life After Death” album was released posthumously on March 25, 1997. It was a double-disc album, marking the progression of Wallace’s style, and highlighted his amazing ability to adapt to the times. It has gone on to become one of hip-hop’s best-selling albums and was certified Diamond (10 million sold) in 2000.
Survived by his daughter Tynna, who is now 19 and in college at Penn State, she just released a clothing line. Tynna was featured in Wallace’s “Juicy” video when she was just a toddler and maintains her father’s legacy. Wallace’s son with Evans, also named Christopher, is a budding actor and rapper as well.
The tragic circumstances that led to the death of Wallace just as he was ready to become an even bigger star still boggle the mind. Yet, there is some comfort knowing that Wallace’s legacy remains untarnished despite one too many posthumous releases from Bad Boy’s vaults. Listeners worldwide have been robbed of witnessing what Wallace would have done next, and while he left us with plenty, it will never be enough.
Rest In Powerful Peace, Biggie. You Are The Illest.