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The Notorious B.I.G.

+ {Junior M.A.F.I.A.}

Some say “the pen is mightier than the sword”, but mightier than the gun? Well… no… if one takes into account the drive-by-shootings of 2PAC and East Coast rival The NOTORIOUS B.I.G., both brutally murdered in the space of six months; testament the aforementioned theory was indeed bullshit if one frequented the seedier sides of the States. “Live by the gun, die by the gun” or “Live fast, die young”, seem to be more apt adages for these two giants of gangsta rap, who died at the peak of their careers in their mid-20s. A prophet by all accounts, Biggie predicted his demise by releasing albums such as “Ready To Die” and death-disc “Life After Death”.
Born Christopher George Letore Wallace, May 21, 1972, Brooklyn, New York, the young rapper was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant ‘hood where he performed in local groups The Old Gold Brothers and The Techniques. As an honor-roll student, the lure of fast bucks tempted Wallace to drop out of high school to become a small-time crack cocaine pusher in Virginia, but his love of rap music convinced him to otherwise work on making a cleaner living. Under the initial moniker of Biggie Smalls (he was nearly 400lb at 17 years old!), Chris’s talent and connections as a NYC rapper caught the attention of East Coast hip hop guru/owner of Bad Boy Records, Sean “Puffy” Combs (PUFF DADDY), who, in turn, brought the rising star to greater prominence through guest spots on records by the likes of MARY J. BLIGE.
Due to the fact there was another rapper (a white Latino, Biggy Smallz) starting out on his campaign from the West Coast to nowheresville, another moniker had to be chosen. At first coming up with BIG (meaning Business Instead of Game), Uptown Records released the black rapper’s first record, `Party And Bullshit’, in 1993. As the man’s police spreadsheet grew as large as the man himself, The NOTORIOUS B.I.G. seemed as good a name as any to pin on his “rap” sheet for follow-up single, `Juicy’, which found him in the Top 30. The record marked out his own territory at the slicker R&B/swing end of the gangsta rap spectrum.
Arrested many times for robbery, assault and weapon offences, he at least knew what he was singing (er, bragging) about, tackling the usual subjects of “bitches”, guns and money on the accompanying Top 20 album, READY TO DIE (1994) {*9}. A string of Top 10 hits followed, including `Big Poppa’, a collaboration with TOTAL (`Can’t You See’) and even a joint effort with his new wife FAITH EVANS (`One More Chance’), whom he married that August.
1995 continued with the B.I.G. man and his fledgling label Undeas holding out a life-line to his buddies from Bedford-Stuyvesant: Chico Brown, Larceny, LIL’ KIM, Little Caesar, MC Klepto, Nino Brown and Trife (aka JUNIOR M.A.F.I.A.). While the Notorious one resisted to front all and sundry on 1995’s CONSPIRACY {*6}, Smalls did appear on four cuts, including the seminal `Player’s Anthem’. The theme in general was guns, drugs, money, money, drugs, guns and misogyny, even though there was a female member among the posse. Of course, LIL’ KIM was no shrinking violet as her NOTORIOUS B.I.G.-assisted `Hard Core’ album of ’96 – and others – more than suggested.
On the other side of the spectrum, it was fair to say that West Coast rival 2PAC had been his sworn enemy since accusations flew about who shot Tupac several times inside a lobby at a New York studio in November ’94. Biggie and associate Combs vehemently denied any wrong doing. What had started out as a simmering East-West rivalry between Bad Boy and Death Row turned into a bitter feud with 2PAC and Smalls at its epicentre. Amid defiant threats exchanged both in the press and on vinyl, things spiralled out of control as 2PAC was gunned down by unknown assailants in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996; he died six days later.
The B.I.G. man’s follow-up double album, LIFE AFTER DEATH {*8}, dealt with violence head on; the sense of fatalism running through many of the tracks was only compounded by the needless murder of Biggie himself, also gunned down (a drive-by shooting in L.A.) on March 9, 1997, only days before the album’s release. Though the perpetrator of the crime remains unknown (a Crips gang member was said to be a prime suspect), the incident only served to fan the flames of the dispute even higher. Every cynic knows that death sells; the massive transatlantic publicity surrounding this particular death ensured that the posthumously released record sold multi-millions. Two singles, `Hypnotize’ and `Mo Money Mo Problems’, both topped the charts, as did the tribute single, `I’ll Be Missing You’, a joint effort by PUFF DADDY and Smalls’ wife FAITH EVANS. In little more than six months, an already ailing rap scene had lost two of its most talented figureheads, a worrying sign of the genre’s increasing inability to distinguish the boundary between art and reality.
B.I.G. was back to haunt the airwaves from beyond the grave courtesy of posthumous packages: BORN AGAIN (1999) {*5} and DUETS: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2005) {*5}, as star-studded as they were inevitable. Many of the same faces appeared on both sets – stand up EMINEM, SNOOP DOGG, MISSY ELLIOTT, NAS – and while second time around the idea wasn’t quite so novel – “Duets” failed to reach No.1 (stalling at No.3) – it did make for a surprising Top 20 entry in Britain, even if fans were critical of its hastily cobbled together feel. In the years that followed, speculation about Biggie’s death was rife. While one may never get to the real truth (the 2009 film, Notorious, could hardly be expected to come up with all the answers), the B.I.G. and 2PAC wars will never end until gun legislation is drastically changed.
© MC Strong 1998-2006/GRD-BG // rev-up MCS Oct2016

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