Repost from March 9th, 2012
To write a tribute about The Notorious B.I.G. is incredibly difficult for me. To try and verbalize the life one of hip hop’s most – if not the most – iconic artists is difficult, because I feel like his life has transcended the point of description and evolved into a feeling. You have to feel the impact Biggie has made to the hip hop landscape and the only way to do that is to listen to his music and really absorb what he’s saying into your heart. My favourite hip hop artist is, and has been for years, The Notorious B.I.G. Fifteen years ago on this day , he was tragically gunned down in California. Fifteen years ago on this day, his son and daughter lost a father, Faith lost a husband, Ms. Wallace lost her son, Brooklyn lost a hometown hero and hip hop lost the greatest emcee there ever was.
With all that being said, I must admit that when Biggie died, I didn’t care. My lack of empathy came from the fact that at the time I was 6 years old and I barely grasped English, nor was I able to understand the complex and verbally intricate music that is hip hop. It was only after half a decade or so that I really started to explore hip hop, and my introduction to this was music from the West coast. It was fun, the beats were nice to bump to, and quite frankly, that’s all I was looking for as a preteen.
It took me awhile to appreciate the music that Biggie created. It is the purest manifestation of what hip hop from New York should be. The lyrics that Biggie wrote were socially conscious stories that came wrapped up in clever metaphors. They were lace with just enough humour and irony to let the listener know that everything was going to be alright. His voice was incredibly majestic – masculine and regal – yet it flowed like thick cream, smooth and sweet. Biggie just had a presence about him that commanded attention, and it wasn’t just because of his size. He had been rapping since his teens and his life, which at that point had been sufficiently full of hardships, (an absentee father, an overworked mother and involvement in illegal activity), gave him enough material to produce rhymes that warranted attention.
In 1992, Biggie released a mix tape that was featured in The Source’s Unsigned Hype column which eventually led to a meeting with Sean “Puffy” Combs. Just two years later, he released the monumental album Ready to Die. In retrospect, the album’s title foreshadowed the tragic events to come just three years later. Ready to Die was the only solo album ever released from Biggie during his lifetime. The album was widely praised by critics, and went on to achieve quadruple platinum sales. Unlike other critically acclaimed East Coast albums at the time, Ready to Die became a commercial success with singles like “Juicy” and “Big Poppa”, and received significant radio airplay as well as considerable play on MTV.
Life After Death, Biggie’s second and final studio album, was released less than a month after his death. The album went on to be certified diamond by the RIAA and is one of the best selling rap albums of all time. Life After Death made the biggest leap on the Billboard 200 list, skyrocketing from #176 to #1. The album, along with singles “Hypnotize” and “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” went on to be nominated at the Grammys for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
Although Biggie only released two albums (not include posthumous titles like Born Again and Duets: The Final Chapter), he is still considered an extremely important hip hop figure. His untimely death at the age of 24 elevated him to hip hop martyrdom, and he will forever be remembered as the hero who was taken from us far too soon. It is important to note that his murder has never been solved, which is a disgusting and incredibly shameful on the part of the LAPD and detectives who were assigned to handle the case.
If Biggie were alive today, there is no doubt in my mind that the hip hop game would be different. Biggie was an original; someone who promoted realness and authenticity. Even through his often humorous persona, he maintained a level of professionalism and seriousness regarding his work that commanded respect from peers and listeners. If Biggie were alive today, who knows how many albums he would have released? All that is certain is that they would be hits like all the rest, because he’s proven that his work is undeniable quality with universal likability. Some current rappers in the game would have never see their careers to fruition because surely, Biggie would have called them out on their bullshit. His love for hip hop would bring rap justice and ensure that our precious genre stayed sucker free.
If Biggie were still alive, you know what I would be? Supremely thankful. I would go to see as many of his shows as possible and scream out the lyrics until my lungs were sore. But unfortunately, I’ll never have that opportunity. Millions of Biggie fans who were children in the 90s and grew to cherish and appreciate his music later on have been robbed of this opportunity. Thus, we must rely on rare recordings, documentaries and stories from those who were lucky enough to have witnessed Biggie in all his glory to get a better understanding of who our beloved Biggie truly was.
Bad-Perm’s A.Harmony has told me stories of how, a few months after Biggie’s death, she went to stay at her aunt’s house in Brooklyn, located just a block away from Biggie’s home. Although only a few years older than me, I think Harmz was able to grasp the melancholy and uncertainty that must have lingered in the air at the time because her account of the atmosphere transports me into her world then. She told me how people would blast Biggie’s music non-stop and I believe that in the midst of everyone’s grief they were celebrating his life.
Yes, on a day like today it is very easy to feel like you’ve fallen into the pits of despair, especially if, like me, you tend to get very emotional. The reminder of Biggie’s passing weighs heavy on your hearts, I know. But I truly believe that today, Biggie wants us to celebrate his life. He was such a strong individual; such a powerful hip hop artist, that his death only signifies his physical departure from the world. He is still alive in radio, on Ipods and record players. He is still alive in our hearts. And he’s as glorious as ever!
LONG LIVE THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME
May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997