The Story & Legacy of Bad Boy Records: The Notorious B.I.G.
"It was all a dream..." One of, if not the most iconic lines in hip-hop history. Christopher Wallace, known better by his rap monikers "The Notorious B.I.G.", "Biggie Smalls", or just "Biggie" is a legend. It's crazy to think about the impact he's had on the culture of hip-hop, because he made such a huge impact before his heartbreaking murder on March 9th, 1997, when he was only 24 years old.
Biggie began rapping at the age of 17, just for fun, but in a couple of years, things began to get really serious. Wallace recorded a demo tape, under the name Biggie Smalls, with no intent to be found or get a record deal. However, the tape ended up being promoted by DJ Mister Cee, who had worked with Big Daddy Kane, and the tape eventually was heard by The Source's editor. Biggie Smalls was then featured in The Source's "Unsigned Hype" column in March of 1992.
The editor of The Source wasn't the only important person that this tape reached though. Sean Combs, who was the A&R of Uptown Records at the time, heard Biggie's demo tape as well. Combs signed Wallace to Uptown Records quickly, and got him featured on Heavy D & The Boyz' "A Buncha Niggas" from the album Blue Funk. Despite Combs success at Uptown, he was fired, and Biggie followed him and signed to Combs' new record company in 1993, Bad Boy Records.
1993 was also the year that "Biggie Smalls" became "The Notorious B.I.G.". He first used the new name when he was featured on the remix to Mary J. Blige's "Real Love". He then released his first solo track, Party and Bullshit, in April 1993, and the song was put on the soundtrack of Who's The Man?.
The Notorious B.I.G. met rap star Tupac Shakur in 1993 as well, and the two quickly became close friends. They performed together, Wallace slept on Shakur's couch when he was in California, and Shakur visited Biggie's neighborhood when he came to New York. Shakur also gave B.I.G. his first Rolex watch.
The Notorious B.I.G. had experienced success, but the year that his career took off was 1994. In July he was featured on the remix of label mate Craig Mack's hit song "Flava In Ya Ear" along with LL Cool J, Busta Ryhmes, and Rampage. Wallace easily delivered the best verse, flowing flawlessly over the boom bap beat. From that point on, Biggie was the face of Bad Boy Records. The hip-hop world now awaited his debut album.
The Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album, Ready To Die, was released on September 13th, 1994. The album was mostly hardcore rap, but included the singles "Juicy" and "Big Poppa", which are considered radio friendly singles. The album only reached #13 on the Billboard 200, but was hugely successful regardless. Ready To Die eventually went four times platinum, and according to most, shifted the attention to East Coast rap at a time when West Coast gangsta rap was prominent in the hip-hop world. Hip-hop had just witnessed the birth of another superstar.
In 1995, Biggie continued the wave of his success with another platinum single, a remix of "One More Chance" with Faith Evans and Mary J. Blige on the hook. The music video for this song was iconic in its own right. It featured countless stars, including Total, Heavy D, Aailyah, and more. The single eventually went platinum, selling over 1.1 million copies. Wallace also had a group of artists he was rooming, Junior M.A.F.I.A., led by Lil' Kim and Lil' Cease. The group released their debut album, Conspiracy, August 29th, 1995, eventually going gold. However, the album's singles, "Playa's Anthem" and "Get Money", both featuring The Notorious B.I.G., went platinum.
Despite the positives for Biggie in 1995, there were negatives beginning to appear in his life. His once close friend, Tupac Shakur, was shot the previous year in the lobby of Quad Studios in New York the previous year, and was now blaming Biggie for setting him up or having prior knowledge of the attack. Biggie denied both, but due to this dispute and the label owners of the two artists, Suge Knight and Sean "Puffy" Combs" respectively, the East vs West rap war was born.
Biggie's sophomore album was highly anticipated by the hip-hop world, but was also continuously being pushed back, due to injury, the feud with the West Coast, and legal troubles. However, 1996 wasn't an empty year for the artist. He was a guest on Bad Boy's newly formed R&B group 112's single "Only You", along with Ma$e. Biggie also had a cameo in Jay-Z's music video for "Dead Presidents" in 1996.
Tupac Shakur was shot in Las Vegas on September 7th, 1996, passing away 6 days later due to complications. Bad Boy label owner Sean "Puffy" Combs and Biggie were looked at as a part of the murder, but weren't guilty. The East vs West war had just become deadly.
Biggie also became a manager for Bad Boy that year, with Puff Daddy becoming his artist. People in the hip-hop world didn't understand how an artist could manage his label owner as an artist, but it worked. Puff Daddy released his first single on January 7th, 1997, "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down", featuring Ma$e, and it went double platinum while spending six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
It was now March 1st, 1997, and Biggie had just released his first single, "Hypnotize" for his forthcoming album, Life After Death. The single debuted at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, right behind Puff Daddy's "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down". It went to #1 in its second week, giving Bad Boy back to back #1 hit singles. The Bad Boy label travelled to Los Angeles for the music video to "Hypnotize" and for album promotion. B.I.G. had an interview in San Francisco with The Dog House on KYLD on March 5th, and presented Toni Braxton with an award at the 11th annual Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles. He was booed by some in the crowd, due to the still ongoing East vs West beef. Puff Daddy explained that another reason the label decided to go to the West was to squash the beef, to show the people that everything was alright on their end. With Tupac being murdered six moths prior, Biggie and Puffy wanted everything to calm down and for people to be safe. Sadly though, things didn't worked out as planned.
After the Soul Train Awards, B.I.G. was supposed to go to London, but decided to stay that night and attended an after party hosted by Vibe Magazine with Puff Daddy. The two left the party around 12:30 AM, riding in two separate GMC Yukons. At 12:45 AM, Biggies Yukon stopped at a red light, and a black Chevrolet Impala pulled up beside it. A black male wearing a blue shirt and a bow tie, rolled his window down and shot the car up, hitting Biggie four times. Puff's Yukon stopped and he ran back to Biggies car, rushing him to the hospital. It was all too late however, and B.I.G. was pronounced dead at 1:15 AM. Bad Boy Records, and the hip-hop community as a whole, would never be the same.
Life After Death was still released on its set date, two weeks after Biggies death, March 25th, 1997. The album made the biggest jump to #1 on the Billboard 200 in history, going from #176 to #1 in one week's time, while selling 690,000 copies during its first week. The album was certified diamond in the year 2000 and is one of the best selling rap albums of all time.
The impact that Biggie made during his 4-5 year stint in the top tier of the rap game is only rivaled by Tupac Shakur. Wallace not only was the biggest artist on one of hip-hop's greatest labels ever, but he is one of, if not, the greatest rapper of all time. He has an untouchable legacy, and no matter how you feel about him because of the East vs West beef, you have to respect him as one of the best to ever do it. One can only imagine the difference in hip-hop if he wasn't murdered that night in Los Angeles.