March 9, 1997 was a Sunday and early that morning I was driving back home from Lincoln Mall in Matteson from my Sunday morning meeting at Montgomery Wards.
I had the radio on and heard that rapper The Notorious B.I.G was shot and killed in Los Angeles earlier that morning.
And hip hop was never the same for me.
Just the previous fall rapper Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in Las Vegas and that started the change of how I felt about hip hop. For the previous decade it’s just about all I would listen to.
But after that I started listening to a lot more traditional jazz, got into “old school” R & B and was frustrated with hip hop and the “East Coast vs West Coast” rivalry.
But when “Biggie” came out with the single “Hypnotize” in early 1997 which sampled my favorite jazz song “Rise” (from Herb Alpert), I was coming back around.
Already exactly a month prior we lost the matriarch of the family on my dad’s side “Momma Nan”, so I already had sadness in my heart and on my mom’s side had lost “Granddaddy” the previous summer.
Once Biggie was gone, that was it, I would be in a world of hurt for months.
Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious BIG aka Biggie Smalls was a genre changing artist.
I was in my DePaul University dorm room in July of 1994 hanging out with the brothas when we all first heard “Juicy”.
It was so different, sampling Mtume’s 80’s hit “Juicy Fruit” and Biggie’s tight but street lyrical flow and old school New York cadence.
It was mesmerizing and game changing.
It was different from the gangsta and horror rap at the time, it had a party flow but he was dead serious.
Biggie’s songs were the soundtrack of my freshman year, from the aforementioned “Juicy” to the party flow of “Big Poppa” to my still fave “One More Chance” remix.
His “Ready to Die” album defined the time, made a mogul out of producer Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and we all wanted to rock Kangol hats, Coogi sweaters (pictured), and Timberland Boots.
Biggie introduced us to Faith Evans (later his wife), the R&B diva who perfectly matched his street raps with songs you could listen to with your girl and life and love events that resonated maybe a little too well.
I’ll never forget that cover of The Source magazine with them in the back seat of a convertible, it seemed Biggie went from up and coming artist to the “The Man” in a matter of months.
Honestly he worked his way up through the rap system but in 1994 & 1995 there was no one hotter.
Us brothas wanted to be like him and have our own Faith Evans.
Biggie made it cool to be in love, to have a strong woman but still have your boys to hang out with.
As we entered adulthood Biggie showed us the transition and that you could truly have it all.
Until he was gone.
The next song released after his death was “Sky’s the Limit”, this was after Hypnotize and both off of the iconic “Life After Death” double album. It’s a dope song with such a positive message.
Biggie like many artists who died young (25 years old), didn’t have a large catalog.
But he had a verse in several collaborations songs, take for instance the theme from the 1995 movie Panther, a serious joint called “The Points”, he owned that.
Same for the remix of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear”.
I’ll go one further the R&B group Total ‘s first hit “Can’t You See”.
Biggie with one verse could just take over a song, he was unmistakable in his sound, even though his career was short.
But his legacy continues to last, his verses still hit, his beats still bang and we still love Big Poppa.
Filed under: African American History