With the recent release of the major feature film, “Notorious,” which chronicles the life and death of Brooklyn, New York rapper The Notorious B.I.G., discussions have resurfaced again about his everlasting impact on hip-hop music and the hip-hop community as a whole. Some discussions have erroneously attempted to brand him the greatest rapper of all-time.
With the assistance of Sean “Puffy ” Combs, one of the hottest producers in the business at the time, Christopher Wallace definitely brought the swagger back to New York City and the entire East Coast with the 1994 release of Ready To Die. Before B.I.G.’s emergence on the scene in ’93, N.Y.’s reputation as the capital of hip-hop was in severe danger and regions like the West Coast and “Dirty” South were moving closer and closer to the forefront. However, all that changed quickly in ’94 with the highly-acclaimed debut release of B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls.
Like the majority of musical artists, Biggie clearly put his soul into his first studio recording, and as a result Ready to Die was a hip-hop classic. It featured infectious songs like “Juicy,” “Unbelievable,” and “Big Poppa” as well as underground bangers like “Suicidal Thoughts,” “Gimme The Loot,” and “Things Done Changed.” Ladies as well as hardcore hip-hop listeners rocked it nonstop in their cars from the fall of ’94 into the summer of ’95. In 2006, even Time magazine named the CD one of the 100 greatest albums of all-time.
Unfortunately, Ready was the only full-length solo recording B.I.G. dropped while living. His second CD Life After Death was released 15 days after his death on March 9, 1997, and Born Again, Duets: The Final Chapter and Greatest Hits weren’t released until 1999, 2005 and 2007, respectively. In critically listening to all his mainstream as well as underground work, B.I.G. was undeniably a great lyricist, but by no means was he the greatest of all-time as some media sources and fans now claim. His smooth, effortless delivery and vivid art of storytelling just can’t supplant the fact his body of quality work simply isn’t enough to hold that championship belt.
No doubt Life contained popular hits like “Hypnotize,” “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” and “The Sky’s The Limit,” but lyrically it disappointed at times with tracks like “Going Back to Cali” and “Playa Hata.” And like most posthumous releases of musical artists, Born and Duets featured an abundance of guest appearances and just a shell of the legendary MC fans knew and adored.
In claiming B.I.G. was the greatest, this does a disservice to the history of the hip-hop music and actually disrespects all the great past and present wordsmiths who have spit into a microphone over the years like Rakim, KRS-One, Tupac Shakur, L.L. Cool J, Kool G. Rap, Jay Z, Eminem and Jadakiss. All these MCs as well as a few others not only match Biggie’s lyrical skills but also possess the body of quality work necessary to lay claim to that title or at least be in that discussion.
While it’s always good and productive in any discourse to have an opinion, that opinion should be supported by some truth. The truth, lyrically speaking, is: Ready To Die was classic, Life After Death was good, and Born Again and B.I.G.’s other efforts were incomplete projects.