Known for a bevy of hits such as “Big Poppa,” “One More Chance,” “Who Shot Ya,” and “Juicy,” Biggie Smalls’ lyrical prowess and style has influenced hip-hop culture — even generations after his death in 1997.
The Notorious B.I.G. was born May 21, 1972 in Brooklyn, New York, though his parents both hailed from Jamaica. His mother, Voletta, was a preschool teacher is his father, Selwyn, was a welder and local Jamaican politician. Selwyn left the family when Biggie was two, but Voletta worked two jobs in order to take care of her son.
During his early life, Biggie attended the Roman Catholic Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, but transferred to the George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School. He dropped out altogether in 1989 at the young age of 17. Even though Biggie claimed he started selling at the age of 12, he stepped up the drug dealing after quitting school and was in trouble with the law soon after.
Biggie began rapping as a teenager to entertain people in his neighborhood. After he got out of jail, he made a demo tape as Biggie Smalls — named after the famed character from the 1975 movie, Let’s Do It Again. Although Biggie was just making tapes for fun, one subsequently found its way to The Source Magazine, who was so impressed that it profiled Biggie in their “Unsigned Hype” column in March 1992; from there, Biggie was invited to record with other unsigned rappers.
This recording came to the attention of Sean “Puffy” Combs, an A&R executive and producer, who worked for the leading urban label, Uptown Records. Combs arranged a record deal for Biggie, but left the label soon and went on to set up his own imprint, Bad Boy Records, and by mid-1992 Biggie had joined him. Though his first project wasn’t out yet, he was featured on Mary J.’s “Real Love” remix. “Party & Bullsh*t” was the first single to be released on Bad Boy.
When Ready To Die was released in September 1994, it became a widely acclaimed album by both fans and critics alike, calling the album a resurgence in East Coast Hip-Hop. It was certified gold within two months, double-platinum the following year, and eventually quadruple-platinum. Big Poppa, the second of the album’s four singles, was nominated for a Grammy for best rap solo performance. He later formed Junior M.A.F.I.A., where he mentored young rappers such as Lil Kim and Lil Cease. Their first hit, “Player’s Anthem,” peaked at 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold.
As many ups Biggie celebrated in his life, there were some downs as well: considering his East Coast vs. West Coast beef with Tupac Shakur, a widely public divorce with then wife, Faith Evans, and even more arrests along the way.
After Tupac’s untimely demise in 1996, Biggie was ready to squash the bi-coastal beef, but his search for peace came to an end when he was murdered in L.A. on March 9, 1997. But it didn’t mean it would be the last that we have heard from him. He posthumously released Life After Death 14 days after his death. He also appeared on Diddy’s 1997 album, No Way Out, which included the Grammy-winning Biggie tribute single, “I’ll Be Missing You.” There were two more posthumous albums using previously unreleased material: Born Again in 1999 and Duets: the Final Chapter in 2005.