Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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No pulp fiction novel could ever come close to the realities of the short life of Christopher Wallace. Known to everyone as the Notorious BIG, he laid claim to being the greatest rapper of all time.
Christopher George Latore Wallace was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn on May 21 1972. His father left when he was two and though his mother was protective and diligent, by the age of 12 her boy – nicknamed “Big” ‘cos of his size – was dealing in street drugs. After a spell at the Catholic, Queen Of All Saints School, he transferred to Westinghouse High, where Jay Z and Busta Rhymes were also being educated. Aged 17, he dropped out of school and was quickly sucked into petty crime. In 1989 Christopher was arrested on fire arms charges and was given a five year probation order, which he flouted – ending in jail for crack dealing.

Before incarceration, Wallace had rapped with some Brooklyn collectives and after leaving prison he made a tape under the name Biggie Smalls. The tape, we’re told, was promoted by New York DJ Mr. Cee who brought it to the attention to the editor of The Source magazine and before long the big boy was featured in a magazine story on unsigned rappers. The piece led to a demo recording, which soon landed on the desk of Puffy Coombs. Coombs signed Wallace to Uptown and he was quickly featured on “A Buncha Niggas” by Heavy D and the Boyz.

Record company politics meant Puffy left Uptown to start a new label and his protégé went with him, releasing his first Bad Boy single “Cruisin’” in 1992. Remixes on Mary J Blige saw Wallace enjoy chart action under the pseudonym The Notorious BIG and the success led to more remix projects and a number of important collaborations. In August 1994 Biggie married the ‘first lady of Bad Boy,’ Faith Evans after a whirlwind ten day romance and by way of a wedding present the man enjoyed his first real solo hit with “Juicy”. The single, was followed by the album “Ready To Die” and, as a product of the East Coast, its success laid challenge to the then-dominant rappers from the West Coast.

In August 1995 BIG’s protégés Junior MAFIA released their eventual gold LP “Conspiracy” - and the group’s singles “Players Anthem “ and “Get Money” (both featuring Wallace) achieved gold status too. After collaborative efforts with 112 and Total, the end of ’95 saw Biggie certified as the best selling solo R&B artist and a clutch of awards followed. Soon however, he, and by extension his label, became embroiled in a high profile feud with Los Angeles’s Death Row records and Tupac Shakur.

The fast-becoming-bitter feud interrupted the recording of Wallace’s second album and in March 1996 the rapper was arrested for misdemeanours and violence outside a top Manhattan club. Pleading guilty to “harassment”, his sentence was 100 hours community service, complicated by his arrest in ’96 for drug and weapon possession.

In June of that year, now-arch-rival Tupac upped the ante with the release of “Hit ‘Em Up” – a track that insinuated that Shakur had got it on with the estranged Faith Evans and that Biggie actually owed everything – artistically at least – to him.

In September ‘96 Shakur was killed in a shooting in Las Vegas and rumours of Biggie’s involvement were rife – and his ensuing demeanour did little to quell the gossip. Things then seemed to go from bad to worse. A car crash left Smalls with a shattered leg and in January ’97 he was ordered to pay damages after a ’95 concert dispute was settled against him. Assault charges were also filed, when, in March 1997, he travelled to California to promote his upcoming LP. Attending the Soul Train awards a section of the audience booed him, but the disrespect didn’t stop him heading off to the Vibe Magazine/ Qwest Records bash at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A.

The streets of L.A. were thronged and with just fifty yard of the journey left, a Chevrolet Impala drew up alongside Biggie’s GMC Suburban and the driver fired four bullets into the star’s chest. He was rushed to hospital but declared dead at 1.15 am. The rap world had been robbed of a unique talent and despite allegations, counter allegations and a million and one theories, the murder of Christopher Wallace still remains unresolved. All we have left is his music – a small catalogue certainly – but one that is precise and consistent … the greatest rap music ever? Time will tell.

NOTORIOUS BIG’S GREATEST HITS has just been released by Atlantic/Bad Boy

21. 05. 1972 - 09. 03. 1997
Words Bill Buckley

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