As a teenager, I was really into grunge and alternative music, and rap and hip-hop were more “guilty pleasures”—I guess because high school conventions dictated that it wasn’t “cool” to like more than one style of music! (Trust me, nothing was worse than being called a “poser.”) But I couldn’t help loving rappers like The Notorious B.I.G. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Biggie began rapping as a teenager and would perform on the street with friends. He made a demo tape in 1991, which caught the attention of record producer Sean Combs (later Puff Daddy/P. Diddy). After the initial meeting of the two, Combs signed him to Uptown Records. When Combs was fired from Uptown shortly after that, Biggie followed him and joined his new Bad Boy Records label.
After making guest appearances on several songs, including Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Biggie released Ready to Die, which reached number 13 on the Billboard charts and eventually became certified platinum four times over. At that time, West Coast rappers dominated the scene, but Biggie’s album turned the spotlight back to the East Coast.
Drawing on his success to help his community, he developed a protégé group that recorded under the name Junior M.A.F.I.A. The group, composed of Biggie’s childhood friends, included now-famous rappers Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease. Biggie appeared on several Junior M.A.F.I.A. songs, and the group’s album Conspiracy went gold.
In 1995, Biggie began work on his second album. The album took a long time to come out due to legal problems and a growing rivalry with West Coast rappers, in particular Tupac Shakur. A car accident also shattered his left leg, leaving him temporarily in a wheelchair.
After being shot in a drive-by shooting in LA, Biggie died in March 1997, before his second album came out. His murder remains unsolved, and it’s still a point of contention in the rap community. The album Life After Death was released 16 days after he passed and immediately shot to number one on the Billboard charts. In 2000, the album was certified diamond, the highest RIAA certification ever awarded to a solo hip-hop album. Biggie’s lyrics on this album are autobiographical, like those on his first album, but some critics have described them as more mature and self-reflective.
Since Life After Death, two other Biggie albums have been released. The first was Born Again, which contained previously unreleased songs. Duets: The Final Chapter, Biggie’s last album, rose to the number three position on Billboard charts after its release in 2005.
More than 15 years after his death, Biggie is still known as one of the most talented rappers in history, and his name is practically synonymous with East Coast rap. His deep, thick voice is one of his trademarks. Critics have also praised his ability to smooth over multisyllabic rhymes without making them sound forced. As a rapper, he had a very intense, entrancing style that stood out from others. He composed meaningful lyrics that reflected on his experiences growing up in New York, his past as drug dealer, and his relationships, but he also made songs you could dance to—“Hypnotize” is proof of that.