Considéré par beaucoup comme l’un des plus grands rappeurs de tous les temps, The Notorious B.I.G. – né le 21 mai 1972 à New York – a été une figure importante à la fois de la scène rap hardcore et de la scène pop des années des 1990 jusqu’à son assassinat en 1997 alors qu’il n’avait que 24 ans. Ses hits, tous placés N°1, comme Hypnotize, Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems, One More Chance (Stay with Me Remix) ou encore Big Poppa et Juicy, l’ont rendu particulièrement célèbre…
Outre ses hits qui ont dépassé le stricte cadre du rap, Biggie est connu pour ses innovations en matière des lyrics multisyllabiques et ses techniques de story-telling, découverts par beaucoup sur des titres parfois critiqué comme Warning, Suicidal Thoughts, Ten Crack Commandments, I Got A Story To Tell, ou encore Gimme The Loot.
Adolescent, le natif de Brooklyn Christopher George Latore Wallace a commencé à rapper sous le pseudo de Biggie Smalls, du nom d’un personnage de gangster de la comédie d’action de 1975, Let’s Do It Again. IL avait enregistré une démo avec le Dj de son quartier de Bed-Stuy, Dj 50 Grand, qui a attiré l’attention de Mister Cee, qui était connu pour être le Dj de Big Daddy Kane. Cee a fait tourner la démo dans l’industrie, lui permettant de se retrouver dans les colonnes de la rubrique Unsigned Hype du magazine influent à l’époque, The Source, dans son édition de mars 1992. Sean “Puffy” Combs, qui était alors un DA plein de succès, avait aussi pris connaissance de la démo, et a signé Biggie sur le label Uptown Records.
Biggie’s first commercially released recording was an uncredited verse on Puffy’s remix of Jamaican dancehall star Super Cat’s 1992 track “Dolly My Baby.” He followed it up with appearances on tracks by Uptown artists like Heavy D & The Boyz and Mary J. Blige. His first solo single, 1993’s “Party & Bullshit,” appeared on Uptown’s soundtrack for the comedy Who’s The Man. The song was released under the name “Big”—a Los Angeles rapper named “Biggy Smallz” was already signed to MCA Records, preventing Biggie from using his original name.
In mid-1993, Puffy left Uptown and brought Biggie with him as a founding artist of his new label Bad Boy Records. He changed his official name to “The Notorious B.I.G.” as he began to prepare his debut album. His appearance on labelmate Craig Mack’s 1994 hit “Flavor In Ya Ear (Remix)” established him as one of hip-hop’s hottest rising stars. During this period, he married singer Faith Evans, another aspiring Bad Boy star. His 1994 debut single “Juicy” and album Ready To Die, released in the fall of 1994, received critical acclaim.
In early 1995, Biggie’s second Ready To Die single “Big Poppa” became a major success, garnering heavy rotation on MTV and hitting #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100. His next single, a remix of “One More Chance,” went to #2. The Source dubbed him “The King of New York.”
Over the next three years, Biggie played a central role in making Bad Boy Records a dominant force in hip-hop and R&B music, appearing on hits with Total, 112, Ma$e, The Lox, and Puff Daddy. Big also developed his own group of friends from his neighborhood, Junior M.A.F.I.A., who released two top 20 hits and a gold-selling album in 1995. The group spawned hitmaker Lil’ Kim.
In 1996, former friend and collaborator 2Pac released “Hit Em Up,” a scathing diss track about Biggie. ’Pac believed Big and Bad Boy were responsible for his 1994 robbery and shooting in NYC, a theory aided by Biggie’s suspiciously titled track “Who Shot Ya?” Big never explicitly responded, although many fans believe his late work is filled with subliminals about ’Pac, who was killed in September 1996. His murder remains unsolved.
Biggie spent most of 1996 recording his second album and recovering from a car accident that seriously injured his leg. Biggie filmed a video for the album’s first single, “Hypnotize,” in Los Angeles in February 1997. A month later, after attending a music industry party in L.A., Biggie was gunned down in a car with three longtime friends while stopped at a red light. He was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead 30 minutes later. His murder remains unsolved.
A week after his death, “Hypnotize” became Biggie’s first #1 pop hit, and his double album Life After Death was released to widespread acclaim and platinum sales. The album’s second single, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” also went #1. In the year 2000, Life After Death was certified diamond by the R.I.A.A. for selling 10 million copies. The massive critical and commercial success of Life After Death solidified Biggie’s legacy as an icon.
Puff Daddy, who released his debut album No Way Out in the summer of 1997, hit #1 on the pop charts with his Biggie tribute “I’ll Be Missing You.” Bad Boy continued to have waves of success for over 20 years, during which time they released several posthumous Biggie albums, including 1999’s Born Again, 2005’s Duets: The Final Chapter, and 2017’s The King & I (with Faith Evans). In 2009, Fox released a biopic, Notorious, directed by George Tillerson, Jr, and produced by Puff Daddy and Big’s former managers.
Biggie has remained a fixture in pop culture and an influence on generations of rappers and songwriters.