In high school, there was always that one person you were in love with who didn't love you back, that one teacher who made you believe the sky’s the limit (Shout out to Mr. Reeves!), and that one musician who you worshiped so hard because he or she read could your mind like NO ONE ELSE.
For me, that musician was Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie. He would've been 41 years old today — just a few months older than Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Sofia Vergara and Gwyneth Paltrow. I adore Biggie because he had one of the best rap flows (Sorry, Kendrick!), which went hand in hand with his raw, powerful lyrics and P. Diddy-produced beats. He’s the rare rapper whose music is timeless. I listen to it with as much ardor today as I did back in the day.
On March 9, 1997, he died at 24 years old, due to an issue that’s still prevalent in our society 16 years later: gun violence. Biggie was murdered during a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. There’s been a lot of speculation on who killed Biggie, and the biggest question remains unanswered: Was it related to his rivalry with Tupac Shakur? To this day, his murder case remains unsolved. However, his legacy clearly lives on.
Sixteen days after Biggie’s death, his album Life After Death hit No. 1 on the charts, and he’s released two more albums posthumously, Born Again and Duets: The Final Chapter. In 2009, “Notorious,” a (not so great) biopic of his life was released. An upcoming cartoon is in the works too, which I hope is waaaay better than the film. It’s titled “House of Wallace,” and will feature the voices of his children, Tionna, 19, and C.J., 16. And let’s not forget all the Biggie swag. T-shirts emblazoned with his face are sold at Urban Outfitters. Want a Biggie iPhone case or tote bag? Of course they exist.
Photo: Biggie Smalls is the illest! (Urban Outfitters)
I always wonder: If Biggie were alive, would he still be making groundbreaking music like his former classmate Jay-Z? Or would he have taken a long sabbatical from music like Dr. Dre? Perhaps he’d have left the scene entirely a la Ma$e? Bottom line, though: He made a lasting impression on my life and those of many others.
+ Big’s Songs Are Hauntingly Honest
Photo: This image is totally my Facebook cover photo. (HipHopWired.com)
In his debut and most critically acclaimed album, Ready To Die, Biggie rapped about struggling with depression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. The main chorus of “Everyday Struggle” includes the refrain, “I don't wanna live no more/ Sometimes I hear death knocking on my front door.” He was open with his emotions at a time in rap when it was all bragging about women, drugs, violence and money (Which to be fair, Biggie also rapped about.) In “Suicidal Thoughts,” Big confessed, “The stress is building up/ I can't, I can't believe suicide's on my f*cking mind.” While these songs sound incredibly bleak, they were honest and raw. As a high school student who struggled with depression, I felt less alone when I listened to his music. However, it’s important to note that if you or someone you know is feeling hopeless about life, listening to music shouldn't be your only therapy. Please check out Half of Us for resources on how to get help.
+ His Songs Are Inspiring. Really.
Photo: Biggie loved rocking Coogi sweaters and other bright prints like this one. (Getty)
On the more up side of things, Biggie also made Oprah-like inspiring songs. In his classic hit “Juicy,” he talks about changing his life from “negative to positive.” The main chorus has the infectious line, “You know very well who you are/ Don't let ‘em hold you down/ Reach for the stars,” And let’s not forget that Biggie made this saying popular, “Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way.” In “Sky’s The Limit,” Big’s song with R&B group 112, he talks about getting bullied for being poor, and he raps such words of wisdom as, “Stay far from timid/ Only make moves when ya heart's in it/ And live the phrase sky's the limit,” Seriously, guys, Biggie has more inspiring words than Rachel Roy’s Instagram.
+ Biggie Loved His Fam
Photo: Biggie and one of his muses, his mom, Violetta. (Getty)
Before Kanye’s admiration for Donda, there was Biggie’s immense love for his mom, Violetta Wallace. He often mentioned his mom, a preschool teacher, in his songs — when she was proud of him, the times he thought she disapproved of him. He also rapped about providing for and loving his children and being the best dad he could be. At a time when it wasn't cool to rap about your mom, Biggie totally geeked out on his mama and other relatives.
I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs on Biggie, but I’ll stop now so we can celebrate his life. Check out the action widgets below so you can spread love, the Biggie way.