It would be an understatement to say that everything in rap changed on March 9th, 1997. It was on that day, 20 years ago, just after midnight, where Christopher Wallace, a.k.a the Notorious B.I.G. – arguably the greatest rapper ever- was shot dead in the passenger seat of a green Chevy after leaving a Vibe party in L.A. Coupled with Tupac Shakur’s also unsolved murder six months prior, Biggie’s death changed the course of music history. As Nas once told Zane Lowe, “Biggie’s death marked the end of rap.”
With every year that passes, it becomes harder to trace the ripple effects of his death and it’s imminent impact and demise of music. His passing literally redirected the landscape of hip-hop. But to fully understand the impact, we must first take a look at the inception: Bad Boy Records.
Let’s be honest. Biggie was the ultimate franchise player for Bad Boy. One can allude to the fact that his death sent the label into an imminent crisis mode, forcing the label to push rising artists like the Lox to the forefront. While Puff, Bad Boy’s founder and producer was already transitioning into a recording career of his own with his debut album Hell Up In Harlem, after his death, it became No Way Out.
In 2014, Mase told GQ that “After Big died, we were searching to see who was gonna carry the torch. My verses on Puff’s first few singles from No Way Out were records I wrote… before I even got to the label. I gave them to Puff, because he was the one with the hot hand.”
Although brash and slightly forecful in nature, one could say that Puff’s rise to stardom was a direct result of Biggie’s absence. The Brooklyn emcee was credited as an executive producer of No Way Out in which he had already laid his parts for “It’s All About The Benjamins (Remix),” “Been Around The World,” the Jay Z-featured “Young G’s,” and “Victory,” before his death. And who could forget the Grammy winning No. 1 pop tribute “I’ll Be Misssing You” that made mourning Biggie a staple in music history for fans and profitible for Puff. Other than that, 1999 was a depressing year for the label, yielding no other releases outside of Mase’s Double Up and Biggie’s Born Again, leaving us to question if Biggie had lived, would Puff be the mega successful mogul that he is today? Or a modest shining star?
Bad Boy is only a microcosm of the larger issue at hand. To fully concpetulaize the greater impact that Biggie has left on Hip Hop would mean looking at the New York hip hop scene as a movement. In 1997, there seemed to be a battle of the wordsmiths with Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface, and Jeru the Damaja taking shots at the throne. Without mentioning names, Biggie addressed all critics on “Kick In The Door” and ” What’s Beef?” but none of his targets could respond as Life After Death dropped so prematurely. But if Biggie were alive, let’s just say that we would have more classic back-and-forth shots in our playlist; maybe an eventual Nas and Biggie diss track…
Since we are bringing up classic beefs, we have to mention Jay Z’s success as being donned the “King of NY” that he overtly claimed in 1997 with his hit single “City Is Mine.” Big joined forces with Jay Z as an integral proponent of the Commission – one of the greatest rap groups there ever was- alongside himself, Charli Baltimore, Lil Cease, Puff and Lance “Un” Rivera. It’s plausible to assume that Jay’s smooth witty delivery would have been trumped by Big’s gritty lyrcial content and enigmatic flow. Would they too have grappled for the throne?
The Notorious B.I.G.’s legacy may have looked different based on the landscape of music. His catalog is pretty flawless. He probably would have have dropped a mediocre project, but would he have been such a legend if his catalog featured some not so legendary tracks to balance out the greats?
It’s nearly impossibe to narrow down the ways in which hip-hop would be different. From the slew of mega superstars to the sound itself, we know for a fact that Biggie would have been an integral ingredient into the myriad of musical shifts, cultural moments and nostalgic memories that hip hop heads hold dear. One thing is certain: he had no intention of slowing down.
“I feel there are a few more dues to be paid on my part,” Biggie said. “I think there are a lot more lessons I need to learn, a lot more things I need to experience, a lot more places I need to go before I can finally say, okay, I’ve had my days… I want a lot more.”
Who knows what rapper will be the next to carry the torch, but what we do know is even 20 years later, Biggie is carrying it. Lighting up every heart that comes across his music.