It's 21 years since The Notorious B.I.G.
was taken from us too soon. The lingering specter of Biggie Smalls still looms large across the east coast and beyond, such is the significance of the cultural mark he left during his short career. You might have seen posters for Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.
plastered all over the walls of subway stations - evidence that, even after all these years, the duo still have the public spellbound. Often you don't hear one mentioned without the other popping up in the discussion as well.
For a multitude of reasons, they're commonly regarded as a near-inseparable entity, but in reality they approached music in very different ways. Tupac's discography is extensive and, for all his searing lyricism and enduring appeal, bloated with filler. Biggie, on the other hand, was more selective with his output, releasing only two proper studio albums - his debut, Ready To Die
, and the posthumous Life After Death
. Other compilation albums have followed in the years since his passing, all selling in droves, but it's these first two records that established Biggie as one of the all-time greats. So, to remind us of The Notorious B.I.G.'s immense talent - not that many will need reminding - let's take a look back at some of his best tracks.
1. "Everyday Struggle"
"I don't wanna live no more / sometimes I hear death knockin' at my front door."
This bold declaration undercuts the airy intro and incites Biggie's narrative, as he explores the fearless psyche necessary to survive the day-to-day struggle of life as an NYC drug-dealing kingpin.
2. "Mo Money, Mo Problems"
"B-I-G P-O-P-P-A / No info for the DEA."
This track was Biggie's second #1 hit after his death, following on from "Hypnotize". It dislodged Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You", itself a tribute to the late rapper, from the #1 slot. This just goes to show Biggie's influence, still reigning supreme in the years after his passing.
3. "Who Shot Ya"
"Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete / Hard to creep them Brooklyn streets."
An incendiary track, interpreted as a diss toward 2pac, "Who Shot Ya" fueled the East/West coast rivalry and elicited a fiery response from Shakur in the form of "Hit ‘Em Up". The track sees Biggie at his most menacing, wielding all the power of his words over a cold, sparse beat.
"Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can't you see? / Sometimes your words just hypnotize me."
These two lines in the song's hook, interpolated from an old Slick Rick tune, pretty much sum it up. Biggie's first #1 single, released just weeks before his untimely death, remains one his most enduring tracks. With a beat as full-bodied as the man himself, Biggie flows over the wobbling bass with consummate ease.
"Super Nintendo, Sega Gensis / When I was dead broke, man, I couldn't picture this."
It's impossible to leave this one out really. "Juicy" was my introduction to Biggie, something that I'd imagine is true for lots of people. Released as his first single, "Juicy" is a victory lap for the Notorious B.I.G., charting his rags-to-riches journey to the top of the rap game. Not merely a celebration, the track serves to illuminate the talents that brought him to the top - remarkable lyricism and peerless wordplay.
On this anniversary, two of those closest to Biggie, ex-wife Faith Evans and close friend Diddy, have paid tribute to the late maestro on Instagram and Twitter respectively.