Last Sunday marked the would-be 45th birthday of immensely influential Brooklyn-born hip-hop artist, Christopher Wallace, otherwise known as Biggie Smalls or perhaps most fittingly, The Notorious B.I.G. Born May 21st, 1972, Biggie’s promising career lamentably ended after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds by an unknown assailant just two months before his 24th birthday. Though his life was unfairly cut short, he still remains one of the greatest, and most successful rappers of all time.
One of the best ways an artist can achieve recognition for their music is through the popularity of the hits they produce, and Biggie certainly has his fair share. Though he only ever officially put out two full length studio albums, he consistently released songs that climbed the hip-hop and top 100 charts. With two songs reaching number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart, more than 30 million record sales worldwide, and both of his albums certified at least 4X platinum, the broke kid from Bed-Stuy definitely reached the limelight of the music industry. And while his music towered in the mid-‘90s, even today, Biggie can boast 900,000,000 total streams on Spotify and 5.5 million monthly listeners that overtake icons such as David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Whitney Houston.
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But perhaps the best metric of Biggie’s success is his style that he bestowed on the rap genre. Though his last recorded song was released more than twenty years ago on March 8th, 1997, his sound and character remains indelible in even today’s constantly changing rap genre. No matter who you talk to, even Frank from accounting could spit the first few lines of the chorus of “Big Poppa” from Big’s, Ready to Die album.
B.I.G.’s most acclaimed contribution to the hip-hop genre has to be his prowess for lyricism and flow. While many rappers spit formulaic couplet punchlines, Biggie effortlessly delved deep into complex narrative stories with silky smooth rhymes and crystal clear delivery. His flow was so polished that his bars didn’t even sound like bars. His lyrics would incorporate colorful metaphors with intricate double, and sometimes triple-entendres. Big’s eloquence and lyrics are so succinctly intelligent that he seems to always make his bars long enough to cover the subject material, but short enough to keep things interesting. By combining heavily syncopated rhymes, assonance, alliteration and internal rhyming, Biggie could tell a clear story full of puns and figurative language without having the lyrics feel forced.
One example of Biggie’s effortless flow can be found in the song “Juicy”. The third verse starts with, “Super Nintendo, Sega genesis/ When I was dead broke, man, I couldn’t picture this/ 50-inch screen, money-green leather sofa/ Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur.” Though these bars are just a piece of the song, his smooth unforced rhymes tell the story of upward mobility and his relatable struggle to make it to the top. Lyrically, the last two lines in the excerpt incorporate an internal rhyme and an oblique rhyme. He rhymes “screen” and “green” and also “sofa” and “chauffeur”. Biggie definitely has a comfortable, natural rhythm that weaves into his narratives which demands the listener’s attention and holds it for the entirety of the song.
While the Notorious B.I.G. was certainly a big person standing 6’2” and weighing around 300 pounds, he was an even bigger cultural icon, serving as a defining voice for a generation of hip-hop artists. His talent and capabilities transcended him from Brooklyn gangbanger to millionaire and a top contender in the music industry. Big will always belong as an important part of rap history and he will continue to remain as one of the greatest rappers of all time.
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