This 1994 Biggie Interview Shows How He Turned an Everyday Struggle Into Rap History

Nearly twenty years since his passing, the Notorious B.I.G. continues to inspire contemporary art, from music to television, and beyond. Just this month, Biggie served as the inspiration behind “Nobody,” a tribute song from rising Atlanta, Georgia spitter Nick Grant. Just a few days prior to its release, Mass Appeal broke the news that, in partnership with TBS and TNT,  the label has a scripted T.V. series based on lyrics pulled from B.I.G.’s seminal material is in the works. Tentatively titled Think B.I.G., it will focus on a New York City teenager, so it’s likely Biggie’s lyrics about his childhood and struggles as a young adult trying to carve a path for himself in the real and rough world will play a major role in the storyline’s development.

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The real-life tales of a young hustler’s ambition and the street-life mentality prominent in his native Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn neighborhood can be found in so much of Biggie’s music, it’s hard to think of any song that is not autobiographical. From his days dealing drugs to moving to the South, cutting classes and looking to party and bullshit, B.I.G.’s records offer listeners a snapshot of what his daily life was like in his youth, and in a 1994 interview with Interview magazine, he offered up even more anecdotes about his early years before he would go on to blow up and become one of history’s most adored Rap artists. The interview has been reprinted, giving Heads who have never read a Biggie interview the chance to read his words outside of the context of 16 bars.

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In title alone, it’s evident just how timely the 1994 interview was, in terms of B.I.G.’s career trajectory. “B.I.G.: Rap’s Next Big Thing” was conducted on the music-video set for Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear” remix when Biggie and Faith Evans were still newlyweds. Journalist Havelock Nelson described Biggie as “dressed entirely in black,” spending much of his time on set “hanging outside with his homeboys smoking blunts and lounging with his wife.” Ready to Die – which Nelson described as providing listeners with “straight-up reality” through the use “of rap theater pieces that run from the performer’s birth to a dramatization of his death, a symbolic suicide” – dropped just two months before this interview originally ran, so much of the world was still learning about the man behind the raps.

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Nelson asks B.I.G. to describe what a typical day in his life was before hitting it big in music. With his response, he paints a vivid image about what he and his crew would do to get by. “I was just on the corner, selling drugs with my niggas. I’d wake up around nine o’clock to catch the check-cashing place at nine-fifteen. The crackheads get checks from Social Security, and on Saturday they get all their welfare checks. And when they cash those in, they’ll usually want to buy drugs. So we’d be up early—as soon as they get their money, we’re going to be the first people they see,” he describes. Such a lifestyle led him to become “immune” to the frequent homicides in his neighborhood, with Biggie stating frankly “The only time hearing somebody got killed is a surprise to me is when it’s somebody I was close to. Then, I have mourning for them. But just to hear ‘blah-blah got smoked’ is nothing to me. It’s just average shit.”

Biggie offers up stories of life on Fulton Street, the main thoroughfare in his part of town, where businesses and hustlers shared real estate. It’s there where he says he was first turned on to the idea of making money, thanks to the drug dealers he saw who were “fly as hell.” “I knew niggas was gettin’ money, and I knew they were selling drugs,” he says. “[T]hey had $150 Ballys on and bubble gooses and sheepskins, and I was like, ‘Oh shit. These niggas just doin’ it.’ And then I heard about crack on the news and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what the niggas must be doing.'” Inspired to begin his own journey to wealth and status, he says he began “[s]natching pocketbooks and shit like that” and “catching somebody getting money out of the machines” at the banks. The considerable amount of money would eventually earn the attention of his next door neighbor, who he says told him “Yo, why don’t you take some of that money, and we’ll go to the corner and get our thing going,” and Biggie’s foray into selling crack had begun.

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Big also goes into his relationship with his mother, and how hiding his nefarious activity from her nearly got him kicked out of the house. However, as he told Nelson at the time, what really frightened her didn’t have anything to do with drugs. “My moms kept finding guns and stuff in my room and she was gettin’ more scared,” he shared. “My mom is from Jamaica and she was going to school in the morning, and in the evening she was working, and at night she would go to night school and then come in and go to sleep. So she would never watch the news and stuff like that and she didn’t know what crack was.” But as the true-to-life story goes, his mother would soon learn more than she wanted, and he got entangled with the law when he “got locked up bringing some weight from New York to North Carolina” when he was around 17-years-old.

Nelson asks Biggie to talk about his father, but that line of questioning proved to be short-lived. “Fuck that nigga. He jetted when I was two years old. Never heard from him since then,” he says. “The hustlers on the corner were my role models.” Shortly thereafter, however, the conversation turns to Biggie’s present and future, much of which began when he met Puffy. Of the day the two met, Biggie says “[M]and my DJ, 50 Grand, used to make tapes in the basement when we’d drink and get high”; “He let Mr. Cee, Big Daddy Kane’s DJ, hear it, and from Mr. Cee it went to The Source magazine, for an album they were putting out, featuring ‘Unsigned Hype’ shit.” Eventually, “the guy that organized that, Matty C, saw Puff and he asked him if he had some new niggas that had some hard shit. And Matt let him hear my shit. It all happened from there,” he says.

Heads can check out the vintage interview in full here.