20 Years Later Here Are So Many Things About Biggie Smalls You Didn’t Know
Twenty years ago today (March 9, 1997), Hip-Hop lost a true king when Biggie Smalls died. The MC also known as The Notorious B.I.G. had risen to form in less than five years, after making early appearances beside Heavy D, Mary J. Blige, and Super Cat. By the time Biggie released his first solo record, the Easy Mo Bee-produced “Party & Bulls**t” (from the Who’s The Man? soundtrack) it was clear that a special type of artist was arriving on the New York City Hip-Hop scene. 1994’s Ready To Die debut cemented that status as a classic, signaling a return for not only B.I.G.’s borough of Brooklyn, but hardcore East Coast Hip-Hop as a whole. With DJ Premier, Mo Bee, Lord Finesse and others behind him, Biggie was re-tooling the rugged sound for the charts, and bringing what he loved about Hip-Hop with him, to where he and Puff Daddy saw it going in the mid-’90s.
While much has been written and shared about B.I.G. over the years, there are still several priceless gems about who he was as an artist and man that are known to only a few. Today, in an outpouring of love and celebration of his life, some of Biggie’s closest friends and associates, including Mister Cee, Faith Evans, Styles P, Lil Cease, DJ Premier, Fat Joe and many more, share several things about B.I.G. that even his most ardent fans may not know.
Biggie Smalls Began As MC Quest
Rakim began as “Kid Wizard.” Tupac began as “MC New York.” As for Biggie, his Rap name before B.I.G. was “MC Quest.” Lil’ Cease confirmed the report in a HOT 97 retrospective, saying that name dated back to Biggie’s early ’80s days in grade school. “This was before B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls; I heard that was his name before.” The Junior M.A.F.I.A. band-mate also says “Fat Chris” was a popular, pre-deal nickname in Brooklyn. Cease learned Biggie’s passion and skills for rapping much later in life, through Mister Cee and DJ 50 Grand.
Ready To Die Was Not The Original Title Of Biggie’s Debut LP…
“A lot of people don’t know that Ready To Die wasn’t even the original title of the album. The original title of the album was gonna be The Teflon Don,” Mister Cee says at 5:30. “At that time, back in the ’90s, was when [head of the Gambino Crime Family] John Gotti was famous here in New York.” Cee co-executive produced Biggie’s ’94 debut. “Diddy kind of stepped in and was like ‘Naw, man. We can’t go with that title. We gotta cater to everybody…everybody around the country, everybody worldwide.” Puff Daddy reportedly helped Big develop the concept of coming from the streets, growing in fame stature, and being “ready to die.”
…However, Born Again Was Biggie’s Original Planned Title For A Third Album
In 1999, Bad Boy Records released Born Again. While it was clearly posthumously released, this #1 album features “Dead Wrong” and a host of high-profile collaborations. Although the title was a clear reference to the world’s mourning of Christopher Wallace, Biggie had a natural cohesive line of album titles and themes in mind, dating back to Ready To Die. “He wanted to do five albums. Like, Born Again was already a title that he already had before he passed. We didn’t think of that title [simply] after Life After Death.” Lil’ Cease told HOT 97 (20:00).
“Who Shot Ya?” Was Very Likely NOT Aimed At Tupac Shakur, But Someone Else
In 1995, Biggie Smalls released “Who Shot Ya?” Released in February, many (including Tupac) speculated that the B-side to the “Big Poppa” 12″ was aimed at Big’s friend, who was shot multiple times and robbed at New York City’s Quad Studios just months before. When that shooting transpired (which ‘Pac addressed on 1995’s “Against All Odds”), The Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, and others were at a session in the same facility. While the early, DJ S&S version featured Keith Murray, the released one did not.
B.I.G.’s DJ, producer, and close friend DJ Enuff says that the Brooklyn MC was actually dissing LL Cool J (10:50). “I think ‘Who Shot Ya’ was aimed at LL. I think…if I’m not mistaken. The reason? I don’t know. But as far as I know, Big never made a true [Tupac] diss record; there was never no intentions of him making a diss record. If he was, it was [only] thought about briefly. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you gotta understand Big had a lot of love for ‘Pac. And vice versa. By gathering this and [seeing beyond] 20 years, from what I know, there was talks of ‘Pac’s deading [beef] right before he died, and him coming to a space of, ‘We gotta stop this. We gotta come back to us being friends.’ I know, for sure, that was supposed to happen.” While Enuff says he does not know why Biggie may have taken a verbal swing at his “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)” collaborator, it should be noted that “I Shot Ya” (from late ’95’s Mr. Smith) would feature Murray too. L’s remix had ‘Pac adversary Prodigy, as well as Fat Joe and Foxy Brown on it. Lil’ Cease also agrees that Biggie never responded to ‘Pac’s disses (which started in late 1995, following “Who Shot Ya?” and his release from prison). Notably, it was DJ Enuff who produced the original version of “You’re Nobody Til’ Somebody Kills You.”
Between 1994 and the time of his death, one of the closest people to The Notorious B.I.G. was Faith Evans. Big’s lover, his wife, his collaborator, mother of his children, and companion, she watched Chris Wallace ascend from a respected MC to a true superstar of music. Faith tells The Breakfast Club that she was present for so many studio sessions in those days, waiting for Biggie to lay down vocals. She says not everything she remembers is out. Specifically, Faith (who has her own King & I collaboration coming with Biggie), recalls a Special Ed tandem that’s never leaked. That pairs two giants of Brooklyn together. “I don’t know if that ever came out.”
As an aside, Ed (who was part of the first iteration of the Crooklyn Dodgers) recorded his third LP, 1995’s Revelations, in a lot of the studios Biggie used…including Quad, D&D, and PowerPlay. “There are a few unheard Big vocals,” Faith said at 8:00. “When I first met Big, I used to drive him around to do all sorts of verses for people. I don’t recall hearing all of them.” She says there are unheard reference tracks for Kim and the Mafia. Besides Ed, she alludes to others.
Fat Joe & Biggie Smalls Worked On A Collaboration Album
Fat Joe met Biggie at the Lyricist Lounge around 1993. The Bronx MC and the Brooklyn MC became fast friends. Joe Crack tells HOT 97 that bigger plans were in the works. “You know we started making a Fat Joe [and] Big album. We did like four songs in. To be honest with you, at the time, he was really going hard. It was like…it wasn’t almost like, it was dissin‘ Tupac!” Joe’s music with Biggie has apparently not released, and contradicts some earlier reports. “It was like Fat Joe and Biggie just blacking out, going crazy, on some New York [Rap]. He passed away, so that was the end of that.” Ironically, Joe is one of the MCs said to be recruited by Tupac for One Nation, although he did not reportedly record.
Mister Cee’s Tutelage Helped Make Biggie Great
DJ Premier appeared on The Breakfast Club this morning. He recalled how Gang Starr relocated from The Bronx to Brooklyn around 1991 (Guru and DJ Premier lived in Branford Marsalis’ brownstone home while the Jazz great toured). There, they met nearby Biggie, who was a fan of Gang Starr. He started hanging (casually drinking, smoking and rapping) with a collective that also included Group Home, GZA, RZA, Cypress Hill, Blahzay Blahzay, Masta Killa, Jeru The Damaja and others. Preemo says that between this time and “Party & Bullsh*t,” Biggie advanced lyrically, thanks to his DJ/producer/and mentor. “I gotta give Mister Cee the credit, man,” he says at 19:00. “Mister Cee lived down the block from us. He used to always, really annoy me about ‘Biggie Smalls, Biggie Smalls…’ [I told him], ‘I’m gonna listen to it, I’m gonna listen to it…’ He would give me these cassettes. I would just never listen to it. I was kinda [preoccupied]. He’d see me again [and bug me more]. That’s why he does deserve a lot of credit for Big. He kept pushing him and pushing him. One day I finally heard the demo, and then we met Big. Once we met him, he wasn’t laid back then; he was the hyper voice. This is before [‘Party & Bullsh*t’].”
The Jeru The Damaja & Biggie Smalls Drama Is Different Than Some May Think
Preemo also discusses how Jeru dissed Biggie on 1996’s “One Day,” which strained the relationship the “Unbelievable” producer had with the MC for a short time. ‘Ru and Biggie were onetime friends prior though. “We had a heated discussion,” Preemo says. “The main discussion was between Puff’ and Jeru,” he says of Big’s employer and Gang Starr’s then-star pupil. “Ya Playin’ Yaself,” which used the same sample as Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Players Anthem” further caused a rift between the two MCs. “10 Crack Commandments” began as a ‘Ru-rapping promo for The Angie Martinez Show on HOT 97. Puff Daddy heard it and requested the track, which Big rocked on Life After Death (later prompting a Public Enemy/Chuck D lawsuit).
Biggie Wanted To Sign N.O.R.E. and Cam’ron
While The Notorious B.I.G. and manager Lance “Un” Rivera worked with Big Beat/Atlantic (through Undeas Entertainment) for Junior M.A.F.I.A., there were more artists to be added. Cease says, at 21:20, “He was already trying to venture out and do projects for us: my [The Wonderful World of Cease A Leo], Lil’ Kim’s [Hard Core], Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s [Conspiracy]. He was trying to sign Charli Baltimore, he was gonna sign [Cam’ron]. He was gonna sign N.O.R.E. So Big was really trying to get to that mogul [space].” Undeas would later sign and release music from Cam’ and Charli.
#BonusBeat: Recognizing one of Hip-Hop’s most meaningful anniversaries, J. Period has curated a “DJ Pack” remix edition of March 9. Pulling highlights from the trilogy, the DJ/producer made this 20-track version available for free download. As he tells Ambrosia For Heads, these are “Notorious B.I.G. classics remixed for club, radio and mixtape DJs… and die-hard Biggie fans everywhere.”
1. Another/Dreamin [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
2. Benjamins/Things You Do [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
3. Big Poppa / Xxplosive [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
4. Carmina Hates Victory [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
5. Flava in Ya Ear/PSA [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
6. Goin Back to Cali (3 Strikes) [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
7. Hypnotize/Coldcut [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
8. Spread Love (Juicy) [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
9. In the Limelight (Juicy) [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
10. Long Kiss Menace [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
11. Niggaz Bleed/Compton’s Most [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
12. In The System feat. Jay Electronica [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Exclusive)
13. Three More Chances [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
14. One More Chance in the Club [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Clean)
15. Queen B Inna Dancehall [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
16. Sky’s The Limit [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
17. You Be Thinkin (8 Bar Intro) [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
18. Youngs Compton Gs [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
19. Put Your Notorious Hands [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
20. Spit Yo Game/Hip Hop [J.PERIOD MARCH 9 REMIX] (Dirty)
As an added bonus, J. Period’s March 9, Volume 3 mix for stream:
The streams to all parts of J. Period’s March 9 Biggie tribute trilogy series is available at his site.