Notorious B.I.G. Biography

Forever linked in death as icons of East and West Coast rap, respectively, the Notorious B.I.G. and his former friend, Tupac Shakur, were the finest gangsta rappers ever to pick up microphones. Their unsolved murders roughly six months apart offer a sobering glimpse into lives lived on mean streets and the glittering, but violent world of hip-hop. The rapper destined to become internationally known as the Notorious B.I.G. was born Christopher George Latore Wallace on May 21, 1972, in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn to mother Voletta, a Jamaican who became a naturalized American citizen, and George Latore, a Jamaican born businessman who left the family before the child turned two. The child only saw the man once again when he was six and was raised by a single mother who worked two jobs to support the family. Voletta Wallace moved into a nice third-floor apartment on 226 St. James Place in Clinton Hill just a ten minute walk to Bedford-Stuyvesant, the most dangerous and drug-infested section of Brooklyn. Nicknamed "Big" as a kid because of his intimidating size, he inherited Voletta's work ethic and by 11 was bagging groceries at a local food market. "Biggie" realized early the overarching importance money played in escaping the ghetto and saw rapping as the ultimate vehicle by which he could earn lots of it in a hurry. While telling everyone within earshot that he was one day going to be a rap star, the teen began selling $5 and $10 bags of pot on the streets of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy. In a series of personal contradictions which would only add to Biggie's mystique, the young pusher was an excellent student at a private Catholic high school as well as a Big Brother volunteer, but dropped out after his junior year to make instant money on the streets. Shortly after leaving school, the 17 year old was arrested for selling crack while visiting friends in North Carolina and served nine months (accounts vary to as little as three days) in jail waiting to make bail. Biggie, already known in parts of Brooklyn for rapping his own rhymes of hard-scrabble times on inner city streets, began taking his music seriously upon his release. Gifted with a husky voice and an imposing physical presence (standing 6'3" and weighing 390 pounds), he began recording his gangsta raps in a friend's home studio under the name of Quest in early 1992, and performed with local acts OGB (Old Gold Brothers) and the Techniques. The homemade four-track tapes, circulated on the streets of Brooklyn and sold in area record shops, made the rapper a celebrity in the 'hood and brought him to the attention of Mr. Cee, a local DJ. Mr. Cee (unrelated to the San Francisco rapper in this book) knew talent when he heard it, and gave the tapes to The Source, a hip-hop magazine which featured a column on new unsigned artists. A favorable review of the tape and a photo of Biggie appeared in the March 1992 issue where it was seen by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, an ambitious young producer at Uptown Records who was always on the lookout for fresh talent. According to hip-hop legend, Combs tracked Biggie down on the streets of Brooklyn and told the rapper that he could make him rich, just the words Biggie wanted to hear. (At the time of his death, the rapper earned $65,000 a show). Combs signed his new find to Uptown Records and immediately dropped the monicker Quest in favor of "Biggie Smalls," a name based on a character in the 1974 film Uptown Saturday Night starring Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Later, they dropped Biggie Smalls in favor of Notorious B.I.G. to avoid confusion with another rapper of the same name in California. A shrewd promoter of image and talent, Combs decided to capitalize on his new acquisition's rough appearance by marketing him as gangsta rap's first "mob don" and often outfitted Biggie in striped tailored suits and brimmed "playa" hats. Combs had nearly completed work on Biggie's first album when he was fired from Uptown Records by its CEO, Andre Harrell, over a dispute. Unwisely, Uptown also let go of Biggie. The sacking proved a blessing for both men. Combs scored a $15 million distribution deal with Arista Records that allowed the creative entrepreneur to take the label Uptown had started for him, Bad Boy Records, to the next level. On September 13, 1994, the Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album, Ready to Die, was released to universal acclaim. Generally credited with reinvent - ing East Coast gangsta rap, Biggie emerged as a powerful storyteller whose tales of life on the streets instantly connected with listeners. The album yielded two number one double platinum singles ("Big Poppa" and "One More Chance") and sold over four million copies. "One More Chance" was selected as Billboard's Rap Single of the Year and Biggie was also honored by the organization as Best Rap Artist of the Year. Ready to Die made Biggie a rap superstar and Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment a key player in a field once almost exclusively dominated by Marion "Suge" Knight, the mercurial CEO of Death Row Records who would soon sign his own rap superstar, Tupac Shakur entry). Biggie opened for 2Pac when the West Coast rapper performed in New York City and the men respected and liked one another. This was destined to change, however, on November 30, 1994 in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in downtown Manhattan. 2Pac was shot several times during a robbery and suspected that Combs, Biggie, and Andre Harrell, all upstairs in the recording studio at the time of the shooting, had set him up (an allegation all denied). This suspicion festered during the time 2Pac was in prison on a sex abuse conviction and was fully articulated after Knight posted a $1.4 million bond to free the rapper on October 12, 1995, and signed him to Death Row Records. As Biggie's reputation in the violent drug-fuelled world of gangsta rap grew so did his rap sheet. In June 1995, the rapper was arrested and charged with robbery and assault after his entourage beat down Nathaniel Banks, a 31-yearold music promoter, in Camden, New Jersey. Biggie became enraged with Banks after trying to collect the balance of a performance fee for a cancelled show and allegedly broke the man's jaw. The rapper was cleared of the robbery charge, but in January 1997 a jury in a Camden, New Jersey civil trial ordered him to pay Banks $41,700 in damages and medical bills. Around 4:30 A.M. on March 23, 1996, two fans approached Biggie for an autograph outside the Palladium nightclub in Manhattan. Words were exchanged and the two men drove off in a cab with the rapper and his friend Damien Butler, 23, in hot pursuit. When the cab stopped for a light at Union Square West and 16th Street, Biggie and Butler jumped out of their car and smashed in the taxi's windows with baseball bats. Both men were arrested for assault, but after pleading out to criminal mischief and fourth-degree harassment were only ordered to perform one hundred hours of community ser - vice. On July 23, 1996, Biggie was arrested on weapons and drug charges after police raided his condo in Teaneck, New Jersey and found a Tec- 9 pistol with one thirty-round clip, two guns with laser-targeting devices, hollow point bullets, and nearly fifty grams of marijuana. The serial numbers on the guns had been abraded, a common practice employed in the sale and purchase of illegal firearms. In all, the raid netted seven members of Biggie's rap group, the Junior M.A.F.I.A., all of whom were charged with possession of marijuana. Biggie posted bond and was given a court date. Finally, on September 15, 1996 an anonymous tip led to the arrest of Biggie and two associates caught smoking marijuana in his parked luxury car in Brooklyn. The trio was charged with drug possession and each released on their own recognizance. Biggie, however, would be dead before the case came to trial. In the midst of his swirl of arrests and court dates, the then 20-year-old fathered a daughter (T'Yanna) with a young woman from his old Clinton Hill neighborhood, but elected not to marry her. On August 31, 1995, he met fellowlabel mate and singer Faith Evans during a midtown Manhattan photo shoot for Bad Boy Entertainment. The attraction was instant and they married eight days later on September 8, 1995. The troubled union produced one son (Christopher Jordan), and they separated 18 months later. During their ongoing estrangement, Biggie was linked with several women and made no attempt to hide his relationship with Lil' Kim, a member of his group the Junior M.A.F.I.A. With 2Pac now out of prison thanks to Death Row Records and still fuming over his belief Combs and Biggie were behind his near murder, the rapper ratcheted up the tensions between the East Coast (Bad Boy Entertainment) and the West Coast (Death Row Records). In his June 1996 single "Hit 'Em Up," 2Pac bragged about having had sex with Faith Evans and threatened his former friend. Biggie responded in kind in his single, "Who Shot Ya," by suggesting that 2Pac accidentally and ineptly shot himself during the robbery with the gun he kept in his waistband. The tension between the posses of Biggie and 2Pac escalated throughout 1996 and 1997 in various awards shows entry on Tupac Shakur) culminating in what many observers of the so-called "rap war" believe was the sanctioned hit of 2Pac in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996. 2Pac died six days later on September 13, 1996. Both Biggie and Sean Combs denied any involvement in the murder, but acknowledged tensions between the two camps were at an all time high. In numerous interviews Biggie expressed concern for his safety not only due to possible retaliation for 2Pac's killing, but also because he was a high profile celebrity. During February 1997, Biggie and Combs stayed in Los Angeles to take advantage of the city's superior production facilities in order to film videos for the rapper's long anticipated second album, Life After Death, set for release on March 25, 1997. In a radio interview conducted three days before his death, the rapper told listeners that he loved California and wanted no trouble with anyone in the city. On the evening of March 7, 1997, Biggie was a presenter at the eleventh annual Soul Train Music Awards at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium and Expo Center. Onstage, his voice was drowned out by boos from a hostile group of Bloods who flashed West Coast gang signs from their position in the upper balcony. The rapper put up a brave front, but left the show imme - diately and watched the remainder of it on television in the safety of his suite in the Westwood Marquis. The next night, March 8, Biggie and Combs attended the by invitation only postawards party thrown by Vibe (a popular hip-hop magazine) at the Petersen Automotive Museum at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard near Hollywood. They arrived with their entourage in rented Chevy Suburbans around 9:00 P.M., too late to find parking in the garage, and were forced to park on Fairfax Avenue one block from the facility. The party, attended by some 2,000 industry insiders and hip-hop royalty, was shut down by fire marshalls due to over capacity at 12:35 A.M. Biggie and Combs discussed going to another party as they walked back to their parked cars on Fairfax. Biggie piled into the green Suburban's front passenger seat next to his driver-bodyguard with Lil' Ceasar, Damien Butler, and Groovy Luv sitting in the back. They fell in behind Combs' white Suburban containing his driver and three bodyguards. A black Chevy Blazer filled with off-duty officers from the Inglewood Police Department brought up the rear. As the motorcade stopped for a light on Fairfax some one hundred yards from the driveway entrance to the Petersen Automotive Museum, a dark sedan (possibly a Chevrolet Impala Super Sport) pulled up along the passenger side of the SUV carrying Biggie. The car's driver, a black man in his early twenties wearing a dress shirt and bow tie, pulled a 9mm handgun and sprayed the vehicle with bullets. Of the five individuals in the Suburban, only the rapper was hit clearly marking him as the target of a professional hit. The dark sedan sped off chased by the Chevy Blazer containing the off-duty police bodyguards hired for the occasion. The hitman, however, quickly lost the pursuit car and the trained police officers were unable to even record a partial plate leading to some speculate as to their possible involvement in the hit. Combs jumped out of his white Suburban lead car and rushed back to his friend. The Notorious B.I.G. was slumped against the dashboard bleeding through his jacket from seven shots to this massive chest. Unable to extricate Biggie from the car because of his size, Combs and his driver, Kenneth Story, jumped in the car and floorboarded it to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center some two miles away. At the hospital's emergency entrance, it took six people to place the nearly 400 pound rapper onto a gurney. As Combs and the rest of Biggie's entourage fell to their knees and prayed, the Notorious B.I.G. was pronounced dead at 1:15 A.M. In the aftermath of the deadly attack specula - tion was rampant that the hit was payback for the murder of 2Pac, a form of perverse "tit for tat" engineered by Death Row CEO Marion "Suge" Knight against Bad Boy mogul Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Knight vehemently denied the charge and it was never proven that anyone connected with Death Row was in any way involved in Biggie's execution. Like 2Pac's murder, as well as most other killings in the world of rap, the official investigation was hampered by the unwillingness of potential witnesses to step forward and share their information with police. The murders of rap's two biggest stars, however, did accomplish a rapprochement of sorts between factions of the East and West Coast. Days after Biggie's death, representatives of the East and West coast including Snoop Doggy Dogg and Chuck D. met in Chi - cago at a rap summit sponsored by the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan. Both sides pledged support for a unity pact that would include a joint peace tour and an album. On March 12, 1997, Biggie's body was flown from Los Angeles to New York in preparation for a memorial and motorcade through his beloved neighborhood of Clinton Hill which he had steadfastly supported through charitable contributions since first tasting success. On the morning of March 18, nine days after the murder, the rapper lay in state in an open oversized $15,000 mahogany casket at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on New York City's Upper Eastside. True to his "rap don" image, Biggie was laid out in a color-coordinated white double-breasted suit, silk shirt and tie, and derbylike "playa" hat. The hour-long service was attended by 350 invited guests among them fellow-rap stars Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, Mary J. Blige, and Lil' Kim and fellow Junior M.A.F.I.A. members. Mother Voletta Wallace read biblical scriptures and estranged wife Faith Evans sang "Walk with Me, Lord." Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs performed the eulogy. Following the emotional service, a motorcade of twenty black stretch limos led by the hearse containing the rapper and two flower cars slowly rolled past police in riot gear and thousands of fans lining the streets of Brooklyn chanting "B-I-G Forever." The rapper's music blared from car radios, ghetto blasters, and storefront loudspeakers, while on the doorstep outside his former home at 226 St. James Place in Clinton Hill neighbors and fans had erected makeshift shrines comprised of photos, flowers, dollar bills, and booze bottles. The procession was remarkably peaceful until it moved past the residence and a scuffle broke out between police and mourners. In the ensuing confrontation, ten were arrested and four police officers and two civilians were briefly hospitalized for pepper spray burns. Biggie's body was taken to the Fresh Ponds Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, where it was cremated and the ashes given to his mother. Al - though the rapper signed divorce papers ending his ill-conceived marriage to Faith Evans, the document was never filed and by default she was left the lion's share of his considerable estate. To her credit, Evans voluntarily split the estate with Voletta Wallace in recognition of Biggie's devotion to his mother who continues to press authorities to find the person(s) responsible for her only child's murder. To date, no arrests have been made. Seventeen days after being gunned down on the streets of Los Angeles at the age of 24, Biggie's second album, a two-disc set entitled Life After Death, was released on March 25, 1997 and immediately soldout. An ambitious combination of gangsta rap and pop songs heavily influenced by its producer Sean Combs, the 24 track album featured Biggie on its cover leaning against a hearse. The album yielded three hit singles ("Mo Money Mo Problems," "Hypnotize," "Sky's the Limit") and sold eight million units. On December 7, 1999, nearly three years after his death, the album Born Again was released featuring unreleased rhymes rapped by Biggie supported by guest performers including Busta Rhymes, Method Man, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg. Produced by Combs, the "outro" consists of a touching reminiscence of her son by Voletta Wallace. To date, Biggie has been the subject of two films of note-a documentary and a theatrical motion picture. Director Nick Broomfield's 2002 documentary, Biggie and Tupac, is based on Randall Sullivan's book LAby - rinth and suggests that corrupt LAPD officers involved with "Suge" Knight's Death Row Rec ords were responsible for the rapper's murder. In the well reviewed 2009 film Notorious, Biggie was played by Jamaal Woolard (better known as the rapper Gravy).

Tags: USA, Rapper, 1970-1979