Celebrating the life and rhymes of Biggie Smalls
This week, we're celebrating the life of the late, great Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G., who died fifteen years ago this week. One of hip-hop's most important teachers, Biggie Smalls, as he was affectionately known, empowered corner boys everywhere to tell the story of their struggle through eloquently violent rhymes. A highly beloved figure, Biggie was gunned down on March 9, 1997, following a highly publicized East Coast/West Coast rivalry. We all know the story, and over the course of the week, we'll study the rhymes of one of the greatest in the game. Brooklyn, stand up.
Fifteen years ago this week, the game lost a legend.
"Juicy," the standout single from Biggie's debut album, Ready to Die set the tone for his intricate and descriptive storytelling. Employing the sample from Mtume's "Juicy Fruit," Big details his life of poverty and living in the crime-stricken neighborhood of Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy.
The song is credited as co-produced by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, Big's longtime mentor, producer and friend, but Pete Rock, one of hip-hop's greatest producers, fights to the end that he, in fact, produced the song and that the track style was stolen from him after he played it for Puff and company in his basement.
Regardless, the track is timeless, classic and many hip-hop heads maintain that it's one of the greatest joints of all time. Notorious BIG spoke on current events, the reality in his rags-to-riches story, and chronicled some of the most important figures in hip-hop with his verses. Here, we dissect some of the lyrics to "Juicy." Check the rhyme:
"Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl"
Mr. Magic hosted the first ever rap program to air on mainstream radio with his Rap Attack segment. When Magic died in 2009, DJ Premier hailed him as one of the most important figures in rap.
Biggie takes aim at hip-hop ridicule with the line, "Remember Rappin' Duke, duh-ha, duh-ha/You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far..." Rappin Duke was a parody rap song out in 1984 that poked fun at the rapping braggadocious style. This line re-affirms Big's commitment to hip-hop and the progression of the movement, by any means necessary.
"Peace to Ron G, Brucey B, Kid Capri/Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starsky/
I'm blowin' up like you thought I would"
This is a shout out some of the most prominent DJs on the radio and running the music scene in NY back then, including Funkmaster Flex, who was one of the first to play Biggie's single on the radio in 1994.
The theme of trial to triumphant continues as he speaks on material things ("Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis...money green, leather sofa") and reflects on relieving himself of money worries ("Phone bill, about two G's flat/No need to worry, my accountant handles that") to his mother being proud of him for making the cover of The Source, one of rap's most important publications at the time.
Many of us know all the words to this tune, and can rap the lines at the drop of a hat, signaling just how important Biggie's influence still remains on the hip-hop game. He is sorely missed, but his words live on and on.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music