Notorious B.I.G.passed away 15 years ago today, and a decade and a half later, his absence still echoes. The man born Christopher Wallace rapped about the violence of the drug trade and spent nine months behind bars, but he never lived life on the edge the way Tupac Shakur did.
Many still conflate their two deaths as one long, continuous nightmare, and it’s easy to see why: They were each gunned down while driving away from major public events (Shakur following a boxing match, Biggie after an awards show). They were the two biggest icons in the ridiculous East Coast/West Coast rap war that was really just a tiff between Bad Boy Records founder Diddy (he was still Sean “Puffy” Combs back then) and Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight. And they often traded lyrical barbs, though they were actually admirers and occasional collaborators.
Biggie’s death remains senseless and frustrating for selfish reasons — unlike Shakur, he did not leave behind a vast archive of unreleased music, and his posthumous albums have ranged from spotty (Born Again) to downright insulting (Duets: The Final Chapter). Still, his body of work consists of two stone-cold classic albums: 1994’s Ready to Die and 1997’s Life After Death (released only 16 days after his murder).
Below are the 15 songs you should crank up extra loud today in honor of the man known as Biggie Smalls. (Apologies to “Kick In the Door,” “Going Back to Cali,” and “F— You Tonight.”)
Key Lyric: “Poppa been smooth since days of Underoos.”
Key Lyric: “I made the change from a common thief to up close and personal with Robin Leach.”
“Ten Crack Commandments”
Key Lyric: “Follow these rules you’ll have mad bread to break up / If not, 24 years on the wake-up / Slug hit your temple, watch your frame shake-up / The caretaker did your makeup.”