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The Notorious B.I.G.
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Image: Duets: The Final Chapter
The Notorious B.I.G.
American rapper, hip-hop producer, recording artist, and entrepreneur

The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G.
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American rapper, hip-hop producer, recording artist, and entrepreneur
Known for Ready to die, Life after death, Born Again
A.K.A. Christopher Wallace, Biggie Smalls, Biggie, Christopher George Latore ...
Was Rapper Singer Songwriter Musician Criminal Drug trafficker Poet Entrepreneur Record producer
From United States of America
Field Business Crime Literature Music
Gender male
Birth 21 May 1972, Brooklyn, USA
Death 9 March 1997, Los Angeles, USA (aged 24 years)
Star sign Gemini
Mother: Loretta Wallace
Father: George Latore
Spouse: Faith Evans
Children: Christopher Jordan Wallace
Height: 1.91 m
Hip hop music
Gangsta rap
East coast hip hop
The Notorious B.I.G.
The details


The Notorious B.I.G. (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997) was an American award-winning rapper and musician. Known for his eloquent rhyme-smithing and word-smithing and artful storytelling, he is considered to be one of the greatest musicians of all time. In his short life of 24 years, he created four albums (three of which are posthumous) and all were critical and commercial successes.

The Notorious B.I.G. also went by the name Biggie Smalls and Biggie; for the remainder of the article, we will use the name Biggie.

Early life and education

Biggie was born Christopher George Latore Wallace on 21 May 1972 in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York to Jamaican immigrants Loretta Wallace, a preschool teacher, and George Latore, a welder and politician. His parents divorced when he was two and he was raised by his single mother, who worked two jobs to provide for herself and her only son.

Biggie at a playground

Biggie grew up in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) area. His mother was a devout Christion and sent him to Queen of All Saints Middle School, a Catholic school in Fort Greene-Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn. His friends often teased him about his weight and hence he got the nickname "Big." His mother taught him to strike back with words, not fist.

Biggie excelled as a student, scoring near A's throughout and winning awards in Math, English, and Reading.

Bed-Stuy was considered a dangerous place to grow up in the 1980s when crime and illegal drug-dealing were at a record high. Under the influence of his friends, Biggie began dealing drugs around the age of 12, working the area on Fulton Street between St. James Place and Washington Avenue. His mother came to know about it much later through his music and magazines. His school grades began to drop. By the time he was 14, his teachers were reporting that he had lost interest in his studies and had been skipping many classes. For high school, Biggie joined Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, New York. However, he soon switched to George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in downtown Brooklyn, which future rappers DMX, Jay-Z, and Busta Rhymes were also attending.

Biggie was also getting immersed in the drug-dealing lifestyle, and by the age of 16, he was making up to $2,000 a week selling drugs. He had also begun carrying guns. 

Biggie after school graduation

Around the same time, Biggie began freestyle rapping on the street corner, often performing with local groups like the Old Gold Brothers and the Techniques. His popularity was soaring, and not just because he was six feet two inches tall and weighed more than three hundred pounds. He was known as "Big Chris." The positive feedback from winning rap battles convinced him to consider rapping as his vocation. He dropped out of George Westinghouse High School in 1989, aged 17, to pursue music and the flashy style of local drug dealers.

Biggie visited some friends in North Carolina and was arrested for selling drugs. His mother bailed him by posting a $25,000 bond. Upon his release, he promised his mother he would stop dealing drugs. He switched to music.

Back in Brooklyn, Biggie started spending time with his fellow rapper friend Chico Delvico and produced demo tapes of their music. Biggie recorded the demo tape titled "Microphone Murderer" under the name "Quest." Mister Cee, a Brooklyn-based rapper working with Big Daddy Kane, heard the demo and befriended Biggie. Mister Cee urged Biggie to send the demo tape to the hip-hop magazine The Source, which reported on new talent in a column titled "Unsigned Hype." Mister Cee knew the column's writer, Matty C, and personally delivered the tape to the magazine. Impressed with Biggie's sound, Matty C, in the March 1992 issue of The Source, reported that there was a new and exciting voice in gangsta rap music –– Quest. The Source hit newsstands and it caught the attention of Uptown Records talent scout Sean Combs (Puff Daddy or P. Diddy,) who signed him immediately with Uptown. Shortly after, Combs left Uptown Records to form his label, Bad Boy, and took Biggie with him who signed to the label on the same day it was formed.


Early career as a guest singer

Combs loved Biggie's music, but not his stage name, "Quest." He told Biggie that since he was rapping about street life, he should adopt a gangsta's personality, and take on an intimidating name that would tell fans to not mess with him. Recalling a gangster character named "Biggie Smalls" (played by Calvin Lockhart) from the 1975 movie Let's Do it Again, they settled on "Biggie Smalls." However, they found out that "Biggie Smalls" was already in use by another rapper and was signed by a competing label. The two talked it over and came up with a new stage name "Notorious BIG" –– the name Biggie used for the remainder of his career.

Combs wanted Biggie to gain experience in a studio first before launching his solo debut album. He recruited Biggie to provide background rhymes on a new Mary J. Blige single "Real Love" (August 1992) and shortly after, on another Blige remix, "What's the 411?" Next, in April 1993, he made his solo debut with "Party and Bullshit" song for the soundtrack of the film Who's the Man?

At the time, Biggie was dating his longtime girlfriend Jan Jackson. They had a daughter together T'yanna Wallace on 8 August 1993. The two split up five months after the birth of their daughter.

The following year in July 1994, Biggie he appeared alongside LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes on Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear."

Ready to die (1994)

Biggie delivered his debut album "Ready to die" on September 13, 1994. It reached No. 13 on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified four times Platinum. Its lead single, "Juicy," went gold, and "Big Poppa," achieved platinum sales and went Top Ten on the pop and R&B charts. The smashing success of the album turned Biggie into a hip-hop sensation and shifted attention to East Coast at a time when West Coast dominated the hip-hop scene.

Shortly after the release of Ready to die, Biggie married R&B singer and label-mate Faith Evans. Biggie had met Evans at a Bad Boy photoshoot just 8 days ago.

Ready to die contained a song "Gimme the Loot" in which Biggie mentioned the name of Shaquille O'Neal –– I'm slamming n****s like Shaquille, shit is real...When it's time to eat a meal, I rob and steal. Biggie then met and befriended O'Neal when O'Neal was invited to a listening session for the song. Next, Biggie featured on "You Can't Stop the Reign" song of O'Neal's third studio album of the same name. Biggie respected O'Neal and this collaboration to him was a way for him to pay O'Neal his respect.

Around the time of the album's release, Wallace became friends with Tupac Shakur.

Conspiracy (1995)

In 1995, Biggie appeared on four tracks in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s debut album Conspiracy (released August 1995.) Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Junior Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes) was a Brooklyn-based hip hop group consisting of Biggie's childhood friends Lil' Kim (Kimberley Jones) and Lil' Cease among others. The group was mentored by Biggie.

The album, on which Biggie was a co-producer, debuted at number 8 on the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The single "Player's Anthem" and "Get Money", both featuring Biggie, went Gold and Platinum.

Biggie had also helped produce Lil' Kim's solo debut album Hard Core (released in 1996.)

In July 1995, Biggie appeared on the cover of The Source magazine again, this time with the caption "The King of New York Takes Over," a reference to his Frank White alias from the 1990 film King of New York. At the Source Awards in August 1995, he was named Best New Artist (Solo), Lyricist of the Year, Live Performer of the Year, and his debut Album of the Year. At the Billboard Awards, he was Rap Artist of the Year.

Biggie now was an established player in the hip-hop world. As Bad Boy's biggest star, he commanded as much as $65,000 a show to perform.

Collaboration with Michael Jackson

In 1995, Biggie was the featured rapper on "This Time Around" track of Michael Jackson's ninth studio album "HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I."

Legal troubles

Despite the success, Biggie continued to accrue legal problems. In 1995 he was arrested for assault after attacking a record promoter in Camden, New Jersey — he was put him in jail for four days. The same year, he was convicted of assaulting his fans outside a Manhattan nightclub. In 1996, police raided his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, where they found marijuana and several dangerous weapons, including handguns, a submachine gun, and hollow-point bullets. In 1996, he was also charged with drug possession after he was caught by police smoking marijuana in his car on a Brooklyn street.

Life After Death (1996-1997)

Biggie's second, and final, album was Life After Death. The album, in which Biggie goes further into the mafioso rap sub-genre, was released on March 25, 1997, two weeks after his death. It is a sequel to his first album, Ready to Die, and picks up where the last song, "Suicidal Thoughts", ends.

The double album features collaborations with guest artists such as 112, Jay-Z, Lil' Kim, Mase, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Too $hort, Angela Winbush, Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., R. Kelly, The LOX, and Sean Combs. It reached number one on the Billboard 200 and was certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 2000.

Biggie vs Tupac Shakur

Biggie became friends with Tupac Shakur around the time when his first album, Ready to Die, was released in August 1994. According to Biggie's cousin Lil' Cease, the two traveled together often and hung out in California or Washington, D.C. The friendship came to an end in November 1994 when Shakur was shot five times while entering a New York City recording studio. Shakur survived the attack, and in an April 1995 interview with Vibe, he publicly accused Uptown Records' founder Andre Harrell, Sean Combs, and Biggie of having prior knowledge of the robbery that resulted in him being shot five times and losing jewelry.

Biggie, and everyone, denied the accusation. However, Shakur interpreted the lyrics of Notorious B.I.G.'s 1995 single "Who Shot Ya?" as bragging that he had been behind the attack. Combs and Biggie denied having anything to do with the shooting and stated that the song had been recorded before the shooting. Shakur, however, responded with a diss track titled "Hit 'Em Up," in which he vengefully boasted of having sex with Biggie's wife, Faith Evans. This was at the time when Evans was estranged from Biggie.

The feud had become personal for the two.

On 7 September 1996, Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight were in Las Vegas, attending a Mike Tyson boxing match. After the match, the two were headed to a night club in Vegas. Knight was driving the car. When he stopped at a traffic light, another vehicle pulled alongside his car and the perpetrator shot Shakur multiple times. Shakur died six days later. Knight was wounded when a piece of flying glass hit him in the back of the neck.

The event sparked the rumors of Biggie's involvement with Shakur's murder.

In a 2002 article for Los Angeles Times, titled Who Killed Tupac Shakur?, investigative journalist Chuck Philips reported that:

The shooting was carried out by a Compton gang called the Southside Crips to avenge the beating of one of its members by Shakur a few hours earlier. ... Orlando Anderson, the Crip whom Shakur had attacked, fired the fatal shots. Las Vegas police discounted Anderson as a suspect and interviewed him only once, briefly. He was later killed in an unrelated gang shooting. ... The murder weapon was supplied by New York rapper Notorious B.I.G., who agreed to pay the Crips $1 million for killing Shakur. Notorious B.I.G. and Shakur had been feuding for more than a year, exchanging insults on recordings and at award shows and concerts. B.I.G. was gunned down six months later in Los Angeles. That killing also remains unsolved.

Biggie denied that he had anything to do with the murder, claiming he had been home in New Jersey the night Shakur was shot.


In early 1997, Biggie was working on his second album, Life after death. On March 8, 1997, he was attending the 11th Soul Train Music Awards show in Los Angeles, where he presented an award to Toni Braxton. Being on the West Coast, the audience was made up mostly of West Coast rap fans. As Biggie walked onto the stage, he was greeted with boos and jeers. He tried to ignore the anger. Ironically, the biggest award that night went to Tupac Shakur (posthumously,) whose 1996 album "All Eyez on Me" won the Best Rap Album award.

After the show, Biggie attended a party at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. In the attendees were many famed rappers and celebrities including Busta Rhymes, Da Brat, Sean Combs, Yo-Yo, actor Wesley Snipes, and comedian Chris Tucker among others.

The fire department closed the party half past midnight due to overcrowding. Biggie and Combs left with their entourage in two GMC SUVs to return to his hotel. Biggie climbed into the passenger seat and his friends, D-Roc and Lil' Cease sat in the backseat. Combs traveled in the other SUV with three bodyguards. The two trucks were trailed by a Chevrolet Blazer carrying Bad Boy's director of security, Paul Offord.

Biggie started playing a tape of Life of death, which was slated to release in two weeks.

At 12:45 A.M. (PST), Biggie's SUV stopped at a red light. A black car (Chevy Impala) pulled up alongside his SUV and suddenly, the driver of the car rolled down his window, drew a 9 mm blue-steel pistol and fired seven shots into Biggie's SUV. Biggie was hit all seven times and slumped over in his seat. He was the only one in the car hit by the gunfire. His entourage rushed him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, but the 24-year-old rapper was pronounced dead at 1:15 A.M. (PST).

Combs, who was in the SUV behind Biggie's, told the New York Daily News:

I jumped out of my car and ran over to his...I was saying the Lord's Prayer and Hail Marys. I was begging God to help him out. I was touching him and talking to him in his ear.

Thousands of hip-hop fans lined the streets as the funeral procession carrying Biggie's body made its way through

Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. His funeral was held on March 18, 1997, at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. There were around 350 mourners at the funeral, including Queen Latifah, Flavor Flav, Mary J. Blige, Run–D.M.C., Darryl McDaniels, DJ Kool Herc, Naughty by Nature's Treach, Salt-N-Pepa, /people/dj-spinderella/, Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, Sister Souljah, and others. Members of the Junior M.A.F.I.A., including Lil' Kim and Lil' Cease also attended the funeral, paying their respects to the rap star who had helped launch their careers. Sean Combs delivered the eulogy, and Biggie's widow, Faith Evans, sang the gospel song "Walk With Me, Lord."

After the funeral, his body was cremated and the ashes were given to his family.

Life After Death was released two weeks after Biggie died and immediately shot to the top of the hip-hop charts. The double album received critical praise from many reviewers. It went on to be one of the best-selling rap albums of all time. Its lead single, "Hypnotize", was the last music video recording in which Biggie would appear.

Posthumous albums

Following Life After Death, Bad Boy Records produced two posthumous albums of Biggie's music:

  • Born Again (1999)
  • Duets: The Final Chapter (2005)

Born Again was released on December 7, 1999, and includes Biggie's previously unreleased material mixed with guest appearances from known rappers including Busta Rhymes, Black Rob, Ice Cube, Beanie Sigel, Snoop Dogg, Redman, Method Man, K-Ci, and Eminem. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart with 485,000 albums sold in the first week, and was certified 2x Platinum by the RIAA on January 14, 2000, and has sold over 2,350,000 copies in the United States.

Duets: The Final Chapter (sometimes referred to as The Biggie Duets) was released on December 19, 2005. The album is a collection of songs featuring appearances of other prominent rappers including Sean Combs, Eminem, Obie Trice, Jay-Z, Big Pun, Fat Joe, Freeway, Tupac Shakur, Mary J. Blige, Nas, Lil Wayne, Juelz Santana, Jim Jones, T.I., Nelly, Avery Storm, and Faith Evans among others. The album was certified platinum and its lead single "Nasty Girl" became Biggie's first UK No. 1 single. It charted at #3 selling 438,000 copies, beaten by the high sales of Jamie Foxx's Unpredictable and Mary J. Blige's The Breakthrough.

Personal life

While getting started in the music business, Biggie was dating his longtime girlfriend, Jan Jackson. She gave birth to a daughter, T'yanna Wallace on August 8, 1993. Biggie split with Jackson five months after T'yanna's birth.

In 1995, Biggie met R&B singer label-mate Faith Evans at a Bad Boy photoshoot. Eight days later, the two tied the knot. They had one child together on 29 October 1996, Christopher George Latore Wallace Jr. Christopher is a New York-based entrepreneur and actor. He portrayed his father at a young age in his biopic Notorious. He is also a co-founder of a cannabis company named Think BIG. Biggie's marriage with Evans was often strained and the two eventually separated. But Biggie was serious about fatherhood. In an interview with Vibe magazine, he said:

I want to see my kids get old...I want to go to my daughter’s wedding. I want to go to my son's wedding. I want to go to their sons' weddings.

Awards and nominations

Award Year of ceremony Nominee/work Category Result 
The Source Hip-Hop Music Awards [1]1995The Notorious B.I.G.New Artist of the Year, SoloWon 
The Notorious B.I.G.Lyricist of the YearWon 
The Notorious B.I.G.Live Performer of the YearWon 
Ready To DieAlbum of the YearWon 
Billboard Music Awards [2][3]1995The Notorious B.I.G.Rap Artist of the YearWon 
"One More Chance/Stay with Me (Remix)" (with Faith Evans)Rap Single of the YearWon 
1997Life After DeathR&B AlbumWon 
Grammy Awards [4][5]1996"Big Poppa"Best Rap Solo PerformanceNominated 
1998"Hypnotize"Best Rap Solo PerformanceNominated 
"Mo Money Mo Problems" (with Mase and Puff Daddy)Best Rap Performance by a Duo or GroupNominated 
Life After DeathBest Rap AlbumNominated 
MTV Video Music Awards [6][7]1997"Hypnotize"Best Rap VideoWon 
1998"Mo Money Mo Problems" (with Mase and Puff Daddy)Best Rap VideoNominated 
Soul Train Music Awards [8][9]1996"One More Chance/Stay With Me (Remix)" (with Faith Evans)R&B/Soul or Rap Song of the YearWon 
1998Life After DeathBest R&B/Soul Album - MaleWon 
Life After DeathR&B/Soul or Rap Album of the YearNominated 
"Mo Money Mo Problems" (with Mase and Puff Daddy)Best R&B/Soul or Rap Music VideoNominated 
Black Reel Awards [10]2004"Runnin' (Dying to Live)" (with Tupac Shakur)Best Original or Adapted SongNominated 
ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards [11] [12]2005"Runnin' (Dying to Live)" (with Tupac Shakur)Top Soundtrack Song of the YearWon 
2017The Notorious B.I.G.ASCAP Founders AwardWon 
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [13]2020The Notorious B.I.G.PerformersNominated 
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Reference sources
The Notorious B.I.G Life Story (VH1 Behind The Music)
Sullivan, Randall (2013) [2002]. LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. (Digital ed.). Canongate. Chapter Six. ISBN 9781782114109.
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