Born Christopher G. Wallace, in Brooklyn, New York; shot to death March 9, 1997, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Voletta Wallace; married, wife's name Faith Evans (a singer); children: T'yanna, Christopher.
Even in death, Notorious B.I.G. was bigger than life. His death at age 24--the second drive-by slaying of a gangsta rapper in a six- month span--intensified a purported deadly feud between rap music's East Coast and West Coast factions. B.I.G.'s funeral--he was buried in a white double-breasted suit and an extra-large mahogany casket- -attracted rap's elite and drew hordes of fans onto Brooklyn streets. And his posthumous second album--ironically and prophetically titled Life After Death... 'Til Death Do Us Part-- confirmed that the heavyweight rapper had the potential to be big, indeed, on the music charts.
At the same time, he was a hard man to pin down. A former crack dealer and convict, BI.G. rapped his way to a better life only to lose that life to the street violence he could not leave behind. A big man, he was variously described as standing between 6-feet and 6-feet-3-inches tall and weighing between 230 and 380 pounds. Born Christopher Wallace, he used the street name Biggie Smalls and the stage name Notorious B.I.G. The product of a brutal environment, he commented on the day before his death that he wanted "to see my kids get old." That wish, however, went unfulfilled. One some level, B.I.G., seemed to know that the odds were against him escaping his violent past. In 1994, after the release of his first album, he told the Chicago Tribune that he was "scared to death.... Scared of getting my brains blown out."
B.I.G. shook the music world with that debut album, Ready to Die, an unflinching portrayal of the despair experienced daily in much of urban America--and it's brutal outcomes. The album detailed drug sales, sex, violence, incarceration, and death. Newsweek suggested that B.I.G.'s tales of the streets and the down-and-out who populate them made him something of a modern-day Damon Runyon. The Los Angeles Times said the album was "jolting and uncompromising" and called B.I.G. "one of (rap) music's most talented and promising voices." He was named Rap Artist of the Year at the Billboard Awards in 1995 and cited as Rap Singer of the Year for the song One More Chance. After transporting listeners through a brutal urban landscape, the album closes with the death of its rapping narrator- -who takes his own life.
B.I.G.'s music is perhaps equal parts fiction and autobiography. Before attaining fame, he was a small-time crack dealer in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He never finished high school and, at age 17, was arrested on drug charges in North Carolina and spent nine months in jail. In 1995, he was arrested in New York and charged with assault after he allegedly chased two people with a baseball bat and smashed the window of their cab. He was twice arrested in New Jersey--first for allegedly robbing and assaulting a man, then on drug and weapons charges. "I can't say I'm proud of dealing drugs," B.I.G. once said. "But you do what you can to survive in the 'hood. Live in the real bad part of the 'hood for a while and you'll see how desperate it can make you." B.I.G. drew on that desperation and his law-breaking past in his songs, in which he matter-of-factly "described himself as a former drug dealer and stickup man who had turned to rapping," Jon Parales wrote in the New York Times. "He recalled the mundane details of bagging, transporting and selling drugs; he boasted about sexual conquests and mourned a murdered girlfriend."
B.I.G. was sitting in the passenger side of his GMC Suburban following a music industry party shortly after midnight on March 9, 1997. He was listening to a tape of his second album, which was to be released in two weeks. A dark-colored car--which police believe had been waiting for the rapper--pulled up beside the Suburban. Several shots from a nine-millimeter handgun were fired into B.I.G.'s upper body; he was shot in the head at least once. Then the car raced away. Notorious B.I.G. was pronounced dead when his body arrived at Los Angeles's Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "The way it went down," said a police official, "it was a targeted hit." Police and music industry insiders quickly speculated that B.I.G.'s killing may have resulted from a volatile, vicious rift in the rap music world--conjecture that was not proven.
B.I.G. was produced by and the protege of Sean "Puffy" Combs, head of the New York City record company Bad Boy Entertainment. Combs was the rival of producer Marion "Suge" Knight, owner of Death Row Records, a leading West Coast gangsta rap label. In September 1996, six months before B.I.G.'s death, rapper Tupac Shakur--a Death Row recording artist with a promising future in films--was gunned down in a similar drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. The two rappers once shared a friendship, but it had evolved into a bitter rivalry. Shakur accused B.I.G. of copying his musical style and being involved in a 1994 incident in which Shakur was robbed and shot repeatedly. B.I.G. taunted Shakur on the song called Who Shot Ya, and Shakur rapped back that he had had sex with B.I.G's wife. "The deaths of Shakur and (B.I.G.) have forced official America to peer into the world of the leading rappers, who have made millions and surrounded themselves with armed heavies," wrote a London Times contributor.
B.I.G. was the son of Voletta Wallace, a Brooklyn preschool teacher who named him Christopher and raised him alone. Christopher Wallace, it's been said, was a shy, overweight youngster who became a crack dealer--before morphing into Notorious B.I.G. and nearly leaving his harsh past behind by chronicling it on record. He did not make it, however. At the time of his death, B.I.G. was separated from his wife, singer Faith Evans. He and Evans had a son, also named Christopher, and B.I.G had a 4-year-old daughter, T'yanna, from a previous relationship. Two weeks before his death, according to the Los Angeles Times, B.I.G. was fatalistically quoted as saying:"There's nothing that protects you from the inevitable. If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen, no matter what you do. It doesn't matter if you clean your life up and live it differently. What goes around comes around, man."
by Dave Wilkins
Notorious B.I.G.'s Career
Wallace was known by the street name Biggie Smalls and the stage name Notorious B.I.G. Arrived on the music scene in 1994 with the debut album Ready to Die , which sold more than 1 million copies. B.I.G.'s second album, titled Life After Death... 'Til Death Do Us Part, was released shortly after his death.
Notorious B.I.G.'s Awards
Billboard Award, Rap Artist of the Year, 1995.
- Selective Works
- Ready to Die, Bad Boy Entertainment, 1994.
- Life After Death... 'Til Death Do Us Part, Bad Boy Entertainment, 1997.
July 13, 2004: Wallace's album, Ready to Die: The Remaster, was released with two bonus tracks and a DVD. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/index.jsp, August 5, 2004.
- Associated Press, March 10, 1997.
- Facts on File, March 13, 1997, p. 170.
- London Times, March 11, 1997.
- Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1997, p. A1; March 11, 1997, p. B1; March 19, 1997, p. B1.
- Newsweek, March 24, 1997, p. 74.
- New York Times, March 10, 1997, p. A8.
- People, March 24, 1997, p. 69; March 31, 1997, p. 108.