When Christopher George Latore Wallace, professionally known as the Notorious B.I.G., took Hip Hop by storm in the early ‘90s, the music industry was drastically different from its current iteration.
By the time Wallace (from here on referred to as “Big”), made Source magazine’s “Unsigned Hype” column in 1992, the technology today’s artists use to promote and sell their music wasn’t invented yet. YouTube didn’t exist when Big signed to Bad Boy Records in 1993. When Big’s second album Life After Death dropped in 1997, iTunes was three years away from coming to market.
To date, Big has sold over 20 million records. His massive commercial success in the age of analog testifies to the late rapper’s talent, artistry, and commitment to making great music.
Today marks the 24th anniversary of Big’s death. In commemoration, the rest of this post will cover two very important years of Big’s career: 1994 and 1995. These years would culminate into Big recording one of the best-selling rap albums of all time, Life After Death.
1994: In 1994, the year he married R&B singer Faith Evans, Big appeared on the remix to Craig Mack’s “Flavor in Ya Ear.” The remix, which reached No. 1 in the U.S. on Billboard Hot Rap Tracks, also featured rap legends Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J. Big’s verse on the remix accomplish several things. It showcased his signature flow, his lyrical skills and, more importantly, his ability to hold his own amongst Hip Hop heavyweights.
On August 9, five days after tying the knot with Evans, Big made his mark on the music charts with “Juicy/Unbelievable,” the lead single of his first album. The single reached No. 27 on Billboard Hot 100 chart. A month later on September 12, Bad Boy Records capitalized on the buzz generated from “Juicy” by releasing Big’s debut album Ready To Die.
Recorded between 1993 and 1994 at The Hit Factory and D&D Studios, Ready To Die contained two additional singles that would help propel the album to No. 15 on the Billboard 200 chart. Those singles were “Big Poppa/Warning,” which sampled The Isley Brothers song “Between the Sheets,” and “One More Chance,” which featured vocals from Faith Evans. Both singles sold more than 1 million copies a piece, and Ready To Die would achieve certified double Platinum status a year after its release.
The commercial success of Big’s debut effort occurred at a time when the Hip Hop charts were dominated by West Coast rappers like Snoop Dogg and the late Tupac Shakur. In 1994, the perception in Hip Hop was that West Coast rappers had the rap game under lock and key.
With Ready To Die Big single-handedly shattered that perception, resurrected New York’s rap scene, and brought the spotlight back to the East Coast. Ironically, the same year Big brought Hip Hop back East would be the same year he befriended Tupac.
1995: In 1995 Big showed the music industry he had an eye for talent and innate knack for artist development. While recording his first album, Big was simultaneously working with his protégé group, Junior M.A.F.I.A., on their first EP.
The rap group consisted of Big’s childhood friends from Brooklyn, most notably Lil’ Cease and Lil’ Kim, who would go on to sell more than 15 million albums in her solo career. Under Big’s tutelage, Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s debut album, Conspiracy, was released on August 29, 1995. Conspiracy debuted at No. 8 on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 70,000 copies its first week.
1995 was also the year Big would earn multiple nominations from The Source Hip-Hop Music Awards. He was nominated for New (Solo) Artist of the Year, Lyricist of the Year, Live Performer of the Year, and Album of the Year. He won each category. Billboard Music Awards also nominated Big for Rap Artist of the Year and Rap Single of the Year. He won both categories.
As 1995 came to a close, Big found himself at the top of Hip Hop’s food chain. He also found that his friendship with Tupac had gone sour.
In September of that year, Tupac sat down for an interview with Vibe while serving time at Clinton Correctional Facility. During the interview Tupac speculated that Big was somehow behind him getting shot and robbed at Quad Studios in ’94.
The interview further inflamed the East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry, which would ultimately claim Big’s life two years later.
By Brandon Lawton