Christopher Wallace (1972 – 1997) Known as Notorius B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls. Originally Wallace wanted to be called Biggie Smalls but the name was already copyright to someone else, so his performing name was Notorius B.I.G. (which stands for Business Instead of Game) but he was unofficially known around music circles as Biggie Smalls, which was taken from the 1975 movie “Let’s Do It Again” and a gangster character called Biggie Smalls, yet it was also a reference to his size, he was big even as a young child.
The name he didn’t want originally was Notorius, yet ironically it sums up part of his early life. From the age of twelve he got involved in petty crime and small time drug dealing to help make money. His father had long gone and his mother was working two jobs to keep the family going. He received parole sentences, community work orders and eventually a stint in gaol. He was a good high school student but transfered to a technical school and dropped out, Eventually finding his way into the rap scene. In a very short time he became a respected and popular MC. He was active in performances and recording especially with Junior M.A.F.I.A., and then in 1994 released a solo album – “Ready to Die” which reached 13 on the Billboard 200 Chart.
His career was marred somewhat by the East Coast – West Coast rapper rivalry that had become intense, and resulted in the death of several people involved in the rap music scene. He also fell out with his friend Tupac Shakur, who became vitriolic. Tupak was gunned down in 1996. Notorius, who had had a notorius youth, was blamed for much of the rivalry and with the death of Tupac. But as these things go, it seems that he had little to do with either, so that when he was actually least notorius everyone believed he was just that. Notorius’ life would make a great definition of the word ironic.
Sadly, while trying to promote peace between the warring factions of East and west coast rappers and businesses, Notorious was shot and killed in a drive by on March 9, 1997, he was 25 yrs old.
His style is called loose and fluid, very relaxed and not as energised or intense as other rappers. His content is more journalistic (compared to the direct social justice focus of NWA) and perhaps too easily dismissed by anyone looking for substance. Yet his songs actually record the life he knew growing up in Brooklyn.
There’s a sadness reading the lives of these young, mostly men, who lived these pseudo warrior lives in clan wars and died in the process. Notorius, Tupac, and thirty others, killed. Again, Notorius, ironically sang, “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills you), I say ironically because he was already somebody. He already was himself – Christopher Wallace. But as Notorius he was successful and known. And Ironically – because that’s what happened, as if it was self-fulfilling prophecy.
I take a couple of things away from his story, judgmentalism aside, Notorius grew up in a hostile environ and he survived, we may not approve of his notorius crime life, but he made it through and turned his life around. Notorius journalled his life into his music, and through that we have examples of the misery, crime, fear, racism, violence and struggle that young black people experienced (still experience). He was no angel (but then I remember that I too have had my moments), but he was making a new life, making amends (especially through his suport for his children), striving for peace, seeking community, and seeking justice. Even if I achieve one of those aims I’d be doing well.
The Notorius B.I.G. – “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)”
darkness covers my past pain blossoms where I walk my song brings wholness ©Paul Cannon