9 Reasons Biggie Smalls is the Illest

"The greatest rapper of all time died on March 9th." — Canibus

The Notorious B.I.G. is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs of all time. Despite a body of work abruptly shortened by his still-unsolved murder, Biggie left an indelible impact on hip-hop. Here are 9 reasons why Biggie Smalls is arguably the best.

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Biggie had the best stories. Take "I Got a Story to Tell," for example. There's a long-running debate over which ex-New York Knick Biggie violated, thanks to this hilarious storytelling classic. It was long rumored that John Starks was the cuckold baller, but Starks says it wasn't him.

"First and foremost, I’m not 6’5″; I’m 6’2″, Starks told ESPN's Highly Questionable, in reference to B.I.G.'s remarks that it was "one of them 6'5" NBA n---as." Biggie could have been guesstimating the height..

Biggie's former labelmate Jadakiss conducted his own unofficial investigation. Results were inconclusive.

"Big wouldn’t tell me,” Jada told ESPN. "I’ve done my own investigation.”

"It would have to be [Anthony] Mason, Larry Johnson, maybe Derek Harpe," Jada said.

The point is: Biggie wrote a story that the world is still pondering 20 years later.

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His Style is Inimitable

Notorious. © Fox Searchlight

"One of one" is such a cliche, but Biggie exemplifies this phrase better than most. His style, walk, voice Brooklyn swagger and improbable sex appeal would take a grueling acting class to master. Jamal "Gravy" Woolard, who played Biggie in the biopic Notorious, needed a "Biggie Bootcamp," replete with rapid weight gain and real tears, to morph into Frank White. He also had to insert cotton balls in his mouth and grip his tongue while rapping in order to imitate Biggie's speech pattern.

Movie Review:

The Notorious B.I.G. © Bad Boy.

Biggie never met a beat he couldn't slaughter. Asking Biggie to hop on your track was akin to flirting with career suicide. He stole the show on "Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)," went toe for toe with Bone on "Notorious Thugs" and kept a young Jay Z on his toes on "Brooklyn's Finest."

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Biggie's 1994 debut, Ready to Die, is a hip-hop masterpiece--a ploughed furrow moisturized by Big's arresting flow and gripping tales. It's widely believed that he was poor and paranoid when he recorded Ready to Die. This probably explains some of the darker material on songs like "Gimme the Loot" and "Things Done Changed." With mouths to feed, Biggie was supposedly dealing drugs in North Carolina in between studio sessions. Yet, the only album released in Biggie's lifetime, was compelling enough to change his fortune. Powered by blockbuster singles like "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance," Ready to Die reached gold within two months and was certified platinum the next year. It also received 4.5 Mics in The Source, which praised Biggie for his storytelling: "Big weaves tales like a cinematographer, each song is like another scene in his lifestyle."

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Three More Words: Life After Death


Life After Death arrived just 15 days after Brooklyn’s finest was slain in Los Angeles. A rare double album in hip-hop at the time, it came packed with highlights: "Hypnotize," "10 Crack Commandments," "Who Shot Ya," "I Got a Story to Tell." Life After Death went on to become one of the best-selling rap albums of all time. Sadly, Biggie wasn’t around to witness the success.

10 Things You Didn't Know About Biggie Smalls

Biggie with Lil Kim and Sean "Puffy" Combs. © Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Look around and you'll have no trouble finding a polarizing hip-hop figure, be it Kanye West, Jay Z or Lil Wayne. Not Biggie. His peers respected him and embraced any opportunity to work with him. Everyone who enjoys hip-hop in some form loves Big Poppa. B.I.G. is hip-hop deity. When Gravy, a rapper in his own right, saw an opportunity to abandon his career and play his Brooklyn idol on the big screen he jumped on it. Jadakiss wrote a "Letter to Big" and updated the the New York icon on his family's well-being, with Biggie's ex-wife on the hook. "Tiana so pretty. CJ turned into Lil' Biggie." Nas praised him on "We Will Survive." Jay Z shouts him out every three bars or so.

The Notorious B.I.G. Biography More »

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His Flow is Butter


If I had to take this list apart and reconstruct it based strictly on flow, The Notorious B.I.G. would have a strong case for numero uno. Biggie had the best flow in the game, period. It's deceptively simple, crisp and full of poetic devices: internal rhymes, multis, wordplay.

Biggie simply had a way of saying more with less. He's the king of the pregnant pause. Biggie sometimes delivered more bars with fewer words than his peers.

Here's a sample of his flow at work:

The back of the club, mackin' hoes, my crew's behind me

Mad question askin', blunt passin', music blastin'

But I just can't quit

Because one of these honeys Biggie gots to creep with

and this—

Who the f--k is this? Paging me at 5:46

In the morning, crack of dawn and

Now I'm yawning, wipe the cold out my eye

See who's this paging me — and why?

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He Made It Cool to Flow off the Top

Jay-Z, Made in America
Jay-Z headlined the inaugural edition of Made in America. © Marco Torres/Village Voice Media

Biggie was the least likely candidate for an endorsement deal with BIC. He was famous for creating magic out of thin air. In The Making of Ready to Die, XXL writes that Biggie moved from writing rhymes to rhyming from memory. He even inspired the two Carters — Shawn and Dwayne — to ditch their notepads and flow off the top.


No other GOAT candidate has had a better two-album run than Biggie. Not 2Pac. Not Jay Z. Not Nas. Even if Bad Boy never released anything else, Biggie would still have a valid claim to the Greatest of All Time conversation.

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