The Notorious B.I.G. Biography

He's unbelievable.

Notorious Biggie
Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Name: Christopher George Latore Wallace

Nicknames: The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, Big Poppa, Frank White,

Born: May 21, 1972

Died: March 9, 1997


The Notorious B.I.G.'s Early Life

The Notorious B.I.G. was born Christopher George Latore Wallace in Brooklyn, New York City. An only child, Wallace spent most of his childhood on 226 St. James Place near the Bedford-Stuyvesant border. His mother, Violetta Wallace, was a Jamaican immigrant who taught pre-school and worked two jobs to support her family.

Biggie's father, George Latore, was a Jamaican politician. Latore left when Wallace was 14 month-old. Young Wallace was nicknamed "Big" because he was overweight as a kid.

From the Streets to the Radio

Biggie started selling drugs at 12. In a 1994 New York Times article, Violetta Wallace said she only found out about Biggie's drug dealing ways through his music. 

By the time he was 17, Biggie dropped out of school and sold drugs full time. He was eventually busted in North Carolina in 1990 and spent nine months in jail for dealing crack. After being released from jail, Biggie started taking rap seriously.

See Also: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Biggie Smalls

Biggie's Demo Tape

After leaving jail, Christopher Wallace recorded a demo tape under the alias Biggie Smalls, a reference to a character from the movie Let's Do It Again. When he found out that Biggie Smalls was already taken, he changed his name to The Notorious B.I.G.

He still fondly referred to himself as Biggie, Big Poppa or Frank White (after Christopher Walken's character in King of New York).

With a little help from former Big Daddy Kane DJ, Mister Cee, Biggie's demo tape made the rounds. He appeared in The Source's Unsigned Hype column. The demo tape, which Biggie supposedly made just for fun, reached the offices of Uptown Entertainment head honcho Andre Harrell via a young assistant and producer named Sean "Puff" Combs.

"He had a voice that just sounded like it was heavy, funky and rhythmic," Mr. Harrell later recalled. "And it had a lot of personality -- like a light on his feet kind of big brother." Harrell gave Notorious B.I.G. his first record deal.

The Bad Boy Era

Combs was later fired from Uptown. He started his own label, Bad Boy Records, and made The Notorious B.I.G. his flagship artist. It was Puffy's idea to blend Biggie's street side ("Warning," "Gimme the Loot") with his charming, pop-friendly side ("Big Poppa," "One More Chance"). It turned out to be a winning blueprint.

Biggie received his first major break on a remix of Mary J. Blige's "Real Love." The song reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Biggie and Blige joined forces again on the "What's the 411" remix.

In 1994, Biggie Smalls gained even more momentum with the solo smash, "Party and Bullsh-t," which appeared on the Who's the Man? soundtrack. His stock soared even higher after he dropped a classic verse on Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear," alongside the likes of LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes. "You're mad cause my style you're admiring/Don't be mad...UPS is hiring," Biggie raps at one point. That line has been reprised by many admirers, including T.I.

and Jay Z.

See Also: The 15 Greatest Notorious B.I.G. Songs

Ready to Die

Biggie's first full-length album, Ready to Die, arrived on September 13, 1994. It debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart at a time when west coast rappers like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre had their grip on hip-hop's throat. One of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, Ready to Die would go on to shift over four million units.

Junior M.A.F.I.A.

A year after the release of his masterpiece, Biggie leveraged his growing status to put his crew on. Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Junior Masters at Finding Intelligent Attitudes) consisted of friends Lil Kim, Lil Cease, D-Roc and others. They enjoyed chart successes with the singles "Get Money" (US #17) and "Players Anthem" (US #13) alongside Biggie. The members would go on to pursue solo careers, with Lil Kim the most successful of the group.

Biggie also envisioned the formation of a group called The Commission alongside his young Brooklyn knight Jay Z and protege Charli Baltimore.

See Also: The 10 Greatest Notorious B.I.G. Collaborations

The 2Pac Beef

One of the greatest rap battles of all time was between Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. The feud was slowly brewing under the radar, but it escalated after 2Pac was shot at Quad Studio, a New York recording studio were Biggie and Puff Daddy had been working. Shakur accused Biggie and his Bad Boy cohorts of having prior knowledge of the botched robbery. Biggie denied the allegations, dubbing the event a coincidence.

Regardless, the rap titans spent the next several months trading disses on wax. (Later, in 2012, an incarcerated lifer named Dexter Isaac confessed to shooting Tupac Shakur. Isaac claimed that Jimmy "Henchman" Rosemond masterminded the attack.)

With the help of a story-hungry media, the Biggie vs 2Pac beef escalated to an east coast vs west coast rap war. Members from both coasts took turns attacking their presumed rivals. The beef is the subject of numerous films and songs and remains the most significant coastal feud in hip-hop history.

Life After Death

Notorious B.I.G. recorded most of his second album in the midst of his beef with 'Pac. The double-album featured a diverse mix of songs, from scathing disses to radio-ready hits. It also featured a wide cast of rappers and singers: Bone Thugs, R. Kelly. P.Diddy, Lil Kim, and more. But Biggie's witty storytelling was the linchpin that held the sometimes messy affair together.

Life After Death set a record for the largest jump in Billboard history, from No. 176 to No. 1 in one week. It has been certified diamond for sales totaling over 10 million units.

March 9, 1997

Unfortunately, Biggie would not live to witness the groundbreaking success of Life After Death. The album was scheduled for release on March 25, 1997. On the wee hours of March 9, Biggie was leaving a Soul Train after-party hosted by VIBE magazine at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angele. Around 12:45 a.m., his SUV hit at a red light. According to numerous eyewitness reports, a Chevrolet Impala SS pulled up to the right of Biggie's vehicle. A man in a blue suit and bow-tie rolled down his window and dumped four shots on the rapper.

An autopsy released in December 2012 showed that the first 3 shots were non-fatal. The fourth bullet, however, entered Biggie's right hip and struck several vital organs. It struck his colon, liver, heart and left lung. Biggie was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center around 1:15 a.m. His murder remains unsolved.

See Also: 9 Reasons Biggie Smalls Is the Illest

Posthumous Albums and Notorious Biopic

In the years following Biggie's death, two more posthumous albums followed. The first, Born Again, arrived in 1999. Duets: The Final Chapter, which paired him with various rappers, was released in 2005. Two years later, Bad Boy issued Biggie's first album.

In 2009, Fox Searchlight Pictures released , a biographical film about the life of the Notorious B.I.G.

Rapper Jamal "Gravy" Woolard played Biggie, while ex-3LW singer Naturi Naughton played Lil Kim.

The Notorious B.I.G.'s Legacy

The Notorious B.I.G. is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Even with a stunted catalog, Biggie influenced a handful of rappers, including Jay Z, Lil Kim and Guerilla Black.

The Notorious B.I.G. in His Own Words

"I found something I was good at and I'm just trying to flip it, keep it going. I ain't trying to slack at all. Just represent for my peoples, my borough and my family, and I'm a'ight."

Trivia

The composite sketch of Biggie's alleged shooter bore a stunning resemblance to The Wire's bow-tied killer Brother Mouzone.