Notorious B.I.G.(originally, Wallace, Christopher)

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Notorious B.I.G.(originally, Wallace, Christopher)

Notorious B.I.G.(originally, Wallace, Christopher), successful, if shortlived, rap star of the 1990s; b. Brooklyn, N.Y., May 21, 1972; d. Los Angeles, March 9, 1997. Although his mother was a teacher, Chris Wallace grew up in awe of the street hustlers in his Brooklyn neighborhood, and started selling drugs in his teens. After serving his second term in prison, he borrowed a friend’s DJ setup and started making tapes of his articulate yet streetwise raps. Ironically, the perspective he took was not that of the insider who had done time for his gangsta ways but as an observer describing the conditions from the outside. His tapes started circulating and wound up at The Source magazine. The editors liked one of them so much, they put it into the “Unsigned Hype” column and a compilation CD of unsigned artists. Sean “Puffy” Combs, at the time Uptown Records’ director of A&R, signed B.I.G. on the basis of his performance on this CD. Before recording B.I.G. (Wallace was 6 foot, 3 inches and weighed close to 300 pounds) as a solo artist, Combs hooked him up on records with Jodeci and Mary J. Blige, earning a big hit with his rap on the remix of Blige’s “What’s the 411.” He also was given a track on the soundtrack to Who’s the Man.

When Combs left Uptown to start his own label, Bad Boy, Uptown cut many of the artists he had signed. Before long, Combs had signed several of them, including B.I.G. His debut album, Ready to Die, captured the East Coast gangsta sound perfectly, with its heavy R&B tracks and clear rhymes. The album featured guest spots by reggae star Diana Kind and Method Man from the Wu Tang Clan. The album spun off three double-sided singles: the gold “Juicy,” “Unbelievable,” which rose to #27 pop; the platinum “Big Poppa,” with heavy samples of the Isley Brothers’s “Between the Sheets”; “Warning,” which hit #6 pop; the platinum “One More Chance/Stay with Me,” which sampled DeBarge’s “Stay with Me”; and his duet with Method Man, “The What,” which topped the R&B charts for nine weeks and spent three weeks at #2 on the pop charts. Another single, “Can’t You See,” from the soundtrack to New Jersey Drive, hit #13 and went gold. Within a year, the album was double platinum and to date has passed the quadruple-platinum mark.

While the album was running its course, B.I.G. married singer Faith Evans and had several run-ins with the law, including allegedly beating a promoter who canceled a concert without paying the guarantee. He and Combs were also placed on a list of suspects when rapper Tupac Shakur was robbed and shot in N.Y. They both vehemently denied this accusation and charges were never brought. B.I.G. produced L’il Kim’s Hardcore album, and appeared on records by R. Kelly and even Michael Jackson. He joined M.C. Lyte and several other rappers who played themselves in an episode of the TV show New York Undercover.

After finishing the sessions for his second album, Life After Death, B.I.G. went to the Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles. While sitting in an SUV, he was shot several times and died instantly. His funeral set off riots in the streets of Brooklyn. A week after he died, Life After Death was released, lodging at #1 for three weeks and shipping sextuple platinum on its way to diamond status (over 10 million sales). The album also spawned the platinum singles “Hypnotize,” “No Money Mo Problems,” and the gold “Sky’s The Limit.” B.I.G. was also the subject of Combs’s hit single, “I’ll Be Missing You.” Another posthumous project, Born Again, was issued late in 1999. It also topped the charts in its first week, shipping double platinum.


Ready to Die (1994); Life After Death (1997); Born Again (1999).

—Hank Bordowitz