Biggie Smalls was a popular East Coast rapper, also known as The Notorious B.I.G., who was murdered in 1997 by an unknown assailant.
Christopher George Latore Wallace was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 21, 1972. He was the only child to Violetta Wallace, a Jamaican pre-school teacher, and George Letore, a small-time Jamaican politician and welder. Letore left when Christopher was two years old, leaving his mother to raise him alone. Smalls was an excellent student, winning several awards, and was nicknamed “Big” due to his large size. He grew up during the peak years of the crack epidemic in the 1980s, and started dealing drugs around the age of twelve. He attended the George Westinghouse Information Technology High School, where Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes were also students.
At the age of seventeen, Smalls dropped out of school and became further involved with criminal activities, and was arrested on weapons charges in 1989, and sentenced to five years probation. A year later, he was arrested for dealing crack cocaine in North Carolina, and spent nine months in prison. He started rapping at a young age, and made a demo tape using the name Biggie Smalls. In March 1992, he was featured in The Source’s Unsigned Hype column, and produced a demo that was heard by Sean “Puffy” Combs at Uptown Records, who arranged to meet him. Smalls was signed by Uptown, but Combs was fired shortly afterwards, and Smalls followed him to Bad Boy Records.
Smalls began releasing a series of remixes under the name The Notorious B.I.G., and collaborated on a number of projects. On August 4, 1994, he married R&B singer Faith Evans, and soon had his first solo hit song as the double A-side single ‘Juicy / Unbelievable’ reached # 27 on the charts. His first solo album Ready to Die was released on September 14, 1994, and reached # 13 on the Billboard 200 album charts. The album was eventually certified four times platinum, and was released at a time when West Coast hip hop was prominent in the charts, shifting the focus back to East Coast rap.
In 1995, Biggie’s protégé group Junior M.A.F.I.A. released the album Conspiracy. It went gold immediately, spawning several hit singles. Biggie continued to work with other artists, collaborating on a number of hit songs. By the end of the year, Biggie Smalls was the top-selling male solo artist and rapper on the charts. However, he soon became involved in a quarrel between the East and West Coast hip-hop scenes, and became a public rival of California rapper Tupac Shakur.
In September, 1995, Smalls began working on his second solo album, but was arrested several times in 1996 for harassment and drugs and weapons charges. In June, 1996, Shakur released a song called ‘Hit ‘Em Up’, which dissed Smalls personally and suggested that Shakur had slept with Smalls’ estranged wife Faith Evans. On September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, dying six days later. Rumours of Smalls’ involvement in the shooting were rampant, although Smalls denied any involvement. While recording his second album, Smalls was involved in a car crash that shattered his left leg, temporarily confining him to a wheelchair. The injury forced him to use a cane once he was able to walk again.
since he feared for his safety. On March 9, Smalls and his entourage left a party at 12:30 a.m. to return to the hotel. The group was travelling in two GMC Suburbans. While stopped at a light, two vehicles pulled up alongside the Suburban carrying Biggie, where one of the drivers rolled down his window and fired numerous rounds into the Suburban. Biggie was hit in the chest by four bullets, and rushed to hospital, but was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m.
His murder remains unsolved, and there are many theories regarding the motives and identities of the killers, many of which involve Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight, the co-founder of Death Row Records. Smalls second album was released fifteen days after his murder, entitled Life After Death, and it immediately reached # 1 on the Billboard album chart. It received strong reviews, and gained Diamond status in 2000. Smalls is considered to be one of the greatest rap artists, and The Source magazine named him the greatest rapper of all time in 2001. A biographical film of Smalls’ life named Notorious is scheduled for release in 2009.