the notorious big bio

The Notorious BIG Bio: The King of Hip Hop

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In the rap industry, the title of “King” is the highest recognition an emcee could receive from fans and peers alike. While several have coveted this moniker, very few rappers have earned even just a place in the conversation. And, when it comes down to it, the number of artists who can legitimately claim the title can be counted on one hand.

The Notorious B.I.G. was, and will forever be, worthy of being distinguished as King of Hip Hop. On the basis of commercial success, technical execution, and impact on the rap culture, Biggie Smalls ascended to the pantheon of global hip hop icons.

As a testament to his legacy, just about every successful rapper alive claims that they were influenced by the unparalleled greatness of Brooklyn’s finest.

Notorious BIG Quick Facts

Birth Date May 21, 1972
Birth Place Brooklyn, New York
Nick Name Biggie, Big
Nationality American
Zodiac Sign Gemini
Children T’yanna Wallace (b. 1993)


Christopher George Latore Wallace, Jr. (b. 1996)

Partner/Spouse Faith Evans (m. 1994; sep. 1996)
Most Successful Songs “Juicy”


“Big Poppa”

“One More Chance”


“Mo Money More Problems”

Net Worth Estimated value of $10 million (unadjusted for inflation) at the time of his death
Major Awards 4x Grammy Award nominations


4x winner at the 1995 Source Hip Hop Music Awards

1995 Rap Artist of the Year, Billboard Music Awards

1997 Best R&B Album, Billboard Music Awards (for Life After Death)

Last updated June 12, 2022

Early Years

notorious big

The Notorious BIG was born Christopher George Latore Wallace on May 21, 1972, in Brooklyn. Christopher’s parents were of Jamaican descent; his father Selwyn had been a local politician while his mother Voletta was a preschool teacher.

When Christopher was two years old, Selwyn left the family, leaving Voletta to work two jobs in order to make ends meet. Christopher’s penchant for language manifested early on in his childhood when he bagged multiple accomplishments related to the English subject.

However, despite his impressive showing at Queen of All Saints Middle School, he started traversing a different path. In a 1994 New York Times interview, Biggie claimed that he started getting involved in drug dealings at the age of 12.

Around this same time, young Christopher developed a passion for rap music. He entertained people in his Brooklyn neighborhood, sometimes performing with local groups. At one point, he called himself MC CWest, while also going by the nickname “Big” (which he acquired because of his overweight frame).

Eventually, Christopher shunned academics altogether; when he was 17, he dropped out of high school and focused squarely on his street dealings. (Incidentally, one of the last schools that he attended—George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School—counts Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, and DMX among its alumni.)

Crime Time Before the Big Time

After Christopher left his schooling behind, his run-ins with the law only escalated. In 1989, he landed in jail due to weapons charges (for which he also received a five-year probationary sentence).

Christopher was once again arrested in 1990 for violating this very probation. Then, in 1991, he started yet another prison sentence for dealing crack cocaine in the state of North Carolina. After nine months, he made bail and was released from prison.

It was after this prison sentence that Christopher released a demo tape called “Microphone Murderer.” In this tape, he gave himself the moniker that would later become a household name: Biggie Smalls.

As it turned out, “Microphone Murderer” was instrumental in getting Biggie his first big break. A copy of the tape landed in the possession of staff employed by the popular The Source magazine. Impressed by what they heard, the magazine’s editors decided to include Biggie in their March 1992 Unsigned Hype column.

Biggie’s inclusion here led to a recording with other promising rappers of his time. This recording was then heard by Sean “Puffy” Combs, a producer for Uptown Records. Combs soon met with Biggie and signed him to Uptown; as an Uptown talent, Biggie contributed a verse to the Heavy D & the Boyz song “A Buncha Niggas.”

However, Combs’ time with Uptown came to an end after he got embroiled in a conflict with his boss Andre Harrell. A week later, Combs established his own record label (“Bad Boy Records”) and immediately signed his friend Biggie.

As if to preview the greatness that was about to unfold, Uptown released tidbits of Biggie’s work during his short stint there. In August 1992, Uptown delivered a remix of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” which was spiced up by a guest verse from Biggie.

Nearly a year later, Biggie’s first solo (“Party and Bullshit”) came out; it was also part of the soundtrack for the 1993 comedy Who’s the Man?

A Fateful Friendship

The Notorious BIG

Just as Biggie’s career was about to take off, he befriended a man who would one day become his mortal enemy. During a visit to Los Angeles in 1993, Biggie became fast friends with West Coast rap star Tupac Shakur.

In a 2010 interview, Biggie’s labelmate Lil’ Cease described how Biggie and Tupac would travel together whenever the former was in L.A. or the latter was visiting New York. Cease also noted that Biggie would frequently stay at Tupac’s house during West Coast trips.

Their friendship grew to the point of Biggie asking Tupac to manage his music career. Tupac, however, expressed confidence in Puffy’s ability to elevate Biggie’s career. Though Biggie and Tupac seemed destined for a lifetime friendship, they would fall out in dramatic manner just a year after they first crossed paths.

Ready to Die

At long last, Biggie’s first studio album Ready to Die was released by Bad Boy in September 1994. Ready to Die was a darling of the critics, thanks to all the hallmarks of Biggie’s rap style: impeccable flow, smoothly layered rhymes, authentic story-telling, and powerful emotion.

Three singles were released from the album, and each one turned out to be smash hits. “Juicy” was a celebration of success achieved despite harsh circumstances; while “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance” were alluring R&B-influenced tracks oozing with sensuality.

Ready to Die went on to be certified 6x platinum, while the single “Big Poppa” was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 1996 Grammy Awards. More importantly, the album solidified Biggie’s status as one of the finest rappers of his generation.

At Odds with Tupac

Biggie Smalls and Tupac

While the success of the album’s singles is beyond dispute, one cut track would leave an indelible imprint on Biggie’s personal life and career.

In February 1995, Bad Boy released “Who Shot Ya?” as a new B side for “Big Poppa/Warning.” With lyrics such as “Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete” and “You rewind this/Bad Boy’s behind this,” the song was interpreted by many as a mockery of Tupac Shakur’s near-fatal accident in New York.

(Three months before the release of the song, Tupac was robbed and shot inside a recording studio where Biggie and Puffy were supposedly working.)

Tupac himself felt personally insulted by “Who Shot Ya?”, though Biggie vehemently denied that the song was about Tupac’s shooting. Now at odds with Biggie, Tupac wasn’t going to let a perceived insult go unchallenged.

In June 1996, he released a scathing diss track called “Hit ‘Em Up,” where he and his Outlawz cohorts hurl vicious threats at Biggie and his Junior M.A.F.I.A. group.

The interplay between “Who Shot Ya?” and “Hit ‘Em Up” marked another brutal chapter in the burgeoning East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry (with Biggie and Tupac, the two biggest stars, at the forefront).

A Lethal Lifestyle

Aside from this rivalry between rap factions, there were other ways by which Biggie lived life on the fast lane. In 1996, he was arrested multiple times, for various reasons: violent behavior, illegal possession of drugs and weapons, smoking marijuana in public.

That same year, he and Lil’ Cease were involved in a car accident; as a result, Biggie’s left leg was fractured and Cease’s jaw was broken. Just two days before this car accident, Tupac Shakur was murdered in a drive-by shooting on the Las Vegas strip. There are conflicting reports about Biggie’s involvement in the death of his long-time rival.

In a 2002 LA Times article, investigative journalist Chuck Philips claimed that Biggie supplied the gun that was used to kill off Tupac. However, Biggie’s wife Faith Evans has also said that her husband was in shock after finding out that Tupac died, even shedding tears as she spoke with him on the phone.

To this day, there is no conclusive proof about Biggie’s implication in the death of his former friend and nemesis; and, unfortunately, the murder of Tupac Shakur remains an unsolved case.

Life after Death

The Notorious BIG Life after Death

Amidst the injuries and palpable threats to his life, Biggie worked diligently on the follow-up to Ready to Die. At one point, his second studio album was slated for a Halloween 1996 release. However, the injuries that Biggie sustained from the car accident forced Bad Boy to postpone the album’s release till the following year.

On March 25, 1997, the ominously titled Life After Death came out. Matching (or, perhaps, even surpassing) the high standard set by Ready to Die, Life After Death was another gangster rap masterpiece infused with Bad Boy’s brand of R&B.

Two of its singles (“Hypnotize” and the Puffy-assisted “Mo Money Mo Problems”) received Grammy nods in 1998, while the entire project was nominated for Best Rap Album.

Sadly, Biggie was no longer around to celebrate his second album’s accolades. Sixteen days before the release of Life After Death, Biggie was murdered under mysterious circumstances (eerily echoing the death of his rival Tupac just six months earlier).

The Murder of The Notorious B.I.G.

On March 7, 1997, Biggie attended the Soul Train Music Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The next day, he joined the festivities at the Vibe magazine party at the Peterson Automotive Museum, also in LA. These two events would be the last public appearances of his short life.

Shortly past midnight on March 9, Biggie was on his way back to the hotel; the local fire department had ordered the early closure of the Vibe magazine party because it was overcrowded. As Biggie’s SUV waited at a stoplight, a dark-colored Chevy Impala drew up close.

With the Impala positioned right beside the SUV, an occupant of the Impala rolled down his window and fired multiple shots into Biggie’s vehicle. The last shot critically wounded Biggie; it struck him in multiple organs, including his heart and liver. Shortly afterwards, at the tender age of 24, Biggie Smalls was pronounced dead.

Though there are many speculations surrounding Biggie’s death (including a possible link to the Tupac Shakur murder), the perpetrators of his shooting have never been identified.

Nevertheless, Biggie continued to tell stories from the grave as plenty of his unreleased songs and guest verses were released in the years following his death.


biggie smalls

Because of Biggie’s untimely death, he was unable to have a career that spanned multiple decades, like his peers Jay-Z and Nas. Biggie’s rival Tupac, who was also murdered at a young age, had a head start of a few years in the hip hop industry.

Taking this into consideration, Biggie’s legacy becomes all the more impressive in that no rapper has reached his heights of excellence in such a short span of time. Though longevity and a high volume of work are generally considered to be deciding factors of hip hop greatness, Biggie’s brilliance allowed him to carve a niche of his own.

His outstanding studio albums, showstopping guest verses, and even posthumous releases are masterpieces of the gangster rap sub-genre, as well as great representations of classic East Coast rap. Indeed, if a new fan of the hip hop industry, in general, wants a good place to start, they can turn to the discography of The Notorious B.I.G.

Why is the Notorious B.I.G. Influential?

The Notorious BIG

Biggie’s verses are so smooth to the ear because they are imbued with unparalleled poetic and musical quality. His songs perfected the internal and multisyllabic rhymes pioneered by Rakim in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Another hip hop legend, Eminem, would harness the same complex rhyme schemes starting in the late ’90s.

Certainly, it is not difficult to see Biggie’s influence on the rap style of Eminem (who has acknowledged, in multiple songs, that Biggie is in his top 5). Rap artists also look up to Biggie because of his story-telling and wit. Biggie’s street cred—that is, his real-life experiences with drug dealings, violence, and jail time—lends authenticity to every scene he narrates in his songs.

He is also a master of potent bars and well-crafted punchlines; each of these packs tremendous impact because his word choice is equal parts commonplace and sublime.


Question: Why did Biggie Smalls Change his Name to The Notorious B.I.G.?

Answer: Christopher Wallace lifted the “Biggie Smalls” name from the 1975 movie Let’s Do It Again. In the film, actor Calvin Lockhart played Biggie Smalls, a gangster who led a group of thugs. Lockhart filed a lawsuit against Wallace’s use of the name in his rap career.
This forced Wallace to change his stage name to The Notorious B.I.G., though he was still widely known as Biggie Smalls (or simply “Biggie”) in the industry.

Question: Which Artists has The Notorious B.I.G. Collaborated with?

Answer: Biggie and Puffy, the two biggest stars of Bad Boy Entertainment, had several collaborations. Puffy lent spoken verses, rapped verses, and music video appearances to Biggie songs such as “Juicy,” “Hypnotize,” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.”
Meanwhile, Biggie was a major contributor to Puffy’s debut studio album “No Way Out,” which was released four months after Biggie’s death.
In 1995, Biggie formed the Brooklyn-based group Junior M.A.F.I.A. Members included Lil’ Cease, Lil’ Kim, Bugsy, Capone, Chico, Nino Brown, Larceny, Trife, and MC Klepto.
That same year, they released their debut studio album, Conspiracy, which went on to be certified gold. After Biggie’s death in 1997, the group went dormant, and in-fighting eventually led to the dissolution of the group.
Other artists that have collaborated with Biggie include Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Mary J. Blige, Method Man, and Craig Mack.

Question: Did Biggie Write Entire Verses in his Head without Putting them Down to Paper?

Answer: Yes, this is absolutely true! Producers such as DJ Premier and DJ Clark Kent have told stories of how Biggie laid verses on tracks through the sheer power of his memory alone.
DJ Clark Kent even suggests that Biggie may have first committed to this practice after working with Jay-Z on the song “Brooklyn’s Finest.” (Jay-Z, of course, is another hip hop icon who writes whole verses in his head without writing them down.)

Question: Did Biggie have a Family of his Own?

Answer: Biggie has two children, a daughter and a son. In 1993, his ex-girlfriend Jan Jackson gave birth to their daughter T’yanna. She has since made a name for herself as a fashion designer and entrepreneur.
Meanwhile, Biggie’s ex-wife Faith Evans gave birth to their son Christopher Wallace Jr. in 1996. CJ Wallace has pursued a career in acting and is also the co-founder of a cannabis company called Think BIG.

Bottom Line

Biggie Smalls is a mainstay of the “Top 5, Dead or Alive” conversation within the hip hop community. Arguments in support of Biggie’s spot on the summit are perpetrated by fans in local barbershops, up-and-coming emcees in YouTube interviews, and well-established rappers on national radio.

In his relatively short stint in the rap industry, Biggie amassed a body of work that rappers with longer careers can hardly touch. His outstanding discography mirrors the efficiency of his effortless rhymes and inimitable flow. As such, anyone making the claim that Biggie Smalls is the all-time King of Hip Hop would have much merit to win the debate.


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