March 9, 2020 marked the 23rd anniversary of the tragic and still unsolved murder of Christopher Wallace, who will forever be remembered by the hip hop world as The Notorious B.I.G. Drake, Joey Bada$$, but also local rappers such as Haftbefehl (Arrest Warrant) still refer to the condescending big-boss aura, the pictorial as well as witty lyricism and the detailed flow patterns in pure mumble delivery. Biggie is one of the most influential rappers of all time, dead or alive. Even if this day a host of newcomers, trapboard riders and internet rappers may deny his influence, one thing is certain; Big Poppa is still among us.
In the YouTube format “Overrated/Underrated” by the colleagues from Pitchfork, Lil Yachty says “Overrated” and smiles when asked for his opinion on B.I.G. – knowing that as a newcomer and representative of the so-called Mumble rappers, he is putting a good four to five generations of hip hop on the line with this statement. Yachty was born in 1997, the year Biggie died, so he never consciously witnessed his musical zenith or direct impact. Yet it is not at all difficult to discover the huge notch of The Notorious B.I.G. in the hip hop scene of today, twenty years after his death.
“Gotta let it show/I love the dough”
When culture advocates once again get angry about the materialistic glorification in words and images of rap music, the relevant origins of this alleged evil today are, on closer inspection, ironically rooted in the nineties, so beloved by real people – and especially in Bad Boy Records around Puff Daddy and Biggie. The dominance of middle-class conscious rap, as popularized by ATCQ and De la Soul, had been replaced in both relentless radicalism and reality by the ostentatious charisma of gangster rap on the US Pacific coast.
The fact that Biggie’s debut album “Ready To Die” in 1994 was celebrated within the scene as the saviour of New York rap is primarily due to the fact that he superficially used the same visual language as Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice-T. The content and marketable image of Biggies were clearly materialistic and just as boastful as Dr. Dres’s 92 classic debut “The Chronic” – although more inspired by Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, but also Reakwon and Ghostface, who all staged themselves as chain-bound, heavily rich rap mafiosos like “The Godfather”, than by West Coast rappers who carried the increasingly proletarian raid raid rap before them. Of course, Schoolly D, generally regarded as the founder of gangstarap, had already proclaimed “Gucci Time” in 1985, but the glorified decadence of Biggie 1993 was no gimmick (anymore), but an integral part of the artistic creation. The Notorious B.I.G. therefore also had to be splendidly staged in his videos. While in his solo debut “Juicy” he is still partly taken to the front as an imprisoned Rudeboy, he is primarily portrayed as an almost presidential family clan leader in his second video “Big Poppa”. Musically, he always moved in a grey area anyway: The productions of Easy Moe Bee or the Trackmasters modify the high-earner charm of eighties R’n’B samples to flawless high-gloss beats with an outrageous radio suitability for rap ears – and especially at the end of his only four-year career, Wallace also tries to be more the sublime drug lord than the ambitious smalltime dealer.