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The Notorious B.I.G.

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The Notorious B.I.G. cover
"I was a full time 100 percent hustler. Sellin' drugs, waking up early in the morning, hitting the set selling my shit 'til the crack of dawn. My mother goin' to work would see me out there in the morning. Thats' how I was on it."
-The Notorious B.I.G.
Twenty-year-old, Brooklyn born and bred, B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, also known as Chris Wallace, used to be a hustler, but now he has other things occupying his time. Over the last two years, he has rapped on Mary J. Blige's remixes of "Real Love" and "What's The 411," appeared in Supercat's "Dolly My Baby" video, had his own single, "Party and Bullshit," from the Who's The Man? soundtrack, and performed at shows all over the country. With '94 comes B.I.G.'s debut album, Ready To Die.
B.I.G.'s minimal exposure to the public has been more than enough to have the underground hip-hop heads finding for more of his crystal-clear, captivating rhymes. His lyrical style could also be described as listener-friendly, because every single word is decipherable and the details that he weaves together will paint the entire picture for you. At the end of a B.I.G. rhyme, you can visualize what happened just as clearly as if you were watching a movie.
B.I.G. is considered the mayor of his Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Everyone knows his big, black, towering presence as barks out like an army general. Everybody speaks to him, from old ladies to little kids, and he has something to say right back to all of them. "Hey, Ms. Price! How's your on doing?...Damn, boy. When are you gonna cut that box off your head?"
Back in the day (not really the day, more like '90-'91) when his "business" was in full swing, he rapped a little bit too. He had a rep in the neighborhood, "cause everyone knew I had skills or whatever." But he was just having fun, the rap stuff was secondary.
"I used to hang out with the OGB Crew, the Old Gold Brothers, over on Bedford Ave," B.I.G. explains. That's where he got his start. They weren't a rap crew, but one of them had turntables in his basement, so they would go over and make tapes. Tapes started to circulate around their Bed-Stuy neighborhood, but for B.I.G., "It was fun just hearin' myself on tape over the beats."
Still with no real intentions of making a record or getting a deal, his tape was passed on to Big Daddy Kane's DJ, Mister Cee, who lived in the neighborhood and made tapes. Cee thought it was o dope that he took it to Matty C up at The Source to get in their "Unsigned Hype" column. The Source liked it so much that they asked him to appear on a compilation album of their best "Unsigned Hype" winners. The album never came out but Common Sense, Back II Back, Mobb Deep and B.I.G., all scheduled to be on the album, ended up with record deals.
Everything sort of took B.I.G. by surprise. He had never thought of getting a record deal, yet within a couple of weeks he was in The Source on the compilation album and penning a deal with Uptown Records. Sean "Puffy" Combs, Uptown's National Director of A&R at the time, saw something in B.I.G. and took him in as family. Riding on his success with Mary J. Blige and Jodeci, it was not a matter of "will this album be dope," but "how dope is it going to be?"
"Puffy helped a lot with the A&R," says B.I.G. "It was a lot of stuff he made me do over. He wasn't trying to rush nothing. He treated my album like an R&B album. As far as pitch, breath control all that shit, he was making sure my shit was right."
They finished the album, but then Puffy left Uptown and started his own label, Bad Boy Records. without Puffy, Uptown decided they didn't want to handle B.I.G., so they dropped him. But Bad Boy was right there to pick up where Uptown left off. "This is what we always wanted," insists B.I.G. "I wanted to go to Puff's shit because I knew if I went to that nigga's shit it'd be 100 percent correct."
Ready To Die, produced mostly by Easy Mo Bee, with additional cuts by The Bluez Bruthas, Trak Masters and Lord Finesse, is a heavily R&B-flavored, cut and dry mixture of "gangsta" subject matter and East Coast rhyme skills. Example? On "Everyday Struggle" Big sets up a scenario where he and his man are driving down South to take over a drug spot. "I had the master plan/I'm in the Caravan/On my way to Maryland/With my man Two Techs to take over these projects/They call his 'Two Techs' he totes two techs/ And when he starts to bust he likes to ask, 'Who's next?"
Now, be careful and don't let the titles fool you. "Friend of Mine" is a cut with B.I.G. talking about pimping: "When I'm fuckin' off gin, I'm invincible/Don't love those ho's that's my principle." And "Me and My Bitch" is actually a love story where his girlfriend ends up dying in the end.
He mentions his mother several times throughout the album, clearly because she was a big part of his life even through his eyes, it wasn't always the best. "When I was little, my mom used to shit on me," he says. During the trip across Ready To Die, you'll see his relationship with his mother comes full circle. First, he's little and his mom ain't giving him shit, then he's making money as a rapper and she's sporting minks on her back, and finally, she develops breast cancer and B.I.G. shows his first signs of emotion.
On "Gimme The Loot," Biggie, along with his alter-ego, plan a no-shorts-taken robbery spree. Wu Tang Clan's Method Man contributes to "The What," and reggae diva Diana King shows up on "Respect," a song about Biggie coming up.
The Notorious B.I.G. has come up. And after riding along with Mary J. Blige for a minute, it's time for him to come out. Nevermind the title, he's not "ready to die." This is only the beginning.

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