Christopher Wallace was one of the greatest rappers the culture has ever heard. And we can still hear him. Fifteen years after his untimely death, Wallace’s friends and colleagues drop science.
Steve Rifkind:I think BIG and Puff would be really owning the world. I think they were the best one-two duo in the history of the music business. I mean, I didn’t know BIG that well, but I think the respect that they had for each other that was so admirable. When Puff was first coming out with his record, his first single, he performed it at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy dinner. And I remember walking to the men’s room to take a piss and BIG was almost coaching him on telling him what to do. I was just like ‘man.’ It was a special combination.
Sway: With Bad Boy, If BIG was around, we wouldn’t have seen Puff become so much of an artist. I don’t feel Puff would have felt the need to be so much of a rapper. I mean, Puff always rapped with BIG and he might have put out a Diddy album, but I don’t know if he would of continued down that path because it probably wouldn’t have been necessary. Shyne would have never been signed… I mean, Shyne would of been signed to another label, but I don’t think he would have been on Bad Boy because they would’ve had Biggie. Not to peck away at Shyne’s talent, because he was hot at that time he made a couple hot records, but that’s what it was about: get a dude who sounds like Biggie.
DJ 45:I personally think he set the tone for what a lot of cats are doing right now. A lot of cats are just rapping because they were that street cat rapping about the bricks, but Biggie knew how to do that and give the music that edge of knowing how to put it all together. I gotta say, I literally saw Biggie and Puff working together and Puff kind of gave that [edge] to BIG. For example, “Juicy.” Biggie hated “Juicy.” It turned out it was one of his biggest hits, but when we did shows, Biggie was like, ‘Yo, I don’t want to do “Juicy.” That’s how much he didn’t like it. He wanted to do the hard joints, “Gimme the Loot” and “Warning.” He lived for that.
Jean Nelson:I think BIG would have still been at the top of his game. I think he would have been more of a businessman at this point in his career, but I think a lot of people around him, their careers would have gone a different way. Such as the Lil Kims, the Lil Ceases. I think that would have been the only change. What he started with Junior M.A.F.I.A., he was one of the first to create that branding of artists before he was completely off the platform. He started from day one. He had that business model way back when.
Clark Kent:BIG at 40? He’d be chilling, being a good father and making the greatest records. For most artists, he was the best emcee alive; he was 100 percent the best rapper ever. You can be the best emcee and no one will care. But he was great at making records. Biggie could say a rhyme that wasn’t good and make you believe it was great ‘cause of the way he said it. He’d be getting better because he woulda had Jay forcing him to be better–his competitive spirit forcing him to be better. He woulda been an extremely successful artist, the greatest rapper ever. He was no. 1 rapper and Jay no. 1 emcee.
An emcee is a pure lyricist, a rapper is the whole package. When you look at BIG, he made you believe what he said, and he said it beautifully; he could say anything and it sounded right. He fixed music with his voice, his flow, his cadence. Not a lot of people can do that.
KP:BIG, he kinda morphed. He had a way of assimilating to Southern shit. If you look at the “Big Poppa” video, that was after Puff came down and did the Outkast video, and kinda figured out a diff version of fly that he added to the Harlem fly, with the Kangols and the Coogi sweaters — that was a very Southern look in a way. [If Big hadn’t died,] it woulda helped promote [the South], he had really good taste, he did records with Da Brat and JD, he understood there was more music outside of New York. I think you woulda gotten a little more class out of the artists in the South, ‘cause that bar is always good to have. The one-hit-wonder-dance-hit wouldn’t have been as important.
Sway:Before BIG died, there was definitely a dynamic between BIG, Nas and Jay-Z–especially BIG and Nas–vying for who was the king. Like, BIG was definitely the king of New York at the time, but it was a healthy competition between him and Nas. I interviewed Jay-Z years ago and he acknowledged, in a sense, that he was the next guy in line and was able to, from those circumstances, kind of clear a lane. New York needed a new hero at that time, and you know, they did have Nas of course, but [BIG’s passing] made more room for Jay Z to be recognized–because BIG was pretty much wearing the crown. [BIG’s] demise indirectly helped Jay-Z rise because New York Hip-hop needed a boost at that time. But BIG was considered one of the greatest across the board–it was a national thing when he passed away.
Reasonable Doubt didn’t move nearly the numbers of BIG first album Ready To Die and it didn’t have the same impact as a Illmatic. So, if his life wasn’t taken away, Jay-Z’s rap career would of took a different course and it might of taken him longer to achieve the level of success he did as a rapper.
Easy Mo Bee:I could hear BIG experimenting with other producers. You know, music has changed a lot. A lot of it is down South-driven, but I could hear him do some of that stuff too. I think there would have been a certain line that he would have drawn, as far as the new stuff he would have been experimenting with, but I could see him in this day in time as that lyrical matador who’s just holding fort and having everybody like, ‘Damn, what’s the next thing he’s going to say on a record.” The same type of position right now that Jay’s holding, that would have been Biggie right now.
Life After Death was that initial departure from the grime and the grit from Ready To Die and a big part of that was due to Puff. Puff went through like 80-something beats that I submitted for the second album. He was like, ‘this album, we taking a different direction. We’re not trying to make him some kind of pop artist, but we’re trying to get that radio, trying to get that club.’
I’m just happy that I was there in the beginning to help jump that off. I was there in the beginning to inject that first funk, that first grit and grime. It’s just like Jay and Reasonable Doubt –- no matter what he does, people would always base him upon that. It’s the same thing with Biggie. No matter where he would have taken it, they would always return to the blueprint of Ready to Die.
Lil Ceas:As far as the styles of music, he just wanted the music to mature. If you compare Life After Death to Ready To Die, you can hear the maturity from the music alone, going from coming from the ‘hood to having that success with it. From Born Again, that was supposed to be his third album—that was supposed to be the turning point where everything changed. BIG didn’t want to wear Timbs no more. He wanted to change everything to suits and ties. He wanted to really bring that Junior Mafia—the mob thing—he really wanted to bring that to life. It was about maturity. How much can you rap about hustling and being in the streets if you’re not in the streets no more?
So when you see those last couple of photoshoots—when you see BIG with the suits on and the button ups, you can kinda see where he was going with it from there. When you listen to the Life After Death album, and you peep the progression from Ready To Die, just look to the titles of the records “Sky’s The Limit”, “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Kills You”—you really see him maturing.
Mister Cee:First and foremost, he would have done that Commission album with Jay-Z. That would have led Biggie to different situations. The relationship that he and Hov had…they would have done a lot together. Jay would have pushed BIG to own a basketball team. I don’t know if BIG would have been as business-minded as Jay, but Jay would have helped to guide him. They would have owned the Nets together. I don’t know if BIG would have thought miles ahead the way Jay-Z did. I love BIG, but he loved his weed and his bitches!
And Jay still would have been successful if Biggie was here. A lot of the stuff Jay is doing now, Jay had a vision for it back when he hustled in Brooklyn. And I’ll keep it funky with you: when I heard Jay say what he said back then, I was like OK, he’s just a boastful rapper. But he was determined to stand out and he did what he said he was gonna do. Plus, Jay had some success while BIG was still here—his debut album didn’t go platinum until years later, but he had the talent and the credibility when BIG was alive.
DJ Premier:If Biggie were alive, he might have lost a little weight [laughs]. Lil Kim and Cease would be in a better place. And there would be a lot of artists who wouldn’t be able to get these slots…it’s almost like “ding dong, the witch is dead”. BIG was like a bully, and I don’t mean it in a bad way—I think hip hop needs bullies.
Jay and Biggie used to be in the studio talking about how they wanted to dominate. And Jay is still on top. I never thought that that there would be a generation gap in hip hop…but there is now. All these kids can say is “awww, you’re old.” At 45, I’m still a problem! If Pac and Biggie were still around, there wouldn’t be a generation gap. That’s why I’m glad Jay is still here.