At a tender age, a chubby kid named Christopher Wallace had a way with words. In elementary school, the future King of New York rappers scored good grades and did his single, two-jobs working Jamaican mom Violetta proud. But by his early teens, however, Wallace became more enamored by the teachers who roamed the streets of his Clinton Hill, Brooklyn neighborhood: the science teachers who made the rounds on St James place between Gates and Fulton didn’t wear lab coats, but they sure did know how to cook a crazy chemicals-and cocaine cocktail called Crack.

Sure, his momma did all that she could, but the pressures of wanting to have what he didn’t have, combined with his gift of gab, made Wallace’s own science experiments pay off exponentially…

Wallace paid attention to how his heart would beat when he did hand-to-hand crack sales and ate turkey and swiss hero sandwiches on the corner, and he took mental notes on the ebb and flow of this hustler’s world. Wallace–a lyrical behemoth– was probably blessed with a photographic memory, as he was able to spit his colorful rhymes into a mic without a pen.

His life ended abruptly, as if he was snatched up from one of his own twisted verses–only difference between his words and real life being BIG had messages in his music. He had the ability to be cocky on one end of a song, then highlight his own insecurities in the same tune (as in “black, and as ugly as ever”). There was a level of candor that somehow put everything in perspective, as evidenced on “Shit Done Changed,” on which BIG lays out the do-or-die nature of the streets, only to punctuate it all by mentioning that his mom had cancer in her breast.

The man has been gone for 15 years now, but his songs remain the same: funny, insightful, candid and true the experiences of many African American males struggling to figure out how to get it in the New World. Fifteen years later, a gang of his colleagues and friends weigh in on where BIG would have been today, and how the game would have changed if those cowards who conspired and converged on his SUV hadn’t done so.

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