LOS ANGELES — It’s been 15 years since the Notorious B.I.G. was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. While there are plenty of unanswered questions in the still-unsolved homicide, one thing that can’t be questioned is Biggie’s game-changing contributions to rap music.
With only two albums of studio material under his belt (“Life After Death,” while released posthumously, was completed before his death), the man born Christopher Wallace made himself an indelible force in the genre and helped put the East Coast sound on the map at a time when ears were glued to the gangster rap that was brewing out of the West.
He exposed the poisons, paranoia and seedy underworld that came with slinging drugs on the streets of Brooklyn, using his ability to craft stories with witty wordplay and braggadocious swagger.
His wheezy, gruff and almost lazy cadence was his greatest asset, and he used the delivery as something of a secret weapon, crafting lyrics that had the ability to creep up on the listener from behind. Pair this with the production work of Sean “Diddy” Combs, who dialed up soul samples to bolster the timelessness of Biggie’s voice, and his songs had a classic feel on arrival. Need evidence? Songs such as “Juicy,” “Warning,” “One More Chance” and “Hypnotize,” the latter two being his biggest singles on pop radio during his lifetime, easily stand as some of the more memorable moments in rap. Seriously, try to listen to the breakneck opening bars of “Hypnotize” without bobbing your head and mouthing the words.
Biggie didn’t leave behind a wealth of vaulted works. Unlike peer and eventual rival Tupac Shakur, there have been only two traditional posthumous releases, with one serving as a duet/remix album. Wallace, in fact, was just getting started when he was killed. But look at it this way: His legacy has not been tarnished by an outpouring of previously unreleased works cobbled together without his input.
Friday marks the 15th anniversary of his death; at the end of the month, his critically heralded (and rather ambitious) final album, “Life After Death,” will also reach its 15-year mark.