I used to wake up early on the weekends in junior high school. Mostly so I could spend my Sunday morning playing my Game Gear and watching ESPN until my parents had me start doing something around the house or we went somewhere.
On this particular Sunday, I had turned the TV on, plugged in my AC adapter, and turned on my Game Gear when a report came across the screen. Kurt Loder and MTV News came roaring in and that alone was always enough to peak my interest. But I was shocked to learn that The Notorious B.I.G. had been gunned down in Los Angeles.
I was 14 years old at the time. Biggie Smalls was 25 years old and 2 months away from his 26th birthday. I know my journey into rap had only truly started around this time but I definitely knew Big’s hits and his videos. I also knew that Tupac Shakur had just been murdered in Las Vegas the previous September. The timing of both of their deaths when they were the biggest figures in hip-hop wasn’t lost on me. I knew the world had lost a spectacular talent.
I cried that morning. It wasn’t deep sobbing; but there were tears that Christopher Wallace’s life had come to an end abruptly. There wasn’t any deep mourning; I didn’t own any of Big’s music yet so I couldn’t even play anything in his honor. I just caught what I was able to from the music video channels and kept it moving. And it would be a long time until I was able to understand what Big was able to accomplish in his barely 4 year old career at the time of his passing.
Twenty five years later, Biggie is a worldwide legend, his shadow only eclipsed by 2Pac. His records have sold more than 20 million copies. His debut album Ready To Die and his second album Life After Death have been poured over from rap heads to scholars to athletes to former presidents. His videos live on thanks to the internet as each one is only a few taps away. There’s been movies, books, television series, and term papers done all about his brief lifetime.
His daughter T’yanna is 26 and his son CJ is 25. Their memories of their father are blurred into the rap phenomenon the world knew him as, but at the end of the day, he was always just daddy. His mother Voletta will turn 70 next February and she is seen as hip-hop royalty for not only bringing Big into this world but for also making sure her son’s legacy grew even as she dealt with the trauma of his death.
Big was far from perfect. Google Biggie Faith Evans, Biggie Lil’ Kim, or Biggie Charli Baltimore and you’ll be able to see he was no saint. Not that he ever claimed he was but the way his life ended can make one gloss over those details. Those things along with his criminal activities before he signed with Uptown are just as important as his accomplishments. They show that Biggie was human, as flesh and blood as you and me. He made his mistakes and he knew it. But most anything I’ve come across detailing the last few months of his life say that he was already apologizing to those he hurt and trying to be a better person. All any of us can strive to do is to try to do better than what we did the day before. Big wasn’t just incredible, he was relatable.
Today also marks 25 years Biggie’s murder has gone unresolved. 2Pac’s murder will reach 26 years without a resolution this September. Far be it from me to question how this happens when I know there are people in the world without answers as to why their own loved ones were killed. But aside from unproven theories and a heavy crutch thanks to the East/West animosity of the mid-90s, fans of both Big and Pac have accepted the grim fact that we’ll never know who was responsible for gunning down these two iconic men in the primes of their lives.
But when I think about The Notorious B.I.G., I don’t dwell on his ending. I dwell on his rhyme patterns, his ability to tell a story, his sense of humor, how big he was smiling in the “Hypnotize” video, and how a big guy with a lazy eye from Brooklyn was so damn charismatic.
I think about how I smile every time I hear the aforementioned “Hypnotize” play in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. I think about Voletta walking up to the podium with Afeni Shakur in 1999 at the MTV Video Music Awards. I think about how I played the edited version of “Sky’s The Limit” on loop the other morning while Aaliyah and I got ready to leave the other for the day. I think about that feeling when I first heard “Dead Wrong” and knew I now had a favorite Biggie Smalls’ song. And I always chuckle when Big says the UPS is hiring bar from the “Flava In Your Ear (Remix)”.
I choose not to remember Big just because he died today. I choose to remember him because of how much I think of him on the other 364 days throughout the year. And it’s fitting that The Lox had their moment in the sun last summer because they said it the best 25 years ago: We’ll Always Love Big Poppa.