20 Years Ago Today: Life After Death

Born as Christopher George Latore Wallace in Brooklyn, New York, The Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie or Biggie Smalls) is known as one of the best and most influential rappers of all time. Biggie Smalls was launched into the East Coast hip-hop scene with his 1994 release of Ready to Die. Immediately, Smalls became the face of mainstream rap while becoming involved in the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud (Biggie would be the figurehead of the East Coast scene while Tupac Shakur represented the West) about who dominates the rap game. Unfortunately, both rappers would be killed in response to the feud by unknown drive-by shooters in 1996 (Tupac) and 1997 (Notorious B.I.G.).

However, in late March 1997, a posthumous double-album entitled Life After Death was released by Biggie. The album would go on to dominate the Grammy’s with nominations in “Best Rap Album,” “Best Rap Solo Performance,” and “Best Rap Duo or Group Performance.”

Life After Death is considered by music experts to be one of the most important records of all time, and even sold 690,000 copies in its first week and 5,000,000 copies at the end of the year, making it a platinum album. The album totals nearly two hours and deals with the aforementioned issues throughout its duration. The album featured many hits including: “Hypnotized,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “Notorious Thugs,” “Sky’s the Limit,” and “Going Back to Cali.” Many of these songs are still popular today, often at times with other rappers, such as Jay-Z, quoting lyrics from Biggie.

Life After Death has a lasting legacy because of its “gangsta’” rap and mainstream hip-hop crossover. The Notorious B.I.G. is often credited as the first rapper to talk about gangster life as he often spoke of sex and drugs and violence; however, Biggie also made it a goal to include radio-friendly songs as he wanted to make connections with multiple audiences. Critics often praised Biggie for his stylistic approach to music, for he often included artists from many regions of the United States, causing his music to be diverse and approachable. Today, you can hear influences from Biggie Smalls in other popular rappers songs such as J Cole, Kanye West, Eminem, and Alicia Keys. Rolling Stone magazine even once said that Smalls is one of few male songwriters that have credible love songs, adding to Biggie’s legacy.

Another notion of Life After Death is B.I.G.’s ability to manipulate the flow of lyrics. Biggie Smalls was able to create unique patterns that told narrative stories of street life. This ability to talk of black life was one of the reasons why so many black artists used rap as a call to society over black culture grievances, giving The Notorious B.I.G. a place in music history not only because he influenced many future rappers to create music, but he was able to give a voice to those who needed to be heard. A notion that is made reputable with Life After Death.

– Colt Pierce

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