If you type in Notorious B.I.G.’s name you will notice quickly that he is regarded by many as “the greatest of all time”. The question is, is this title, or even a place in the coveted top ten, rightfully deserved? No, it isn’t.
What He Did For Hip Hop: In the mid-1990’s Hip Hop exploded onto the mainstream, which meant artist like Puff Daddy and Notorious B.I.G had substantially more income and were extremely quick to flaunt it. This was the beginning of a period of Hip Hop known as the “shiny suit era”, where money, bling and hoes were the prominent visual images and currency.
Videos like “Juicy”, where Big showed off his lavish lifestyle became status quo, and people were quick to jump on board. Artists like Mic Geronimo went from this to this. Unlike the golden age, mainstream was devoid of any substance and it quickly became a commodity, straying farther and farther away from the socio-political tool Hip Hop began as. The images of Crystal, stacks of money, half-naked models became a caricature of Hip Hop. It made it easier for appropriation and the ignorant to mock. Also in the mid-1990’s a coast to coast feud began, with Biggie and 2pac as its figureheads. This arrogant and childish beef ended when both were murdered and although Biggie did not actively participate in the beef, he did not actively participate to squash it either.
Skill: Biggie excelled above his peers in three categories, his voice, charisma and flow. Being yourself and having a great voice is not a skill and does not warrant you a place amongst the greatest of all time. Nas, Andre 3000, Raekwon, Slick Rick, Mos Def etc. etc. are better storytellers. Big L, Rakim, Big Pun, Eminem, GZA etc. etc. are better with wordplay. 2pac, KRS-One, Chuck D, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Black Thought, Ice Cube etc. etc. have more depth.
Creativity: Puffy was the person responsible for propelling Notorious B.I.G.’s career into the stratosphere. Biggie rapped and Puff did all the rest, for instance it was Puffy’s idea for the now classic Ready to Die album cover, Biggie didn’t even get it.
Influence: Biggie’s time period had a slew of influential rappers that were doing much more influential things, such as Black Sunday, Doggystyle, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Illmatic, Ill Communication, Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik, and Liquid Swords. Also, Biggie himself was influenced by other rappers like Nas, King Tee, Kool G Rap, Tupac, Heavy D and DJ Marly Marl, and was not himself a pioneer.
Who Should Take His Place: Since Big L was also around for a short period of time he is an appropriate rapper to compare Biggie with. He was lyrically superior to Biggie, even rivaling him in flow. His skills were bewildering to critics and consumers alike and he quickly became an underground legend. Big L was a rough around the edges underground MC with no mainstream appeal and when he was murdered there was little disruption in the Hip Hop scene. Even though Ready to Die is better because of superior production, L’s debut Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous is also considered a Hip Hop classic, with his second album falling victim to mediocrity, just like Biggie’s.
I do not hate Biggie, instead it is quite the opposite, I immensely enjoy listening to his music and “Sky’s The Limit” makes my top 5 favorite Hip Hop songs of all time. I do not diminish nor deny his persona, flow, and influence, but his premature death, at the absolute pinnacle of his career, which was after a classic debut album, weeks before he dropped his vastly anticipated second, and embroiled in a highly publicized coast to coast Hip Hop beef, is the reason for a majority of his praise, slew of accolades, and his “greatest of all time” status.