March 9 remains forever embedded in our minds as the day we lost the late and great Notorious B.I.G. (real name Christopher Wallace). While Biggie's catalog of music wasn't extremely extensive (his posthumous releases have been fairly minimal), we can probably agree that it's a solid discography.
And yes, there are Biggie's "go to" classic songs: "Big Poppa," "One More Chance," "Mo Money Problems," and of course, the one that started it all, "Juicy."
However, some of the best Biggie songs are those that simply lived on his two albums, Ready to Die and Life After Death. Others appeared as remixes, b-sides and unreleased tracks that are regarded as treasured relics of a rap god who left this Earth way too soon.
So in honor of the life of the G.O.A.T. in hip-hop, The Boombox compiled 15 songs that featured the lyrically brilliance of Biggie. From his singles to his rarities to his most notable tracks, there are many songs to treasure. Peep our list below.
Rest in peace, Notorious B.I.G. We will always love Big Poppa.
"I don't wanna live no more / Sometimes I hear death knockin' at my front door," Biggie breathes at the start of "Everyday Struggle." Over traditional boom bap, Big talks paranoia and the size of his intimidating frame. The track just screams real hip-hop as he explains the stress of slinging drugs. It's one of the purer cuts that Biggie bestowed upon us, where it really was just straight spittin' sans too many bells and whistles. It's proof too that even with a simple bassline, Biggie could still deliver some complex bars with the greatest of ease. It's no wonder why it's one of the best Notorious B.I.G. songs there is.
There came a point in the Notorious B.I.G.'s career where he was riddled in beef. Haters popped up everywhere, and of course the historical battle between him and the late Tupac Shakur ignited the East Coast / West Coast war within rap. It never felt like Biggie was entirely comfortable with that station as a figurehead in the midst of controversy. While it felt at times like 'Pac welcomed it, Biggie appeared uneasy. "What's Beef?" details those emotions, especially on the hook. While Big still puffs his chest out, while expressing how he has to sleep with two guns and his mother can't walk the streets. It shows a degree of vulnerability in the midst of the beef; that very beef that led to his demise.
"Sky's the Limit"Feat. 112
Had the Notorious B.I.G. lived to the time when "Sky's the Limit" was released as a single, it would've been perceived completely differently in his career. The song recalls Big's earliest days filled with struggle. "A n---- never been as broke as me / I like that," he says at the opening of his bars. He travels through his journey from poverty to opulence, or as he puts it "ashy to classy." If Big were alive when the song was released, he would see it as the halfway mark in his career as he embarked on a Chapter 2 of sorts. Considering the circumstances that happened prior to its release as a single, the song becomes a goodbye letter. It's Biggie telling you his story before he bids you farewell, leaving you with the best advice a rapper's ever given: "Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart's in it / And live the phrase 'sky's the limit.'" The video has children impersonating everyone from Biggie to Busta Rhymes. It's ironic, because Biggie was a child when he died. Twenty five is not old, and the child of Voletta Wallace still had work to do. Too bad he never got to do it.
The threatening beat on "Things Done Changed" could get you drunk on fear, but Big's lyrics are sobering. He begins with childhood, where "things done changed" since the days of playing with toys with your boys. Then things get a little deeper as the hook rolls around. Dr. Dre's 'Little Ghetto Boy' sample cuts like a knife with the words: "Things done changed on this side / Remember they used to thump, but now they blast, right?" It details the move to more violent times, where even parents are fearful of their own children. Since Biggie's career moved so quickly with a slew of mainstream hits, his ability to inject social commentary into his rhymes became an overlooked talent of his. "Things Done Changed" is perhaps one of the earliest revelations that Big could have very well been a mouthpiece for more than just the mic. A reason why this serves as one of the best Notorious B.I.G. songs.
Before Biggie arrived, everyone knew that hip-hop's storyteller was Slick Rick and few came close to his effortless oral histories on wax. Then Biggie came with one of his best songs off his follow-up album, Life After Death. "I Got A Story to Tell" is a tale of how Biggie goes home with a girl from the club, does his thing, and then her man comes home. He's an athlete from the New York Knicks and Biggie, quick on his feet, pretends like he was robbing the house (he even ties up and gags the girl). The Knicks player finds them, freaks out and gives Biggie a bunch of money. He leaves, gathers his boys to tell the story. Amazing. The funniest part is that when his friend asks why the basketball player was home, Big says he doesn't know, but the game must've been "rained out." Brilliant.
"Who the f--- is this? Pagin' me at 5:46 in the morning," is one of the most recognized lines from a Biggie song. While pagers are long gone, flushed from the bowels of technology, people still use his opening line to this day. On top of that, Big delivers a form of a track style very popular during hip-hop in the '90s, where the verses bounce back and forth through a phone call. Then he continues into some more bad news. The song feels like the antithesis of Ice Cube's "It Was A Good Day," because Biggie's day didn't sound good at all. In fact, the song ends with "Hold on, I think I hear somebody comin'" suggesting more bad news was right around the corner, as if waking up at 5:46AM wasn't bad enough.
"Notorious Thugs"Feat. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
"It's Bone and Biggie, Biggie / It's Bone and Biggie, Biggie." Who doesn't chant along when "Notorious Thugs" comes on? While Bone Thugs-N-Harmony did their thing on the hook, harmonizing to the terrorizing keys woven into the beat, Notorious B.I.G. totally switches up his cadence. He ricochets bars, adopting a southern type of flow as he sends a gentle jab at Pac, who died at this point ("so called beef with you know who") and also Faith ("fucked a few female stars or two"). Then the Bone boys speed it up some with their signature flows. Every member of this song is essential to it becoming a classic, especially the Notorious B.I.G. Shout out to Layzie Bone closing the track with the "red red rum rum rum rum" that "red red rum rum rum rum."
From the onset of Biggie's debut album Ready to Die, the late rapper was obsessed with his own demise. Whether thinking someone was going to kill him or that he would someday take his own life, it was almost cryptic how Biggie predicted an early departure from the planet. Even further, he didn't have aspirations of entering the golden gates of heaven. This sng is dark, self-deprecating and overbearingly cynical. Yet it's poignant. "When I die, f--- it, I wanna go to hell / 'Cause I'm a piece of s---, it ain't hard to f---in' tell," he says on the phone to Puff on the track. Biggie then discusses why hell is so much better anyway -- he prefers to dress in black (not white), he likes sex, he commits crime. Heaven feels too strict. "I swear to God I just wanna slit my wrists and end this bulls---," he threatens. The religious undertones are present, where killing himself is still murder so he'd go to hell for it. It's such a dismal way for Biggie to kick off his career. Who knew at the time he was predicting an early exit? One of the best Notorious B.I.G. songs indeed.
Who the hell would ever say "You look so good, I'd suck on your daddy's d---?" Well, Big does on "Me & My Bitch." This Ready to Die track builds with the beat the quintessential ride or die chick. She helps you move weight, she has keys to your crib. She doesn't need romance -- or maybe she does, but Biggie won't provide it. Then the dissension happens, where she's using his toothbrush to clean a toilet and tosses he clothes out the window. He still loves her though, even until the end of the song when she *gulp* dies a la Lost Boyz's "Renee." The song is emotional yet ill, and houses a classic line that became the lead sample on Method Man and Mary J. Blige's "All I Need": "And then we lie together, cry together / I swear to God I hope we f---in' die together."
"The What"Feat. Method Man
"Biggie Smalls is the illest." Certain one-liners rise above a song and enter hip-hop history, and that line from "The What" is one of them. While the track is really just a playful lyrical exercise for Biggie and Method Man, it's impeccable. The way the two grab a hold of the springy beat and just pummel it is enough to label it a qualified classic. The song feels like it could live in a dark alley amidst a group of guys holding a cypher. Then the hook cuts up the bars and turns into a warped slogan for the workers' union: "F--- the world, don't ask me for s--- / Everything you get, you've got to work hard for it." And ya don't stop.
If there was one thing Biggie had over most rappers during that time period (and beyond), it was his ability to freestyle. 'The Wickedest' was a mere inkling of that skill set, as it's short but undeniably potent. As he warms up our ears for a minute or so (suggesting we grab some weed or a drink), he awaits Mister Cee's cue for the beat to drop. Then it's mayhem. He goes from STDs to going criminally insane in terms of content. Then he closes the freestyle with a similar line he wrote for Lil' Kim on "No Time": "But gettin' back to the black rhinoceros of rap / Big took a loss? How preposterous is that?" (Kim's version is "Can't fade the rhinoceros of rap / Lil' Kim a rookie? How preposterous is that?")
Besides housing another epic "Mad Rapper" skit at the beginning of the song, 'Kick in the Door' was important on a number of levels. When Life After Death arrived, Biggie solidified his status as rap star. The fame was omnipresent and with it came a slew of tracks that seamlessly swam the mainstream. A track like "Kick in the Door" was very necessary for a number of reasons. For one, it maintained Big's street credibility. The track talks traditional threats like "Kick in the door, wavin' the four-four / All ya heard was Poppa don't hit me no more." After tracks like "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance," it was easy to assume that maybe Biggie went soft with that cushion of cash. Nope. The Notorious B.I.G. was still the mo' shady, Frankie Baby, who would could turn around and sling rocks like he just started up again. He needed to prove he was still hard. We all knew it, but it didn't hurt to overstate the obvious.
Sure the track is called "Party and Bulls---," but there's nothing laid-back and "hangin' out" about it. "I was a terror since the public school era," Biggie barks as the track erupts from jump. The greatest element of this song was Biggie's delivery on this one. His cadence, his energy, his fire. It was all there and the recipe made for one hell of a song. As he rides the beat, Big discusses everything he could do -- from beating asses to getting asses. But like the title of the song suggests, all he really wants to do is party and bulls---. Besides being one of the best Biggie songs, it's also the greatest slacker anthem from a far from slacker rapper.
Everybody needs a set of rules to follow, even if they are rules on how to break the rules. Like Biggie says on "10 Crack Commandments," the game could destroy you. "I've been in this game for years, it made me an animal / There's rules to this s---, I wrote me a manual." While the song is a solid lecture on how to penetrate the crack game, it's really just a euphemism for the rap game. From never trusting anybody to "never get high on your own supply" there are a ton of valuable lessons in the "10 Crack Commandments." The advice can be readily applied to today, only heightening the timelessness of the track.
The piece de resistance. The creme de la creme. Call it what you want, but "Who Shot Ya" stands as one of the best Biggie songs (along with the other 14 tracks listed) by way of the thorough ass-whoopin' the rapper gives to the beat. He's firing shots, talking threats, making not so subtle jabs and he's doing it all with lyrical perfection. As his deep, brooding voice slices through the David Porter sample on the chirpy beat, we get a stark contrast that carries through the whole track. 'Who Shot Ya' states its intentions right from the title, yet it's more than just the violence. It's a clear indicator that the Notorious B.I.G. was lyrically one of the greatest to ever do it, and while we have a whole collection of songs to replay in his honor, none can compare to what Biggie could have accomplished had he lived past 25.