The death of Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G., has been an enduring mystery ever since he was killed on March 9, 1997.
The rapper, who was also known as Biggie Smalls, was born in 1972 in the harsh Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, and was the only child of Jamaican immigrants. By the time he was 12, he started dealing drugs and eventually dropped out of high school.
In 1991, his life changed as he started rapping for the very first time and recorded a demo tape that gained traction among the New York underground hip-hop scene.
Biggie caught the attention of local DJ Mister Cee, who helped promote his music at clubs, on the radio and eventually passed it to the editors of hip-hop’s Bible – The Source magazine. The demo also caught the attention of a future mogul, Uptown Records A&R manager Sean “Puffy” Combs. Combs left Uptown and signed the rapper on his new label, Bad Boy Records.
Wallace eventually released his debut studio album, “Ready to Die,” in the summer of 1994. The record became an instant classic among fans and critics boasting the singles, “Juicy,” “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance.” It went double platinum when it was released and now 27 years later has gone six times platinum.
Wallace became one of New York City’s biggest and best rappers, and his face was everywhere from magazine covers to award shows and his videos were on constant rotation on MTV.
The rapper was also obsessive about living a life of excess but also infatuated with his own death and mortality. This was shown in the name of his debut and the macabre notion was reflected on the title of his sophomore release, “Life After Death.” Wallace also rapped many times about dying.
“I want to leave, I swear to God I feel like death is f***ing calling me but naw, you wouldn't understand, n**** talk to me please,” he rapped on “Suicidal Thoughts.”
“I don’t wanna live no more, sometimes I hear death knockin’ at my front door,” he rapped on “Everyday Struggle.”
He even twisted the title of the beloved Dean Martin song “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” for his song “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Kills You.”
As Wallace saw his star rise, he was also competing against his former friend, Los Angeles rapper Tupac Shakur. Shakur’s label head, Deathrow Records founder Suge Knight, and Combs did not get along and would famously criticize each other in the press, leading Shakur and Wallace to turn on each other.
The media helped escalate the so-called “East Coast/West Coast” rap feuds of the mid-'90s and while each rapper took lyrical shots at each other on diss tracks, including one called "Hit 'Em Up," where Shakur claimed to have had sexual relations with Wallace's estranged wife, singer Faith Evans. Things would eventually turn violent for the rappers.
In November 1994, Shakur was shot multiple times and robbed inside a Manhattan recording studio. At the time, he blamed Wallace for the shooting, but the Brooklyn rapper always denied any involvement in the ordeal.
On Sept. 7, 1996, Shakur was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting on the Las Vegas strip. The “Brenda's Got a Baby” rapper died six days later.
Many speculated that Wallace ordered a hit on Shakur but he denied that he did.
Almost six months to the day after Shakur was shot, Wallace was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles street during the early hours of March 9. The rapper was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m.
His funeral in Brooklyn, held on March 18, saw the main streets of Bed-Stuy closed for the procession and was attended by Queen Latifah, Flava Flav, Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Run DMC, Busta Rhymes, Salt-N-Pepa, and hip-hop founding father DJ Kool Herc.
Like his former West Coast rival, Shakur, Wallace’s legacy has grown larger than life following his death. Murals of him can be found across Brooklyn and in many cities around the world such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia. In 2018, the city of New York renamed part of the rapper’s childhood block “Christopher Wallace Way;” the year before, a basketball court in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, was renamed after him.
Wallace and Shakur’s deaths have never been solved. Their cases remain open.