The Notorious B.I.G.'s Friend Mister Cee Talks on Christopher Wallace's Rise and the Legacy He Left Behind
Legendary DJ Mister Cee, who discovered Biggie and worked with him, told Inside Edition Digital that his friend’s story serves as a template to aspire to greatness no matter what circumstance.
The upcoming Netflix documentary, “I Got a Story to Tell,” chronicles the rise of iconic rapper Notorious B.I.G. The documentary includes interviews with his family and friends, and shows a side fans did not see, including an examination of the man that was Christopher Wallace, before he went on to become Biggie Smalls.
The only child of Jamaican immigrants, the rapper was born in 1972 in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. By the time he was 12, Wallace started dealing drugs and eventually dropped out of high school.
Legendary DJ Mister Cee, who discovered Wallace and worked with him, told Inside Edition Digital that his friend’s story serves as a template to aspire to greatness no matter one's circumstances.
“I think that's what makes his story stand out more than anybody else's is that verbally, shows you in his music that he turned a negative into a positive,” said Mister Cee.
Despite starting out from the bottom and doing what he had to make ends meet, Wallace had more to offer the world and Mister Cee said that dealing drugs in their neighborhood at that time was common.
“That was just a common thing,” he said. “A lot of guys from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn or different urban parts of New York City was heavily into selling drugs or whatever the case is.”
In 1991, Wallace's 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. Wallace caught the attention of Mister Cee, who was contacted by the rapper’s former DJ and manager 50 Grand, who told him he had to listen to a demo tape.
Mister Cee had just returned home from tour with another legendary New York rapper, Big Daddy Kane, when 50 Grand showed up at his house begging him to listen to the demo.
“Because even though Biggie never sounded like Big Daddy Kane, it was like hearing him rhyme to the same beat that me and Kane used in 'Ain't No Half-Steppin,’ it just showed me back then that he was a student of the game,” Mister Cee said. “He was just somebody that respected people that game, the other rappers that came, the other groups that came before him.”
Mister Cee helped promote his music at clubs, on the radio and eventually passed it to the editors of hip-hop’s Bible – The Source magazine.
“When I got to meet Christopher Wallace, before he became successful, he was a very shy guy, very shy. He always talked with his head down,” Mister Cee recalled. “The more he became more successful after the demo was presented in the Source magazine, the more he got confidence in himself, and that head got lifted up...He was also a very, very funny person, always making jokes, always laughing. Just very jovial.”
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. Since then, it has gone six times platinum.
In his breakout hit “Juicy,” Biggie told his life story about how he “made the change from common thief to up close and personal with Robin Leach” and “went from negative to positive.”
“He actually let you know in his lyrics that this is what I used to do, but this is what I'm doing now,” Mister Cee said. “if you could turn a negative into a positive, by all means, go for it.”
Wallace became one of New York City’s biggest and best rappers, his face was everywhere from magazine covers to award shows and his videos were on constant rotation on MTV. Mister Cee said that it was Biggie who helped put the birthplace of hip-hop back on the map.
“Biggie, hands down, brung East Coast, New York hip hop back into the forefront,” Mister Cee said, noting Wallace's arrival on the scene came after years of West Coast rappers rising in popularity. Artists like N.W.A. and their solo stars, Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, Tupac and Ice-T, were among the artists who had come up at the time.
“Let's say when ‘Juicy’ first came out in 1994...we as New Yorkers, as New York hip hop East coast in particular, we were struggling as far as being successful,” Mister Cee explained.
The rapper was 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 competed 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. 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. Evans has repeatedly denied any allegations of a relationship with Shakur.
“So you could just look at the history, how Big treated the beef compared to how 'Pac treated the beef. And that was mainly because there were people in 'Pac's ear entourage, whatever the case is, whispering in 'Pac's ear to get him to go against Big. And so a combination of that and the media is what made that beef more grander than what it was,” Mister Cee explained.
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.
Wallace and Shakur’s deaths have never been solved. Their cases remain open.
Mister Cee received the news that Wallace had been shot in the middle of the night from legendary New York radio personality Fred Buggs, better known as “Bugsy.”
“He called me in the middle of the night, and he was like, ‘Cee, I'm hearing something about Big. I hear that Big is shot in LA.’ And he woke me up out of my sleep, and I'm like, ‘Man, don't believe that,’” LeBrun recalled. “As I'm tossing and turning on my bed, I just looked up and I can see Biggie's face looking at me in my room.”
Mister Cee said that there was a plaque on his wall of Biggie that was looking at him, but as it stared down, he felt his friend was telling him to get out of bed and head to work at iconic hip-hop station Hot 97 in Manhattan.
“I have never seen Brooklyn that quiet ever. It was just desolate going through Brooklyn and getting ready to go over the Manhattan bridge to get to Hot 97,” he said. “Then when I got to Hot 97, then the reality set in, where the finalities set in with me learning the news that he passed away.”
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.
“Going to the funeral and then seeing him laying in the casket in a weird way, it got me to get some closure,” Mister Cee explained. “It got me to slowly, but surely start to move on, because that's what he would want me to do. He would want me to move on, he would want me to continue to do whatever I was doing in my career, but also to do what I'd need to do to keep his name alive.”
In just three short years from the release of his debut single to his untimely death, the Notorious B.I.G. changed hip-hop and the zeitgeist of American culture thanks in part to the outfits he wore, the music he made and his larger-than-life personality.
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 in countries around the world, including 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. The Brooklyn Nets NBA team paid homage to the hometown hero with basketball jerseys and a new court inside Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center inspired by Biggie’s famous wardrobe during the in 2018-2019 season. And in 2020, the Notorious B.I.G. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“His legacy still lives on. Even in 2021, people are still trying [to figure] out what his certain lines of his rap meant... It's almost like Morse code,” Mister Cee said. “Big was a student of the game, and he learned from people like Big Daddy Kane and so on. So when you see some of the new rappers being influenced by Big, it's the circle of life, them being influenced by Big and them acknowledging greatness.”
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