For most rap / music aficionados, today marks the 12th anniversary of Christopher Wallace's a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.'s shooting in Los Angeles, CA on March 9th, 1997. Of course, in New York City, people are dedicating their entire shows to showing love to the behemoth and befallen MC. Tweets and Facebook statuses (including mine) recite Biggie lyrics, and others have even went as far as changing their avatars and teaching with a Biggie instrumental in the background (OK, that last one was me in my mind, but you get the point).
However, in recent months, I encountered a few people who had dissenting opinions about the MC, and naturally I respect that. The idea of having a "top 5 greatest MCs" is purely subjective, and thus, I have to acquiesce my pulpit in that respect, even when some put Aesop Rock and RZA above BIG, for instance. Yet, if we create an imaginary rubric for how we should judge MCs, we'd see an MC of the fiercest nature who frankly has very few true equals even with the plethora of contemporaries.
1. Any Record, Any Time: Whether it was a slow jam, an R&B cut, or a hardcore joint, Biggie would bring it with every lyric. It just didn't matter what tempo or timbre the track had, you always knew he'd have something crazy to say on the joint. He had songs that would make people cry, make people dance, and make people stop and think. His first full-length contribution, Ready To Die, was an earnest journal of the pathos and turmoil of a young ghetto boy trying to make it. The second album, Life After Death, was an all-out opus of the confluences between the old and new lives he was leading.
2. The Featured Feature: No matter what anyone says, a large component of gaining notoriety is how you do on someone else's track. Some rappers made their living on that, but few actually knew how to use these moments of shine to their advantage. Biggie did, and had this awareness of the moment. It's almost as if he knew that, by condensing how much actual time he had on the mic, he had to say the freshest, flyest verse he could.
3. His Legions of Biters: Much the way we see retweets in Twitter or remastering of albums, Biggie's lyrics have been reused so many times, you get the sense that people literally have taken dibs on his verses and who'd be using what for their next hit record. His battle songs get used for any popular beef. His best lines (how could you just pick one?) get used for chorus after chorus. Some of his best quotes have become part of the rap zeitgeist, even when people aren't fully conscious of what they're saying.
4. Is It His Charm?: In a time when the music industry's archaic model was still successful, he went double platinum (2 million albums) on Ready to Die and diamond (10 million albums) on Life After Death. People can say what they want, but selling records is a largely important factor in a rap artist's career. It's not the end-all-be-all. After all, we know plenty of hip-hop artists who sold tons of records and weren't half as lyrical as Biggie. Yet, how many MCs had such universal appeal that they were respected everywhere from the clubs and the office to the hood and the bodega? Again, very few.
5. Life Before Death: Today, I probably heard the most lop-sided argument you'll ever hear about a deceased artist, and that's that Biggie's death only enhanced his status amongst the hip-hop community. I contend that, while many mourn his passing as a human being and as someone who touched the lives of so many young men and women to this day, people who think more objectively about Biggie's contributions to the hip-hop community realize that, regardless of whether or not he was still alive, his work is just undeniable, even without Born Again and the rest of the posthumous collages. To use the death argument as a way of downgrading his potency is also to discount that his star was, for sure, on the rise at that point. People heavily anticipated his effort before the March 9 tragedy, and that's where these blasphemers get it wrong.
While I've said that Biggie doesn't deserve my top spot (that spot belongs to Rakim), I just can't see how anyone omits Biggie. At all. His delivery was impeccable and the stories you hear about him in the booth, like how he never wrote his lyrics or how producers would have to change their beat to fit his flow and not the other way around, also add points to an MC who's had everything but a Grammy as far as accolades go.
He's your favorite MC's favorite MC, and it's no wonder why. He's not the greatest, but if he's not in your top five, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Please.