Notorious B.I.G.: the greatest rapper of all time, 15 years later

Canibus, during his nineties feud with L.L. Cool J, let the arrogant emcee know that the greatest rapper of all time died on March 9th.

Despite his enormous talent, not much came of Canibus’s career, which he blamed on Wyclef. (Wyclef blamed things going south on Canibus.) Either way, he was right about one thing: Notorious BIG is probably the greatest of all time.

“Ready to Die” and “Life After Death” still sound futuristic, the former being close to 20 years old. You ever listen to, say, L.L. Cool J’s “Dear Yvette” or Run D.M.C.’s “My Adidas”? These tracks did not age well. “Hypnotize” sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday.

Most of the time I’m mildly obsessed with the legendary death of Christopher Wallace. At other times in my life, I only think about it sporadically. I watch the Nick Broomfield documentary “Biggie and Tupac” at least 10 times a year. I watch the film “Notorious” (not that bad) four or five times a year—basically it’s my “Goodfellas.” If I’m surfing through channels and I come across it, I just need to watch the whole thing.

Biggie was gunned down in Los Angeles 15 years ago today. He was promoting “Life After Death.” His death magnified the eeriness of the title, and seeing him bouncing around in the “Hypnotize” video was certainly hypnotic. And surreal. It still is today.

Conspiracy theories surround the death. What can we say? Humans love “what ifs” more than anything.

In “Biggie and Tupac,” director Nick Broomfield concludes Suge Knight was involved in Biggie’s death as well as Tupac’s. Snoop apparently corroborates this in a sworn testimony he gave to police officers to, one would imagine, avoid arrest.

(Plot thickens: This is quite a big deal among the Blood-Crypt Hip-Hop matrix. As you’ve heard in a variety of number one hip-hop singles, being a snitch is the worst thing imaginable. In the film, Suge, from jail, asks, “How come Snoop is always getting arrested for guns and drugs but never goes to jail?” Good question. Maybe he’s snitchin’? If so, not cool.)

Unlike Tupac, Biggie does not have 15 billion albums. He has two and they are stellar. He burned fast and bright and died young. Like Kurt Cobain, he is interminably etched into pop culture’s mind as an exceeding talent and a cautionary tale. He’s one of those inspirational figures that kids will forever cherish, until they get old and say, “Yeah, he died young,” as they shrug their shoulders.

[This article originally appeared March 9, 2011.]