Looking back on the brief life of Christopher Wallaceâ€”a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G., Big Poppa, The Black Frank Whiteâ€”itâ€™s difficult not to see a prophecy of doom in his album titles and art. Despite rapping about the good life, and the violent struggles it took to get there, Biggie Smalls also represented a darker side generally unacknowledged by other rappers. He spoke frankly of depression and fatalistic thoughts, far from the common rap braggadocio. Before Kanye admitted to being self-conscious, Biggie was revealing his self-loathing and doubts to the world. And while he made thorough and constant mention of gats, keys, blunts and all the double-crossing therein, Biggieâ€™s legacy of album art is one of an artist resigned to his grim fate.
Studio Albums: Ready to Die, Life After Death
Who else names their debut album Ready to Die? Itâ€™s hardly the pronouncement of joy one would expect upon launching a soon-to-be platinum career. Ready to Die isnâ€™t just a bleak title; the moroseness of inner-city life is catalogued throughout the record, most notably in â€œSuicidal Thoughtsâ€ and the title track, despite the levity and high spirits of â€œJuicyâ€ and â€œEveryday Struggles.â€ The album cover also depicts the duality of Biggieâ€™s outlook: the bleak title is juxtaposed by the innocence of an afroed, diaper-clad baby. Is the message that despite the roots of innocence, Biggie, and other inner-city dwellers, are doomed? Or is it a message of hope â€“ that there is still innocence amid the oft-violent everyday struggles of life in Bedford-Stuyvesant?
Biggieâ€™s sophomore, and final studio album, Life After Death, is even more explicit in its relationship to the afterlife. Dipped in formal regalia, Biggie lamps next to a hearse on the album cover. Like its predecessor, Life After Death alternates between familiar violence (â€œNiggaz Bleed,â€ â€œYouâ€™re Nobody â€˜Til Somebody Kills Youâ€) and rays of hope (â€œMiss U,â€ â€œSkyâ€™s the Limitâ€). Unlike his debut, however, Biggie leaves little room for ambiguity here. Someone is dead, and it would be Biggie himself, shot mere days before the release of Life After Death. But the macabre ironies donâ€™t end there. Life After Death also features â€œGoing Back to Cali,â€ wherein Biggie speaks of his affinity for the West Coast despite all beef â€“ but he never made it back from Cali after being shot fatally on L.A.â€™s Miracle Mile.
Mixtapes/Post-Humous Releases: Duetsâ€¦DJ Vlad and Dirty Harry, Unsolved Mysteriesâ€¦DJ Rukiz and Rob E Rob
In Biggieâ€™s unofficial and post-humous releases, the running theme is the image of Biggie as hip-hop godfather. Those that donâ€™t glorify the black Frank White in fedoras and vines alternately portray Biggie as the King of New York, or the Versace-glassed, Coogi-sweater-clad widebody we all came to know and love. They display a different duality in Biggie: Mafioso-styled Don, or the extra-large Brooklyn stick-up kid — both sides repped equally in Biggieâ€™s tales of rap-fantasy. DJ Rukiz puts Biggie at the forefront of a mixtape entitled Unsolved Mysteriesâ€”flanked by a posse of rapâ€™s recently-deceasedâ€”in a mob-flick styled cover that Scarface-watchers would certainly approve. Biggieâ€™s followers, it seems, want to remember him as he portrayed himself â€“ an immaculate hustler-Don wise to the ways of the street and the game.
Singles: Big Poppa, Juicy
Unlike his albums, Biggieâ€™s 12â€ single covers donâ€™t reflect the complexities within. Instead, they portray the vastness of Bed-Stuyâ€™s livest one in the only way possible â€“ through photos. Though his single covers may not reveal much, there was an air of resignation to his fate exhibited in Biggieâ€™s videos and interviews. In the Source cover story just prior to Biggieâ€™s death, writer Bonz Malone caught up with a tense Wallace sitting on his porch with a .357 Magnum, ready for beef. In the â€œMoâ€™ Money, Moâ€™ Problemsâ€ video, Biggie intimates that success only complicates life, instead of simplifying it. He never knew how poignant his words would be.