20 years ago today, hip hop lost a titan. Only 24 at the time of his death, Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace had already left behind a legacy of endless charisma, whip-smart wit, and a classic album in the form of Ready To Die. Just sixteen days later, he’d further cement his place in history with Life After Death, a nearly two-hour-long double album that was one of the few rap albums released in 1997 that came close to matching its predecessor’s quality.
Other posthumous releases, varying in quality and questionable guest and production choices– did anyone really want to hear a Biggie/Korn duet?– would follow, but it’s those two enduring studio albums that most people remember (outside of posthumous hits “It’s All About the Benjamins,” “Notorious B.I.G.,” and “Been Around the World.”) Today, we’re looking back on the less celebrated cuts, those that didn’t appear on Ready To Die or Life After Death. Some were released in the wake of Big’s death, but others have roots stretching all the way back to the start of his career.
“Party & Bullshit”
This one may seem like an obvious choice, because whoever you are, you’ve definitely heard this song playing at some sort of party before. What’s odd is that “Party & Bullshit” never made it onto an official Biggie album, and wasn’t even included on his 2007 Greatest Hits album. It originally got out into the world via the soundtrack for 1993 film Who’s The Man?, so keep in mind that this was very early on in Big’s career. Nevertheless, the rapper then known simply as Biggie Smalls was dropping BARS:
“Honeys want to chat
But all we wanna know is where the party at
And can I bring my gat?
If not, I hope I don’t get shot
Better throw my vest on my chest, cause n*ggas is a mess
It don’t take nothing but fronting for me to start something
Bugging and bucking at n*ggas like I was duck hunting”
Junior M.A.F.I.A – “Player’s Anthem”
Junior M.A.F.I.A. was a group that Biggie formed with some of his childhood friends from Bedford-Stuyvesant (Lil Kim and Lil Cease included), and while Big was still alive, they only released one album, 1995’s Conspiracy. Although “Get Money” might be the bet-known song off the album, I’d wager that “Player’s Anthem” has the better Biggie verse and the more lasting legacy, thanks to UGK and Outkast’s (superior) homage, “Int’l Playa’s Anthem.” “Big Poppa never softenin’,” Big raps, “Take you to the church, rob the preacher for the offerin’.” Even when surrounded by his neighborhood’s most talented MC’s, Big’s a cut above the rest.
1999’s posthumous Born Again has many flaws– awkward choices to remix unreleased demos, pairings between Big and out-of-town rappers that didn’t exactly make sense– but it wasn’t without bright spots. One of them is “N*ggas,” a track that dates back to 1993. The original version, produced by Mister Cee, sounds a little dated with its over-the-top scratching, but the update, with its graceful pianos and smooth beat, still goes in 2017.
“Dead Wrong” Feat. Eminem
“Dead Wrong” was another Born Again cut that could trace its roots back to a grittier demo from a few years prior, but like “N*ggas,” the update is actually superior. Not only do we get a stuttering, swaggering beat, but Eminem also graces the new version, which he co-produced. It’s not every day that you get to hear two legends like this side-by-side on the same track.
Puff Daddy, Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes – “Victory”
Puff was undeniably a good influence on Big, committed to getting him out of the streets and into the booth, and granting him access to some of the finest collaborators possible at the time. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that in the wake of Biggie’s death though, as the saccharine No Way Out album often felt like an attempt to cash in on his friend’s death– can you imagine if the first Foo Fighters album had a grunge version of “I’ll Be Missing You” on it? The one incredible moment among the shiny-suited excess is intro track “Victory,” which pairs Biggie with a dramatic film score instrumental. It’s not a sound he got to attempt that much during his life, and like all of the best posthumous tracks, it makes you wonder what could’ve been had his career lasted just a few years, months, or days longer.