In Memoriam: How The Notorious B.I.G.’s Music Shone a Light on the Discrimination of Blacks and the Poor


It’s been almost 25 years since The Notorious B.I.G. died. The rapper was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997 — and his death is arguably one of hip hop’s darkest days. But the fact that present-day musicians still sample Biggie’s music and mention him in their songs shows how influential he was in the hip hop community.

How The Notorious B.I.G’s Music Came to Be

The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher George Latore Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls or just Biggie) was born in Brooklyn, NYC to Jamaican-immigrant parents. Like many New Yorkers — even up to this day — Biggie and his family struggled to make ends meet. His father left him when he was only 2 years old. Therefore, his mom had to work two jobs just to raise him. Needless to say, his childhood was far from lavish. In fact, he started dealing drugs around the age of 12.

As with many musicians, he used these trials in his life as inspiration for his music. And just like most of them, Biggie, too, had to send demos and mixtapes just to get recognized and signed under a record label — he eventually got there when Sean “Puffy” Combs (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, or just Diddy) heard his mixtape. It’s unclear whether or not he already had his widely-recognized rap flow to back him up, but what was evident to P. Diddy then was The Notorious B.I.G. had a lot of potential to make it big — and he was right.

NYC and the “99 Problems” of Its People Then

Spotify has Hypnotize as The Notorious B.I.G.’s most streamed song — for a good reason; it has the classic and catchy flow that Biggie’s known for and the lyrics consist of living the luxurious life — which many rappers still like writing about to this day. However, his second most streamed song is Juicy, and it entails his life before fame.

In the song Juicy, the very first part of the song goes:

To all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’

To all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of

Called the police on me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughter

And all the n**gas in the struggle

You know what I’m sayin’? It’s all good, baby baby

This stanza at the very beginning of the song is a familiar struggle to many. Just like Biggie Smalls’ fellow East Coast rappers, the Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z, Nas, and many more New York natives also wrote songs about racism, police brutality and abuse of power, poverty, and other problems still relevant in 2023.

In Nas (featuring Ms. Lauryn Hill)‘s song, If I Ruled the World (Imagine That), there’s a part where Nas raps the lines, “So many years of depression make me vision / The better living, type of place to raise kids in / Open they eyes to the lies, history’s told foul” — these hardships eventually became the “sound” of East Coast rap (which was far from the West Coast and Gangsta Rap of the 90s). Besides the Boom Bap beat, New York-based rappers mainly made music catered to people who also struggle with their day-to-day lives. Unlike West Coast hip hop, it wasn’t about being flashy or being a Lothario. To them, it was reality — it is (and was) many people’s reality.

And if You Don’t Know, Now You Know…

The Notorious B.I.G. is just one of the many rappers who emerged on the East Coast — and many would agree that his death was indeed untimely. But the impact he made on present-day music is still remarkably evident. Not only did he possess the “flow,” but he also made sure that the struggles of the blacks and the poor were heard. Decades after his passing, The Notorious B.I.G.’s music is still relevant to the younger generations who are in the same place as he was before fame and after death.


Meta Description


His words sure did hypnotize us! Find out why The Notorious B.I.G’s music is still relevant even up to this day — and why East Coast rap is relatable to many.

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.