Christopher George Latore Wallace
Christopher George Latore Wallace , better known by his stage names the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or simply Biggie, was an American rapper. Rooted in East Coast hip hop and particularly gangsta rap, he is cited in various media lists as being one of the greatest rappers of all time. Wallace became known for his distinctive laid-back lyrical delivery, offsetting the lyrics’ often grim content. His music was often semi-autobiographical, telling of hardship and criminality, but also of debauchery and celebration.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City, Wallace signed to Sean “Puffy” Combs‘ label Bad Boy Records as it launched in 1993, and gained exposure through features on several other artists’ singles that year. His debut album Ready to Die (1994) was met with widespread critical acclaim, and included his signature songs “Juicy” and “Big Poppa“. The album made him the central figure in East Coast hip hop, and restored New York’s visibility at a time when the West Coast hip hop scene was dominating hip hop music.
Wallace was awarded the 1995 Billboard Music Awards‘ Rapper of the Year. The following year, he led his protégé group Junior M.A.F.I.A., a team of himself and longtime friends, including Lil’ Kim, to chart success.
During 1996, while recording his second album, Wallace became ensnarled in the escalating East Coast–West Coast hip hop feud. Following Tupac Shakur‘s death in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in September 1996, speculations of involvement in Shakur’s murder by criminal elements orbiting the Bad Boy circle circulated as a result of Wallace’s public feud with Shakur.
On March 9, 1997, six months after Shakur’s death, Wallace was murdered by an unidentified assailant in a drive-by shooting while visiting Los Angeles. Wallace’s second album Life After Death, a double album, was released two weeks later. It reached number one on the Billboard 200, and eventually achieved a diamond certification in the United States.
With two more posthumous albums released, Wallace has certified sales of over 28 million copies in the United States, including 21 million albums.
Rolling Stone has called him the “greatest rapper that ever lived”, and Billboard named him the greatest rapper of all time. The Source magazine named him the greatest rapper of all time in its 150th issue. In 2006, MTV ranked him at No. 3 on their list of The Greatest MCs of All Time, calling him possibly “the most skillful ever on the mic”. In 2020, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Christopher George Latore Wallace was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on May 21, 1972, the only child of Jamaican immigrant parents. His mother, Voletta Wallace, was a preschool teacher, while his father, Selwyn George Latore, was a welder and politician. His father left the family when Wallace was two years old, and his mother worked two jobs while raising him.
Wallace grew up at 226 St. James Place in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill, near the border with Bedford-Stuyvesant. Raised Catholic, Wallace excelled at Queen of All Saints Middle School, winning several awards as an English student. He attended St Peter Claver Church in the borough. He was nicknamed “Big” because he was overweight by the age of 10. Wallace claimed to have begun dealing drugs at about age 12. His mother, often at work, first learned of this during his adulthood.
He began rapping as a teenager, entertaining people on the streets, and performed with local groups, the Old Gold Brothers as well as the Techniques. His earliest stage name was MC CWest. At his request, Wallace transferred from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Fort Greene to George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in Downtown Brooklyn, which future rappers Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes were also attending.
According to his mother, Wallace was still a good student but developed a “smart-ass” attitude at the new school. At age 17 in 1989, Wallace dropped out of high school and became more involved in crime. That same year in 1989, he was arrested on weapons charges in Brooklyn and sentenced to five years’ probation. In 1990, he was arrested on a violation of his probation. A year later, Wallace was arrested in North Carolina for dealing crack cocaine. He spent nine months in jail before making bail.