When mentioning rap/hip-hop legends it is impossible not to talk about Christopher George Latore Wallace better known as The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie, or Biggie Smalls. After the release of his first album, “Ready To Die,” in 1994, in only three short years (he tragically died in a drive-by shooting in 1997) Biggie gained much recognition for his music and received a total of four awards and eleven nominations, including:

  • Two Billboard nominations for Rap Artist of the Year and Rap Single of the Year (1995)
  • Grammy Nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (1998)
  • MTV Video Music Awards nomination for Best Rap Video (1998)

Additionally only 16 days after his death, the album “Life After Death” which was released and rose to Number 1 and earned Diamond certification in 2000.

Biggie shifted rap music into a new stylistic era. When examining the history of rap it begins with old school, then transitions into new school. The main difference between old school and new school is the emphasis of Flow, the rhythms and rhymes of a hip hop song’s lyrics and how they interact as well as elements of delivery such as pitch, timbre, and volume. Rakim is a rapper form the 80s who is widely recognized as one of, and for some, the greatest MC’s and most influential rapper of all time. Some even say that Rakim “invented Flow.”

To illustrate the difference between old and new school rap and how Rakim drastically shifted rap music, below is an example of old school rap, a song by Melle Mel who epitomizes old school style.

“Step Off” — Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five (1984)

The rhythym and rhyming are even and monotonous for this track. The lyrics themselves are fairly basic and the words consistently subdivide the beat.

Now skip to (1:12) for the song below to here a song by Rakim that is illustrative of the earliest examples of new school rap.

“Paid in Full” — Eric B & Rakim (1987)

The rapping itself is less even and more syncopated. Articulation is extremely important and sometimes is the opposite of the natural pronunciation for emphasis and to create complex rhythym patterns. The verses themselves feel smoother and more free form than the old school song and the words are more sophisticated. There is also more internal rhyming within lines.

However, many credit Biggie to further emphasizing the importance of Flow and creating a style of rap that dominated from 1994 to 2002. Kool Moe Dee, a rapper, when discussing the history of flow says, “Rakim invented it, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, and Kool G Rap expanded it, but Biggie and Method Man made flow the single most important aspect of an emcee’s game.”

Now please listen to the below song:

“Juicy” — The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)

The backing instrumental for Juicy is fairly simple, but it is Biggie’s intricate Flow and sophisticated lyrics that add texture and color to the song. The song feels fairly stripped down which emphasizes and puts all the importance on Biggie’s lyrics, his articulation, and rhythm. Biggie was known for recording his rap songs “off his head,” without reading off written lyrics. Although he definitely planned his lyrics ahead of time, when he would go into the recording studio he would just rap from memory. This may be part of why Biggie’s verses always feel so natural and easy. His lyrics consistently create complicated rhythmic patterns but never lose the sense of the core beat, making his flow sound effortless. Additionally, the constant internal rhyming allows the song to tell a clear story full of puns and metaphors without having any of the lyrics feel forced.

Below are listed Biggie’s three famous verses. Underlined are the words that rhyme and certain lines are bolded with annotations.

Verse 1: (0:20)

It was all a dream
I used to read Word Up magazine
Salt’n’Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine (heavily syncopated)
Hangin’ pictures on my wall
Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl (alliteration)
I let my tape rock ’til my tape pop (assonance)
Smokin’ weed and bamboo, sippin’ on private stock
Way back, when I had the red and black lumberjack (internal rhyming)
With the hat to match
Remember Rappin’ Duke, duh-ha, duh-ha
You never thought that hip hop would take it this far
Now I’m in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight (direct reference to the importance of Biggie’s Flow in defining him as a rapper)
Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade
Born sinner, the opposite of a winner
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner
Peace to Ron G, Brucey B, Kid Capri
Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starsky (heavily syncopated)
I’m blowin’ up like you thought I would
Call the crib, same number same hood (Biggie was an East Coast rapper that began dominating the scene when it was mostly West Coast rappers, such as Tupac, in many of his songs Biggie talks about his strong ties to the East Coast and New York City)
It’s all good

Verse 2: (1:30)

I made the change from a common thief
To up close and personal with Robin Leach (metaphor)
And I’m far from cheap, I smoke skunk with my peeps all day
Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way (again referencing his strong NYC ties)
The Moet and Alize keep me pissy
Girls used to diss me
Now they write letters ’cause they miss me (alliteration within his rhyming scheme)
I never thought it could happen, this rappinstuff
I was too used to packin‘ gats and stuff
Now honies play me close like butter played toast
From the Mississippi down to the east coast (syncopated)
Condos in Queens, indo for weeks
Sold out seats to hear Biggie Smalls speak
Livin’ life without fear
Puttin’ 5 karats in my baby girl’s ear
Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool
Considered a fool ’cause I dropped out of high school (internal rhyming and syncopation)
Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood (syncopated)
And it’s still all good

Verse 3: (2:40)

Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
When I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this
50 inch screen, money green leather sofa
Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur (exemplifies the complexity of Biggie’s Flow, these first four lines incorporate almost all the distinguishing elements of new school rap)
Phone bill about two G’s flat
No need to worry, my accountant handles that
And my whole crew is loungin
Celebratin’ every day, no more public housin
Thinkin’ back on my one-room shack
Now my mom pimps an Ac’ with minks on her back
And she loves to show me off, of course
Smiles every time my face is up in The Source
We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us
No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us
Birthdays was the worst days
Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay (Begins with fast syncopation and then slows down with over-emphasizing DAYS to create the Flow)
Uh, damn right I like the life I live
‘Cause I went from negative to positive
And it’s all…

Now I am going to take a step away from the Flow of “Juicy” to discuss it’s direct relevance to remixes.

What many people may not know is that behind this iconic and revolutionary rap song is an early and prominent example of sampling. Biggie became one of the most successful rap artists and pushed rap music into more mainstream audiences much thanks to this initial successful single which was actually sampled from a earlier funk song.

Below is the song that the instrumental for Biggie’s song is sampled from:

“Juicy Fruit” — Mtume

“Juicy Fruit” is a disco funk song that reached 45 on the billboard pop singles list in 1983. Biggie’s producers revived the track in 1994 by creating the instrumental backing that Biggie then rapped over. “Juicy Fruit” has now become a very heavily sampled song even by contemporary artists such as Keyshia Cole, Nicki Minaj, and Alicia Keys. Below is a list (courtesy of Wikipedia) of songs that have sampled either “Juicy Fruit” directly or from the Biggie version.

The above list exemplifies the unexpectedly influential role that this sampling of “Juicy Fruit” has played in the history of modern rap and hip hop. Furthermore, this serves as a single example of the uncountable number of other songs that have been heavily sampled and remixed, exemplifying the enormous role that sampling and remixes play in the progress of music. The “Juicy Fruit” samples in “Juicy” are a crucial contrast to the hard lyrics and rap style of Biggie (ex. 1:12) and allowed the song, and the rapper, to receive recognition within mainstream pop and other genres because “Juicy” combines elements of new school hip-hop, classic rap, funk, disco, and pop. Biggie’s rise not only revolutionized hip-hop styles but also pushed rap and hip-hop to gain further recognition and appreciation across genres, an advancement that has only continued to strengthen by modern rap artists such as Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne. In this way, “Juicy” embodies the collaborative and creative influence that sampling serves in the history of music.

Citations:

“Flow (Rapping).” Wikipedia.org. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapping#Flow

“The Notorious B.I.G.” Wikipedia.org. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Notorious_B.I.G.#Musical_style

Edwards, Paul. How to Rap. 2009.