Celebrating 15 Years of Picking Biggie’s Bones
Remembering people remembering the Notorious B.I.G.
1997 – “Sky’s The Limit,” video directed by Spike Jonze: Alt-rock music video auteur directs his way around the fact that the star of his video was shot and killed by casting cute kids in a recreation of “Juicy,” transcends his quirky concept, and ends up with probably the sweetest and most humane tribute to B.I.G.’s bold, playful personality.
1998 – Puff Daddy ft. Notorious B.I.G. And Busta Rhymes, “Victory (Nine Inch Nails Remix)”: A grieving, guilt-ridden, money-grubbing Puff Daddy reaches out to Trent Reznor for a remix for some reason. Reznor provides a soundscape that seems to score Biggie’s vitriolic verses almost as well as the original’s chopped-up Bill Conti sample beat, killing that wretched rock remix of “All About the Benjamins,” dead.
1999 – Jess & Crabbe, “The Big Booya”: French house track tears off pieces of “Nasty Boy,” from Life After Death and cleverly rearranges them into a throbbing dance track with a ghettotech edge. There are probably dozens of aggressive party tracks sampling B.I.G. around this time, right? Baltimore had KW Griff’s club music refix of “Hypnotize,” called, “Griff-Ma-Tize.”
2000 – Boiler Room, directed by Ben Younger: “The streets is a short stop / Either you’re slinging crack rock / Or you got a wicked jump shot,” from “Things Done Changed,” a clever commentary on the only two options for young black males, bookends this cautionary, wealthy, white-boy tale. Don’t laugh though, it’s the most sincere presentation of the middle class misreading hip-hop this side of Mike Judge’s Office Space.
2001 – Hardball, directed by Brian Robbins: “Big Poppa” is interwoven into this Keanu Reeves vehicle in which the forever “woah”-ing actor teaches inner city kids how to play baseball and not be such hoodlums, and learns some stuff about himself along the way! The kids, Keanu, and by the end, in an expression of solidarity, the entire crowd, sing Biggie’s worst slow jam. Stupid, but also very, very touching.
2002- Ashanti, “Foolish”: Puffy Daddy mastered the art of flipping samples previously deemed too obvious and therefore, not to be sampled. And along with Biggie, who seemed invigorated by crossover beats, the duo made sure “rap and bullshit” was here to stay. Five years after B.I.G.’s tragic death, Murder Inc. decided to just take the rap out altogether when introducing Ashanti, who longingly sings along to producer Irv Gotti’s hybrid of DeBarge’s “Stay With Me” and the DeBarge-sampling “One More Chance” remix.
2003 – DJ Green Lantern, “Gun Talk”: Over top of the Neptunes’ beat for Birdman and Clipse’s “What Happened to That Boy,” Green Lantern blends Biggie’s vicious verse from Ready to Die outtake “Come On,” only officially released on 1999’s Born Again with a wretched Clark Kent beat replacing the original one from Lord Finesse. Got that? Posthumous rap will eat itself.
2004 – Ready To Die, The Remaster: 10th anniversary edition of Ready to Die complete with a DVD of music videos and two rarities: “Who Shot Ya?” and “Just Playin’ (Dreams).” Nice to have those tracks, though it did ruin the still-shocking, album ending thud of “Suicidal Thoughts,” but oh well. Major labels have never been kind to their hip-hop back catalogs, so it’s nice this exists. Two years later, a judge ordered the Ready to Die sales halted because of an uncleared Ohio Players sample on the title track.
2005 – Notorious B.I.G. ft. P. Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge, and Avery Storm, “Nasty Girl”: The cynic that’s seen all of my favorite rappers fart out at one point or another likes to listen to this song, and perversely imagine Biggie were still alive. Because if he were, and he didn’t burrow into thuggish, ruggish New York rap like Nas or Wu Tang, he would’ve been wrapping his raps around the sound of the moment pap like this. The only essential posthumous Biggie song.
2006 – Girl Talk, “Smash Your Head”: The most unfuckwithable Girl Talk track crams “Juicy” verse into its blenderized cacophony of immediate nostalgia and lets it wander around Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” gone chipmunk. Say what you will, this song is awesome, and the use and abuse of “Juicy” gets way worse in just a few years.
2007 – Notorious B.I.G., Greatest Hits: “Greatest hits albums are for housewives and little girls,” Bruce McCulloch of The Kids In The Hall once said. He’s right. This one smarts not because it’s lame like every compilation, but because of the revisionist history that fleshes out the running time with a few of those zombiefied Biggie hits that were force-fed upon us on Born Again and Duets: The Final Chapter. Inexplicably, does not include Junior M.A.F.IA.’s “Player’s Anthem” or “Sky’s the Limit.”
2008- Common, “Announcement”: On Universal Mind Control, ostensibly Common’s party-rap album, the guy who went after Ice Cube and decried gangsta rap on “I Used to Love H.E.R.” references B.I.G.’s “Unbelievable” over a Neptunes beat that uses the same sample as “Just Playin’ (Dreams)” in pretty much the same way. Things done changed.
2009 – Emily Wells, “Juicy”: Notorious also came out this year, but I’ve never seen it. Don’t want to either. This admittedly sort of pretty good, Cat Power-esque cover of “Juicy,” is far more illustrative of B.I.G.’s scope and influence, anyways. It just got an eye roll at the time, but three years later, there’s a cottage industry of white people doing half ironic, hip-hop covers. Karmin got to play SNL! Biggie never did.
2010 – Vampire Weekend, “Giant”: On this Contra bonus track, bougie provocateur Ezra Koenig changes, “It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine,” to “It was all a dream, I used to read Thrasher magazine.” Indie rockers chuckle, rap nerds weep… but secretly keep it on their iPods.
2011 – The FBI file on Christopher Wallace’s murder: The heavily redacted file, which embarrassingly refers to Notorious B.I.G. as “Biggie Smalls” throughout, spelling it every which way, and seems to think Tupac was a Bad Boy artist, also reveals the contents of Biggie’s pockets when he died, the type of specific type of bullet that took him out, and the depressing fact that the LAPD corruption aided in obfuscating witness reports about the shooting. About as close to closure as we’re going to get.
2012 – Timbaland calls Rick Ross the “reincarnated B.I.G.”: Yeah, that happened. The initial response to the truly moronic beef that killed Tupac and Biggie was to just keep on beefing and battling. But in the past few years, hip-hop has gone somewhat co-sign crazy instead, which is healthier sure, but really, Timbo?