May 21: Notorious B.I.G. -AKA Biggie Smalls, AKA Christopher Wallace - was born on this date in 1972...

... he died on March 9, 1997 when he was 24 years-old.

Christopher George Latore Wallace was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. He was popularly known as Biggie Smalls (after a character in the 1975 film Let's Do It Again), Big Poppa, and The Black Frank White (after the main character of the 1990 film King of New York), but primarily by his stage name The Notorious B.I.G.

Wallace was the only child of a Jamaican preschool teacher, and a welder and small-time Jamaican politician. His father left the family when Wallace was two years old, leaving his mother to work two jobs while raising him. At the Queen of All Saints Middle School, Wallace excelled in class, winning several awards as an English student. He was nicknamed "Big" because of his size before he turned 10. At the age of 12, he began selling drugs.

Wallace transferred out of Roman Catholic Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School to attend George Westinghouse Information Technology High School. Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes were also students at that school. Wallace dropped out of high school and became further involved in crime. 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 behind bars until he made bail.

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Ready to Die: The Remaster

Wallace began rapping when he was a teenager. He would entertain people on the streets and perform with local groups, the Old Gold Brothers and the Techniques.

After being released from prison, Wallace made a demo tape under the name Biggie Smalls, a reference to his childhood nickname and to his stature; he stood at 6' 3" (1.91 m) and weighed as much as 300 to 380 pounds according to differing accounts. The tape was reportedly made with no serious intent of getting a recording deal, but was promoted by New York-based DJ Mister Cee, who had previously worked with Big Daddy Kane, and was heard by the editor of The Source.

In March 1992, Wallace featured in The Source's Unsigned Hype column, dedicated to aspiring rappers, and was invited to produce a recording with other unsigned artists in a move that was reportedly uncommon at the time. The demo tape was heard by Uptown Records A&R and record producer, Sean Combs.

He was signed by Uptown and made an appearance on label mates, Heavy D & the Boyz' "A Buncha Niggas" from the album Blue Funk. Soon after signing his recording contract, Combs started a new label.

Wallace followed and in mid-1992, signed to Combs' new imprint label, Bad Boy Records. On August 8, 1993, Wallace's long-term girlfriend gave birth to his first child, T'yanna. Wallace continued selling drugs after the birth to support his daughter financially. Once Combs discovered this, he dropped from the label. 

Wallace gained exposure later in the year on a remix to Mary J. Blige's single "Real Love," under the pseudonym The Notorious B.I.G., the name he would record under for the remainder of his career, after finding the original moniker "Biggie Smalls" was already in use.

"Real Love" peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was followed by a remix of Blige's "What's the 411." He continued this success, to a lesser extent, on remixes with Neneh Cherry ("Buddy X") and reggae artist Super Cat ("Dolly My Baby," also featuring Combs) in 1993.

In April 1993, his solo track, "Party and Bullshit," appeared on the Who's the Man? soundtrack. In July 1994, he appeared alongside LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes on a remix to label mate Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear," reaching #9 on the Hot 100.

On August 4, 1994, Wallace married singer Faith Evans after they met at a Bad Boy photoshoot. Four days later, Wallace had his first pop chart success as a solo artist with double A-side, "Juicy/Unbelievable," which reached #27 as the lead single to his debut album.

Ready to Die was released in September 1994, and reached #13 on the Billboard 200 chart, eventually being certified four times Platinum.

After Wallace released his debut album, he became a central figure in the East Coast hip-hop scene and increased New York's visibility at a time when West Coast artists were more common. The following year, Wallace achieved chart success through his protégé group, Junior M.A.F.I.A.. While recording his second album, Wallace was heavily involved in the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud, dominating the scene at the time.

On March 9, 1997, Wallace was killed by an unknown assailant in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. His double-disc set Life After Death, released 15 days later, hit #1 on the U.S. album charts and was certified Diamond in 2000 (one of the few hip hop albums to receive this certification).

Wallace was noted for his "loose, easy flow," dark semi-autobiographical lyrics and storytelling abilities. Since his death, a further two albums have been released. MTV ranked him at #3 on their list of The Greatest MCs (Rappers) of All Time. He has certified sales of 17 million units in the U.S.



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