The Notorious B.I.G. would've turned 51 years old on May 21st. Setting the gold standard for East-Coast hip-hop, we're looking back on his greatest hits. At a time when the West Coast was taking over the rap scene, Biggie turned the rap world on its head with the multitude of hits off of Ready To Die. Featuring a discography full of infectious rhythms and dark narratives, Biggie was rapping about gang violence and family struggles amidst larger-than-life beats. Working under the tutelage of Bad Boy Records and Diddy, his career was an unfortunately brief but impactful sabbatical. Passing away 26 years ago due to a drive-by shooting, his haunting sophomore album Life After Death was released a month after his passing. Operating as a hit-making machine and a complex poet, he's widely held as one of the greatest MCs ever.
Released shortly before Biggie's untimely death, "Hypnotize" quickly became an East-Coast anthem. From the menacing beat to the braggadocios lyricism, everything about the track exudes inordinate confidence. Biggie states, "Sicker than your average," and "Girls walk to us / wanna do us / screw us." Everything about "Hypnotize" encourages the audience to walk with their held up high. It's why Conor McGregor walks out to the song before each of his fights. It's why the song is still blasted on summer afternoons. The track reached the top of the charts and remained one of Biggie's biggest hits.
There's arguably never been a greater album intro than "Juicy." Many fans' introduction to the Brooklyn MC, the song is an anthem about making it out of hard times. He's talking down on those who "Called the police on me when I was just tryin' to make some money to feed my daughter" or "To all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin' in front of." Signed by Diddy and Bad Boy Records leading up to the release of Ready to Die, he references the two of them as akin to a superhero duo on the track. "Juicy" is the third song in his discography to eclipse 500 million streams on Spotify and is undeniably one of Biggie's biggest hits.
"Big Poppa" (1994)
In contrast to many of Biggie's more menacing hits, "Big Poppa" opts for sensuality amidst smooth guitar chords. A summertime jam through and through, the track is quickly approaching 800 million streams on Spotify. It would reach No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts upon its release. The track is best known for its earworm hook, solidifying his ability to thrive under various sonic styles. A sensual track in nature, Biggie analyzes his changing relationships with women before and after his fame.
"Mo Money Mo Problems" (1997)
Collaborating with Diddy and Mase, "Mo Money Mo Problems" thrived in its nationwide accessibility. Blending hip-hop, soul, and pop elements, the hit track immediately appealed to a broader audience than Biggie ever had. It showed in the numbers, sitting amongst the biggest songs in his discography. While Ready to Die saw Biggie reveling in his newfound wealth, "Mo Money Mo Problems" sees the rapper processing the realities of his new lifestyle.
"Notorious Thugs" (1997)
The hit "Notorious Thugs" saw Biggie collaborate with the iconic Midwest rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The collaboration yielded a unique moment in Biggie's discography. He was blending the grittiness of the Brooklyn streets with the more melodic approach of Bone's melodic Hip Hop flare. Narratively, "Notorious Thugs" sees Biggie reflecting on his days of street life. He's at the top of the world, stating, "I'm in the fast lane, from L.A. to Tokyo / I'm so fancy, can't you taste this gold?"
"Who Shot Ya?" (1994)
"Who Shot Ya?" was widely controversial upon its release. Many interpreted the track's aggressive lyricism as a diss to Tupac Shakur after he was shot. However, Biggie would maintain that the track was recorded before his passing. One of the deeper cuts on his debut album, "Who Shot Ya?" was added to Ready to Die's remaster. Ultimately, the song also contributed to the rising beef between the West and East Coast.
"Nasty Girl" (2005)
Released posthumously as a single from the album Duets: The Final Chapter, "Nasty Girl" features Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge, and Avery Storm. Biggie had enough material to last over a decade over his passing, with "Nasty Girl" becoming one of his biggest hits to date. Essentially, the track sees each membered feature reflecting on their relationships with women. However, the main narrative of the track is the stacked feature list. Nearing a decade after its passing, the effort to complete Duets: The Final Chapter speaks volumes about his influence on the hip-hop scene.