It’s been over 20 years since his murder, but Christopher Wallace — who is better known by his stage names The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie, or Biggie Smalls — continues to be hugely influential in music and pop culture.
On March 9, 1997, Wallace was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles — and the identity of the gunman is still considered to be one of rap’s biggest unsolved mysteries.
Wallace was born and raised in Brooklyn, and when he released his debut album, Ready to Die, in 1994 he immediately became a central figure in the East Coast hip-hop scene during a time when West Coast hip-hop was dominant in the mainstream.
While recording his second album, Wallace became heavily involved in the increasingly ugly East Coast vs. West Coast hip-hop battles.The beef between opposing sides — with major players including Sean “Diddy” Combs and Bad Boy Records on one side, and Suge Knight and Death Row Records on the other — would eventually come to pit Wallace against his former friend Tupac Shakur.
In a 1995 prison interview with Vibe, Shakur accused Uptown Records’ founder Andre Harrell, Sean Combs, and Wallace of having prior knowledge of a robbery that resulted in him being shot five times and losing thousands of dollars worth of jewelry on the night of November 30, 1994.
Wallace and his entourage denied the accusation, calling it a “coincidence” that he had been at the studio at the same time as Shakur.
Following his release from prison, Shakur signed to Death Row Records, and the insults and violence on both sides continued to mount.Wallace married R&B singer Faith Evans in August 1994, just weeks after meeting at a Bad Boy photo shoot. Their turbulent marriage would be cut short when Wallace was gunned down.
Evans later recalled Wallace’s reaction the night that Shakur was shot. She said:
“I remember Big calling me and crying. I know for a fact he was in Jersey. He called me crying because he was in shock. I think it’s fair to say he was probably afraid, given everything that was going on at that time and all the hype that was put on this so-called beef that he didn’t really have in his heart against anyone.”
The night he was shot, Wallace attended an afterparty hosted by Vibe magazine and Qwest records at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Fellow guests included Faith Evans, Aaliyah, Sean Combs, and members of the rival Bloods and Crips gangs.
In the early morning hours of March 9, Wallace left in a GMC Suburban SUV and, while the SUV was stopped at a red light at the corner of Wilshire Blvd and South Fairfax, a dark-colored Chevrolet Impala SS pulled up alongside Wallace’s car. The driver, a black male, rolled down his window, drew a 9mm blue-steel pistol, and fired at the SUV.
Wallace was hit with four bullets, and his entourage rushed him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:15 A.M. — six months after Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting.
Wallace’s autopsy was released to the public in December 2012, over a decade after his death. According to the report, three of the four shots were not fatal, but the fourth struck his right hip and hit several vital organs before stopping in his left shoulder.
Wallace’s murder remains unsolved, and there are many theories regarding the identities and motives of the murderers.
In Murder Rap: Inside The Biggie & Tupac Murders, former LAPD detective Greg Kading concluded that Wallace’s murder was orchestrated in retaliation for the killing of Tupac Shakur. According to Kading, Combs hired Crips gang member Duane Keith “Keffe D” Davis to kill Shakur and Suge Knight for $1 million. He alleges that on September 7, 1996, Keffe D’s nephew, Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, shot Tupac in Las Vegas.
Kading believes that Knight hired gang member Wardell “Poochie” Fouse to kill Wallace in retaliation.
Life After Death was released 16 days after Wallace’s death and immediately shot to number one on the charts. He has certified sales of 17 million units in the United States
A tribute single called “I’ll Be Missing You” – released in 1997 by Puff Daddy, 112, and Faith – won a Grammy award.
For more on Tupac Shakur, watch the “Death of a Warrior Poet” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Vanity Fair Confidential on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. [Wikimedia Commons]