Notorious B.I.G. Covers

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Looking back on the brief life of Christopher Wallace—a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G., Big Poppa, The Black Frank White—it’s difficult not to see a prophecy of doom in his album titles and art. Despite rapping about the good life, and the violent struggles it took to get there, Biggie Smalls also represented a darker side generally unacknowledged by other rappers. He spoke frankly of depression and fatalistic thoughts, far from the common rap braggadocio. Before Kanye admitted to being self-conscious, Biggie was revealing his self-loathing and doubts to the world. And while he made thorough and constant mention of gats, keys, blunts and all the double-crossing therein, Biggie’s legacy of album art is one of an artist resigned to his grim fate.

Studio Albums: Ready to Die, Life After Death

Who else names their debut album Ready to Die? It’s hardly the pronouncement of joy one would expect upon launching a soon-to-be platinum career. Ready to Die isn’t just a bleak title; the moroseness of inner-city life is catalogued throughout the record, most notably in “Suicidal Thoughts” and the title track, despite the levity and high spirits of “Juicy” and “Everyday Struggles.” The album cover also depicts the duality of Biggie’s outlook: the bleak title is juxtaposed by the innocence of an afroed, diaper-clad baby. Is the message that despite the roots of innocence, Biggie, and other inner-city dwellers, are doomed? Or is it a message of hope – that there is still innocence amid the oft-violent everyday struggles of life in Bedford-Stuyvesant?

Biggie’s sophomore, and final studio album, Life After Death, is even more explicit in its relationship to the afterlife. Dipped in formal regalia, Biggie lamps next to a hearse on the album cover. Like its predecessor, Life After Death alternates between familiar violence (“Niggaz Bleed,” “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You”) and rays of hope (“Miss U,” “Sky’s the Limit”). Unlike his debut, however, Biggie leaves little room for ambiguity here. Someone is dead, and it would be Biggie himself, shot mere days before the release of Life After Death. But the macabre ironies don’t end there. Life After Death also features “Going Back to Cali,” wherein Biggie speaks of his affinity for the West Coast despite all beef – but he never made it back from Cali after being shot fatally on L.A.’s Miracle Mile.


Mixtapes/Post-Humous Releases: Duets…DJ Vlad and Dirty Harry, Unsolved Mysteries…DJ Rukiz and Rob E Rob

In Biggie’s unofficial and post-humous releases, the running theme is the image of Biggie as hip-hop godfather. Those that don’t glorify the black Frank White in fedoras and vines alternately portray Biggie as the King of New York, or the Versace-glassed, Coogi-sweater-clad widebody we all came to know and love. They display a different duality in Biggie: Mafioso-styled Don, or the extra-large Brooklyn stick-up kid — both sides repped equally in Biggie’s tales of rap-fantasy. DJ Rukiz puts Biggie at the forefront of a mixtape entitled Unsolved Mysteries—flanked by a posse of rap’s recently-deceased—in a mob-flick styled cover that Scarface-watchers would certainly approve. Biggie’s followers, it seems, want to remember him as he portrayed himself – an immaculate hustler-Don wise to the ways of the street and the game.


Singles: Big Poppa, Juicy

Unlike his albums, Biggie’s 12” single covers don’t reflect the complexities within. Instead, they portray the vastness of Bed-Stuy’s livest one in the only way possible – through photos. Though his single covers may not reveal much, there was an air of resignation to his fate exhibited in Biggie’s videos and interviews. In the Source cover story just prior to Biggie’s death, writer Bonz Malone caught up with a tense Wallace sitting on his porch with a .357 Magnum, ready for beef. In the “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” video, Biggie intimates that success only complicates life, instead of simplifying it. He never knew how poignant his words would be.

Rick Kang

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4 comments

  1. Biggie. The most overrated rapper of all time. Next is Jay-Z. Biggie released two dope albums. But that’s enough for him to be so hyped? Life After Death isn’t as good as Marshall Mathers LP. Ready to Die is slightly better than Slim Shady LP. So, if Eminem died after his first two albums, then he’s a godfather too?

  2. Jimmy you are a certified asshole

    Do you even listen to music or do u jerk off to eminems album covers

    Life after Death cements B.I.G. as the greatest ever. One verse off this album is more important than anything emimen will ever say regardless of his unit sales.

    The Marshall mathers Lp? Really, granted when it came out it had a nice buzz going- i own the album but

    How is the guy overrated? Jay-z has put out like 11 albums and like 20 releases- look how much jay -z has matured since reasonable doubt. Why not give big the benefit of the doubt. Life after death is better that ready to die in every aspect except the fact that it came out first.

    Since BIGS life was cut short you hear his early recordings that, I feel, if he were alive he would try to bury.

    If u want i’ll but a copy of life after death and send it to you.

    He didnt spit rhymes, he told stories,painted pictures. Just the words ‘Previously on Ready to Die” hold more substance than anything eminem could ever record.

    Hi kids, do you like primus? do you wanna see me stick nine inch nails through each one of my eyelids?

    go fuck yourself

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