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Notorious B.I.G. Vs. Biggy Smallz – This or That?

Adger Cowans, Getty Images

What you’re about to read is one confusing ass story. It involves Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, the movie ‘Let’s Do It Again,’ Biggy Smallz, Biggy Smalls, and a ton of other Biggy Smallses (none of which should be confused with Big E. Smalls. That’s just how it is sometimes.

In the early ’90s, when Puff was looking for a come-up on Uptown Records and found Christopher Wallace via DJ Mister Cee and The Source, his rap moniker was “Biggie Smalls,” an oxymoronic name that still rings loud and clear to this day. A young Chris Wallace presented himself as “Biggie Smalls” on his original demo tape (named after a character from Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier’s 1975 film ‘Let’s Do It Again’) but around 1993 rumors arose of a lawsuit against Wallace that would prevent him from using that name, and thus Notorious B.I.G. was born.

The true story is still shrouded in mystery but certainly less apocryphal, and it has to do with Tupac in more ways than one. ‘Pac ran with a crew from Queens called the Live Squad, headed mainly by Stretch and Majesty. Pac met Stretch while recording with Digital Underground in L.A., and the two immediately hit it off. Stretch became Shakur’s right hand man until Stretch’s untimely death, but there was another member of Live Squad, Big Drik, who went by Biggie Smalls. He died before both Pac and Stretch with little to no musical output, and Pac shots him out on ‘God Bless The Dead.’

On the West Coast, there was yet another Biggy Smallz connected with Tupac through producer Johnny J, who would go on to produce songs like ‘How Do U Want It.’ Smallz was either white or latino and released only three songs publicly – ‘Save Mr. Perkins,’ ‘Cruisin,’ and ‘Nobody Rides For Free,’ the last two of which Johnny J produced. Many know that Shakur acted as something of a mentor to a young Wallace, and as the story goes, when Big’s popularity began to grow, Pac did a favor for Johnny J and asked Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace if he could change his name.  Smallz (the other one) apparently saw a small boost in sales after ‘Ready To Die’ dropped, but that’s where his story stops, as he died sometime after. Johnny J reportedly committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the prison where he was serving time for a DWI in 2008.

‘Save Mr. Perkins’ dropped in 1991 and is an excessively wack song, like a jock jam with a white child actor for a rapper. It doesn’t sound like the Smallz on the next two tracks.  Two years later, ‘Cruisin’ finds (perhaps a different?) Smallz getting out of school on a Friday and breathing a sigh of relief as he hops in his whip to pick up friends and chill out all night. A female vocalist interpolates the Smokey Robinson classic for the hook, and Smallz emits a youthful Pharcyde-ish vibe in his rhymes. He does, however, seem doomed to the friendzone at the mercy of one honey by the end of the song. ‘Nobody Rides For Free’ dropped in 1994 and features Smallz experimenting with his voice a bit while getting another vocalist on the hook. His raps are somewhat bland, spouting braggadocio with a certain air in his voice like he’s trying out for Bone Thugs. It is, however, decidedly more West Coast than “Cruisin.”

To further confuse everyone, Pac had yet another peer that he referred to as Biggie Smalls, his producer Big D. You can see him call Big D “Biggie Smalls” in Video Music Box footage of an interview with Pac and the Live Squad. Big D is the only surviving guy to call himself “Biggie Smalls.”

It goes without saying that Biggy Smallz, or Biggie Smalls, could be Jesus H. Christ and he wouldn’t beat the real Big. Nothing better can be written about B.I.G. that he hasn’t already spit himself, but it’s worth noting all of the underlying relationships and tension that led him to take a new name. Once Pac got shot at Quad studios, their relationship quickly deteriorated, but it’s incredible to think back to a time when Pac ran with Queens cats and was a big brother figure to Biggie. Regardless of past strife or guys with similar names (or even soundalikes like Shyne or Guerilla Black) the fact remains: Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls is the illest.

 

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