Biggie Smalls Is Still B.I.G. 20 Years After His Death

notorious b.i.g. rapper brooklyn

Even now, it’s hard to imagine. A top rapper was shot to death on the eve of the release of his long-awaited sophomore album — the eerily titled Life After Death. But that’s what happened 20 years ago — on March 9, 1997, when the Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace) was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. His death came just six months after 2Pac was shot to death in similar circumstances in Las Vegas. Biggie was just 24 when he died.

Biggie’s star was clearly on the rise. His debut album, the also eerily titled Ready to Die, had been certified double-platinum (it’s now quadruple-platinum). It had spawned a pair of top 10 hits on Billboard‘s Hot 100 — “Big Poppa” (which received a Grammy nom for Best Rap Solo Performance) and “One More Chance/Stay With Me.”

Biggie’s killing focused even more attention on his follow-up, a double-disc album that was released just 16 days after his death. The album sold 690K copies in its first full week of release. That set a record (which still stands) for the greatest one-week sales for an album by a deceased artist since Nielsen began tracking U.S. music sales in 1991.

Life After Death spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. That was the longest run on top by an artist who had died since John Lennon’s Double Fantasy (a collabo with wife Yoko Ono) logged eight weeks at No. 1 in 1980-81.

Moreover, Life After Death spawned two No. 1 singles on the Hot 100, “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems” (featuring Puff Daddy and Ma$e). Biggie remains the only artist to land two No. 1 singles posthumously. (Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jim Croce, and John Lennon are the only other artists to land a No. 1 single posthumously as a lead artist.)

Biggie was also the subject of the tender “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans (Biggie’s widow) and featuring 112, an R&B group from Atlanta. The song, which samples the Police’s 1983 classic “Every Breath You Take,” was released on May 27, 1997, just 10 weeks after Biggie’s death. The single entered the Hot 100 at No. 1 and held on to the top spot for 11 consecutive weeks. It is, to this day, the only hip-hop single to spend its first 11 weeks at No. 1. Remarkably (and fittingly), “Mo Money Mo Problems” bumped “I’ll Be Missing You” out of the No. 1 spot.

Sting joined Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, and 112 to perform “I’ll Be Missing You” at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 4, 1997. That remains one of the most iconic performances in the history of the VMAs. “I’ll Be Missing You” won a VMA that night as Best R&B Video; Biggie’s “Hypnotize” was named Best Rap Video.

“I’ll Be Missing You” was Billboard‘s Song of the Summer for 1997. It ranked No. 3 on the magazine’s year-end chart. Spin magazine crowned the Notorious B.I.G. its Artist of the Year for 1997 and named “Hypnotize” its Single of the Year.

Life After Death was the sixth best-selling album of 1997, according to Nielsen. This is one of four times in the Nielsen era that an album by a deceased artist has ranked among the year’s top 10. 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me was the sixth best-selling album of 1996. Michael Jackson’s Number Ones was the third-best selling album of 2009. Prince’s The Very Best of Prince was the eighth best-selling album of 2016.

Biggie received three posthumous Grammy nominations in early 1998: Best Rap Album, Best Rap Solo Performance (for “Hypnotize”), and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (for “Mo Money Mo Problems,” which lost to “I’ll Be Missing You”).

The Notorious B.I.G. returned to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with two more posthumous albums — Born Again (in December 1999) and Greatest Hits (No. 1 in March 2007). He is one of only three artists to land three No. 1 albums posthumously since Billboard first published an album chart in 1945. The others are 2Pac and big-band leader Glenn Miller.

Biggie also reached the top five with Duets: The Final Chapter (No. 3 in January 2006). The soundtrack to Notorious, a biopic based on his life, reached No. 4 in January 2009.

In January 2000, Life After Death received a Diamond award from the Recording Industry Assn. of America, representing shipments of 10 million copies. It was just the second rap album to receive a Diamond award. The first, in April 1991, was M.C. Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em. (Note: The RIAA counts double albums, such as Life After Death, as two albums.)

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