To call yourself a hip hop fan and to have the Notorious B.I.G. anywhere outside your Top 5 would be absolutely criminal. And it’s in that vein that I have him right there, at Number 5. Now don’t get me wrong, if we were talking about rap as far as rapping were concerned, I’d have him at Number 1 overall. There was never a better rapper than Biggie. It was not even close. Nobody could better play with, manipulate and stretch the meanings, sounds, syllables and symbolism of words that the fat kid from Brooklyn. He was the best by such a wide berth that the second best, Eminem, comes across almost as the forgettable white bread on the sandwiched smorgasbord of layered and textured words verbs and meanings that Big spit.
But since when we put together these Top 5 lists as far as hip hop is concerned we invariably and inevitably also consider MCing, it’s also here that we find Biggie’s weak spot. With the lone and so-so exception of Sky’s the Limit, Biggie almost never MC’d.
Now, for anybody confused, let’s make this clear: a rapper is someone putting together words that rhyme; an MC is someone rapping with some sort of sociopolitical agenda.
For all his greatness, and his greatness was staggering, Big simply never had anything to say which could have caused anyone listening to consider the world from a newer or possibly more enlightened perspective. He simply massacred great tracks with great lyrics.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Interestingly, the best pure MC ever is, with tremendous irony but possibly the least surprise, Tupac Shakur. And Tupac was a horrible rapper. Ok, maybe horrible isn’t fair, but he wasn’t a very strong one. The truth is, he started out a little better than fair, then got stronger and stronger until is inevitable demise. He ended up as a decent-to-good rapper, quite honestly. But as a MC he was absolutely amazing.
Immediately comes to mind when I think of Tupac. And most would argue that this was nowhere near his best lyric. However as far as I’m concerned, it’s the one that got me stuck. For the longest time, I was like, “wait a minute…” Rewind. “wait a minute…” Rewind.
But back to Big. Sadly, Big may have also been peaking near the end. Although he’d seemingly started to gain weight – which, to me, is always a sign of comfort, and comfort, to me, always a sign of artistic decline – his verse on the Get Money remix may have been his absolutely best ever. And who knows? If given enough time, maybe he would have branched over to MCing and become a great as that as well.
Also, when it came to features and guest appearances, Big had an equanimity of approach that, for his truest fans, could have seemed puzzling if not frustrating. Despite effortlessly setting off the Flava in Ya Ear remix with a verse so much better than any to follow it seems foolish that anyone actually did, Big’s appearances on two songs that come to mind immediately, The What from his own debut album and Keep Your Hands High from Tracey Lee’s album, resulted in what no reasonable fan could describe as anything other than a “push“. Not that we should think that Big was so much better than Method Man and Tracey Lee respectively that neither should have even been close to him, but we are left to wonder if those other MCs stepped up their games to match his, or if he took a little off his to match theirs.
The Jay-Z duets should also be considered, and it’s here that I disagree with my great friend, DJ Tone Fresh. Whereas Tone Fresh thinks Jay washes Big easily both on Brooklyn’s Finest and on I Love the Dough, I see the first of those two going to Jay and Big taking the rematch by a relatively decisive margin.
While on Brooklyn’s Finest, Big seems so out of his element that it’s as if Michael Jordan came to basketball practice one day and one of his teammates threw him a football and then the team as a whole proceeded to play that game, on I Love the Dough, Big gets Jay on the kind of track on which Jay should have been comfortable (being that Jay and female rapper Foxy Brown had just had a hit with another song sampled from an old of Rene & Angela hit) and then proceeded to dance, jab and pretty much rope-a-dope Jay into looking clumsy, awkward, weird and stupid.
What a loss.