Note: This originally ran on March 9, 2017, the 20th anniversary of Notorious B.I.G.’s death.
Today is the 20th anniversary of Notorious B.I.G.’s death, and the internet is rife with remembrances of the all-time great rapper. Two days before his death, he performed what would be his final performance at the Soul Train Music Awards in Los Angeles, and it’s a reminder of what an uncompromising talent Christopher Wallace wielded.
Featuring a shiny-suited Puffy and ethereal Faith Evans, you can hear the crowd go absolutely nuts when the familiar lilting beat of the “One More Chance” remix comes on. Biggy arrives in typical mid-’90s rap performance fanfare, but then barely moves, ever the street-corner battle emcee; a lot of rappers spit, but few seem to have the almost gravitational force to make their words careen into the audience through sheer force. Part of this is because Biggy is, yes, huge, an imposing presence in his mafioso three-piece, his solidity juxtaposed by a couple rows of syncopated fly-girl dancers and torrential sparking pyrotechnics. But it’s also the booming voice, the relentless luxe-life swag of his lyrics, the easy comic timing of his delivery—he doesn’t need to move, because the words themselves do the work.
Even when the beat flips to Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s more uptempo “Get Money,” Biggy remains a magnetic center of attention. At most, he turns to spit a bar at Puff. “Bad Boy in ’97!” he shouts at the end, but two decades later, the performance would still merit a rallying cry. He was a generational talent, and worth remembering any day we get the chance.