The Notorious B.I.G.'s presence is still felt 15 years after he died at age 24 in Los Angeles. His silky flow and crafty lyrics became a blueprint for a generation of rappers. Most rappers today would say that he influenced them in one way or another, but here are 10 artists we think were most influenced by Biggie Smalls.
Biggie and Jay-Z, both of whom grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, used to battle-rap (along with Busta Rhymes) in high school before they became close friends who would alter the rap game. The two share a wicked flow and a lyric style that uses clever wordplay. Jay-Z has often quoted Biggie's lyrics in songs, which have led some critics (ahem, Nas) to question Jay's skills. But as Hova explained, it was his way of keeping Biggie's legacy alive.
Combs was an ambitious A & R executive for Uptown Records when he heard a demo by an up-and-coming rapper from Bed-Stuy. Shortly after signing Biggie to Uptown, Combs was fired. He would create his own label, Bad Boy Records, and in 1992 Biggie joined Combs and became the label's marquee artist, propelling Combs into fame. Combs would go on to become one of hip-hop's savviest moguls, compiling an empire that includes a clothing line (Sean John) and liquor brand (Ciroc). His estimated worth is $475 million.
Kim was a member of Junior M.A.F.I.A., a group of Biggie's childhood friends from around the way. The group's successful debut, Conspiracy, helped launch Kim's solo career. Unlike earlier female rappers (MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah), Kim flaunted her sexuality with raunchy lyrics — many of which were written by Biggie — and provocative fashions. Her style would influence a new crop of female rappers, most notably Nicki Minaj. Though Biggie began as her mentor, he and Kim would have an affair while he was married to R&B singer Faith Evans.
Early in his career, Mase was the go-to rap collaborator. His syrupy-slow flow can be heard on songs by Mariah Carey, Keith Sweat and Brandy. But his appearance on "Mo Money, Mo Problems" would boost Mase's cred and profile when the single became the biggest hit from Big's second album, Life After Death. When Mase released his first album, Harlem World, seven month's after Biggie's death, it debuted at No. 1, making him Bad Boy's new top artist. Mase would leave the music business at the height of his career in 1999 to become a minister, making a brief comeback, with an album, in 2004.
Yes, 'Pac – a known enemy of Biggie's — is on this list, but before you throw a hissy fit, let us just say that both artists influenced and inspired each other equally. They were two of hip-hop's biggest stars who started off as friendly rivals, representing the best of East Coast-West Coast rap. In any good rivalry, competitors are pushed to greater achievements. But after Tupac was shot in 1994, the rivalry turned bitter and things were never the same. Ultimately violence claimed rap's brightest stars, but they will be forever linked as hip-hop's twin peaks.
There may be bigger influences in Wayne's career, but his brash, lyrical style is reminiscent of a young Christopher Wallace, who had few peers who could match his verbal dexterity. Similarly, Lil Wayne is at the top of his class, a game changer that a new generation of rappers seeks to emulate.
In 2002, when Fitty was an up-and-comer, he used a verse from a Biggie song to record the track "Realest Nig—s," which would be featured on the Bad Boys II sound track. The song became a staple on New York radio and helped boost his career.
The Yonkers, N.Y., native became close friends with Biggie after his group, the LOX, signed with Bad Boys Records. The group's first hit paid tribute to the fallen rap star in 1997. Jada was just one of several artists — including Lil Cease, Lil Kim and Cam'ron — whose careers were nurtured by Big Poppa. Over the years, Jada has shared his fond memories of Biggie, and he even penned a tribute in 2009 called "A Letter to B.I.G.," which was featured in the biopic Notorious.
When Shyne's single "Bad Boyz" dropped in 2000, his flow was so similar to Biggie's that a few people thought the single was a previously unreleased track by the Brooklyn legend. Shyne, who was signed to Bad Boy (natch), was poised for a huge career, but it was derailed by the infamous nightclub shooting in 1999. After serving nine years of a 10-year sentence, he was deported back to his birthplace, Belize. He then converted to Judaism and changed his name to Moshe Levi Ben-David. He and Diddy were recently seen together at Paris Fashion Week.
This Crown Heights (Brooklyn) rapper has been called "the new Biggie Smalls," which is a huge claim for someone just coming up in the rap game. But eXquire, who was "obsessed" with Big as a kid, is OK with the comparisons. His smooth delivery on tracks such as "Lou Ferigno's Mad" (sic), from his 2011 mixtape, Lost in Translation, made him one of the buzziest new acts in the blogosphere. While it's doubtful he'll have the same impact as Biggie, eXquire does seem poised for big things.