Despite being mythologized and simplified as fat, cockeyed, dark skinned and draped in Coogi, Notorious BIG’s best-known alter ego was a play on a Christopher Walken character. Christening himself Black Frank White, Big gave a nearly oxymoronic nod to Walken’s King of New York drug lord. Later, though, he bestowed himself with perhaps a more appropriate nickname: “Rap Alfred Hitchcock.” The boast may have been a simple comment on how Big’s rotund figure projected a silhouette similar to the filmmaker, but there’s a deeper spiritual bond between the two—the detail obsession of full-blown perfectionists. And that, too, is just one version of a composite of characters that in his passing have been made use of, dumbed down and commodified. Big is much more complex and unknowable than the ubiquitous T-shirt portrait of him as a sullen king, wearing a crown.
In late interviews, before his death at age 24, Big was one of the first rappers to vocally run the “I don’t really care about rap, I’m in it for the money” line. But make no mistake, there was a meticulousness to his craft. What else could account for such precision? For Biggie, every blunt ash was immaculately documented in rhyme. Where many of even the greatest storytelling rap songs were usually driven by a single protagonist and the string of events he or she encountered, Big presented multiple scenes and intertwined characters with a journalistic eye for the specifics. On “Gimmie the Loot,” Ready To Die’s standout heist track, he runs down the five Ws in the opening bars: Who? My man Inf. What? A tec and a nine he left. Where? At my crib. Why? He had to do a bid. When? He’ll be home the end of ’93. His tales had hardwired narratives, too. This foundation building is made even more impressive when considering that for most of his career, he composed lyrics in his head with no pen or pad.