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The 50 Best Notorious B.I.G. Songs

On the 25th anniversary of the legendary rapper’s tragic death, we honour his incredible musical legacy by counting down his 50 best songs.

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When Christopher George Latore Wallace was fatally shot at a Los Angeles traffic light on March 9, 1997, he was 24 years old and had released one album. But his stature at the time was towering, due both to his peerless artistic gifts and the desperately competitive atmosphere within hip-hop, viewed either rightly or wrongly as one of the few career dreams for Black kids boxed in by poverty, mass incarceration, racist drug policy, and corrupt, violent policing. That stature has only grown in the 25 years since. If the Notorious B.I.G. isn’t the greatest rapper ever (he is), then he’s the most respected. His narrative mastery, linguistic joy, dizzyingly rhythmic flows, emotional depth, and wry wisdom have never been equaled. Here’s why Biggie Smalls is still the illest.

From Rolling Stone US

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‘Respect’ (1994)

With singer Diana King providing a fierce dancehall chorus (and vocal nod to our hero’s Jamaican roots), Biggie runs down his life story, from the womb (“Ten months in this gut, what the fuck?”) to teenage conflicts with Mom (“School I didn’t show up/it fucked my flow up/Mom said that I should grow up”) and rap success in ‘94 (“Not the same deranged child stuck up in the game”). A funny, smart autobiography. —J.G.

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‘It’s All About the Benjamins (Remix)’ Puff Daddy & the Family feat. the Notorious B.I.G., Lil Kim, and the Lox (1997)

This covertly weird song hit Number Two on the Billboard pop singles chart behind the immovable “Candle in Wind 1997.” Over a Marc Solomon guitar hook, Puff, the Lox, and Kim spit about ruling all the cash around them, but a smart Jackson Five sample turns the spare music lush for a sharp closing guns-n-girls verse from “Francis, the praying mantis.” Except for a reference to Hebrews in Jadakiss’ verse, it’s aged oddly well. —J.G.

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‘You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)’ (1997)

Post-war hoods drowned their sorrows to the Rat Pack toe-tapper “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.” Biggie had more darkly ornate visions, especially about the value of black life in a world where brand names, crackheads, deceased friends, and Lear jets, all represent a doomed existence. He was dead before the song’s release. —C.A.

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‘Victory’ Puff Daddy & the Family feat. the Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes (1997)

If Puff’s “I’ll Be Missing You” is a benediction, “Victory” is his howl of rage: background wailing, an unhinged-sounding Busta, and Puff sobbing for everyone when he screams “It’s all fucked up now.” Over a relentless loop built from Bill Conti’s “Rocky” soundtrack, “VIctory” belongs to Biggie, his verses recorded days before his death. A spectral presence, flickering in and out of focus, B.I.G. is a fallen Viking, ripping some of his all-time hardest verses direct from Valhalla: “I’m in your mama crib waitin’/Duct tapin’, your fam’ destiny/Lays in my hands, gat lays in my waist.” The most melodramatic hip-hop song of a melodramatic rap moment, “Victory” is the fury of life after death. —J.G.

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‘Me and My Bitch’ (1994)

Which is more stupider [sic]? Reading pop-music lyrics literally? Or defending a seemingly misogynistic line like, “The wine is right, I treat you right/You talk slick, I beat you right”? This brash, habitually line-steppin’, tragic-comic vignette views Biggie’s ultimate romantic and criminal co-conspirator as his equal, his “best friend,” and a victim of his lifestyle. He’s bitter, salty, heartbroken. Perhaps the song is not so easily parsed because the song is so exceptional. —C.A.

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‘A Buncha N****s’ Heavy D & the Boyz feat. 3rd Eye, Guru, the Notorious B.I.G., Rob-O, and Busta Rhymes (1993)

The closing track on Heavy D and the Boyz’ Blue Funk album not only marked an early appearance for the artist then known as Biggie Smalls, but also epitomized Heavy D’s mentoring influence at Uptown Records on a new generation of hip-hoppers. “It was a unit, everybody was family up there,” Lil Cease remembered to XXL in 2011, citing Uptown acts like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci as well as Biggie, who was briefly signed to the label. Despite competing in a stacked cipher, Biggie acquits himself well on the Jesse West-produced track as he drops bombs: “I bring drama like you spit on my mama/Cannibalistic like that nigga Jeffrey Dahmer.” —M.R.

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‘Dolly My Baby (Bad Boy Extended Mix)’ Super Cat feat. Mary J. Blige, 3rd Eye, the Notorious B.I.G., and Puff Daddy (1993)

Talk about humble beginnings: Biggie made his wax debut on the fourth of six remixes on Jamaican deejay Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby” 12,” his verse coming fifth after four other featured artists (even behind Puff). But it’s all here: the confidence, the flow, and the immortal words “I love it when you call me Big Poppa.” —J.G.

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‘Notorious Thugs’ feat. Bone, Thugs-N-Harmony (1997)

“Notorious Thugs” not only exemplifies the Notorious B.I.G.’s ability to conquer any style, even the melodic chopper flow made famous by Cleveland group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, it also marks his ambition to be an artist who resonated globally. Despite his reputation as the king of New York, he admired scenes in the South and the Midwest as well. “He was marveling off of us. And we were telling him how much love we had for him,” Layzie Bone told XXL in 2003. Still, a studio session between Bone and Biggie forced the latter to contemplate how he could equal Bone’s superior performance. “He really wanted to sit there and master that shit,” added Lil Cease in the XXL story. —M.R.

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‘Get Money’ Junior M.A.F.I.A. feat. the Notorious B.I.G. (1995)

A mid-Nineties, glasses-in-the-air classic. Biggie’s verse starts out a little seductive, then switches to vengeance (which has aged poorly) on a squeeze who ratted him to the feds. Lil’ Kim, on the other hand, is back and as dirty as ever. Like many Clinton-era hip-hop smashes, the clean version, with a combination of word substitutions and whole phrases vanished, is just as dope and much weirder. —J.G.

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‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ feat. Ma$e and Puff Daddy (1997)

It’s one of the iconic scenes from Bad Boy’s takeover of the music industry: Puff Daddy getting his Tiger Woods on, putting in a final shot to win a golf tournament just as Diana Ross’ joyously uninhibited chorus from “I’m Coming Out” sparks the beginning of “Mo Money Mo Problems.” But that video as well as the campaign surrounding the chart-topping single was tinged with melancholy. Despite a closing verse from “B-I-G P-O-P-P-A” boasting of his aim to reach the cover of the Fortune “5-double-O,” he didn’t live to enjoy the song’s massive pop success. —M.R. 

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‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ Jay-Z feat. the Notorious B.I.G. (1996)

Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G.’s smooth mic-passing routines on “Brooklyn’s Finest” make this song one of the standout moments from Jay’s classic Reasonable Doubt. “Brooklyn’s Finest” was also a major look for a then-independent artist who had begun to make waves with buzz singles like “In My Lifetime.” Ironically, neither man knew each other at the time, though they became friends afterward; Biggie wanted Clark Kent’s flip of the Ohio Players’ “Ecstasy,” but when the latter insisted that it was for Jay, Biggie settled by offering to jump on the track. Puff Daddy nearly derailed their plans by blocking the release of their collaboration, but to everyone’s benefit he eventually relented. —M.R.

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‘Machine Gun Funk’ (1994)

Over a silky, snaky guitar snipped from ’70s funk band Black Heat (Easy Mo Bee again!), Biggie goes full tilt, his voice engulfing every inch of the track, a human subwoofer, clear as a bell on a pitch-black night, hurling quick-fire barbs that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and run away. —C.A.

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‘Player’s Anthem’ Junior M.A.F.I.A. feat. the Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Cease, and Lil’ Kim (1995)

It’s easy to forget how shocking Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s debut single sounded on first blush, opening as it did with its rather direct chorus. Biggie sounds exhausted as he semi-sings about which body parts to fondle if you love hip-hop or Big Poppa, respectively. “Surrounded by criminals, heavy rollers, even the shiesty individuals,” Biggie also reminds that these are all metaphors: “My mind’s my nine, my pen’s my mack-10.” “Player’s Anthem” also introduced the world to Lil’ Kim. —J.G.  

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‘The What’ feat. Method Man (1994)

Wu-Tang Clan’s raspy, grimy rising star, yet to release his debut solo album, goes head-up with New York’s other fastest rising star on his debut album. Highlights: The Biggie line “Excuse me, flows just grow through me/Like trees to branches, cliffs to avalanches” is still a startling poetic aside. And Method Man’s boast, “I’ve got more Glocks and TECs than you/I make it hot, niggas won’t even stand next to you,” was actually written by Big. —C.A.

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‘Sky’s the Limit’ feat. 112 (1997)

According to producer DJ Clark Kent, the beat for “Sky’s the Limit” passed through several rappers, including Jay-Z and LL Cool J, before the Notorious B.I.G. secured it for Life After Death. “When he heard ‘Sky’s the Limit,’ I was like, well this track is for Akinyele, so you can’t have it. He’s like, ‘Nah, I need that’,” the producer told BET in 2017. Peaking at Number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Sky’s the Limit” finds Biggie reminiscing about his pre-stardom hustler days over a soulful groove lifted from Bobby Caldwell’s “My Flame.” But it’s mostly famous for Spike Jonze’s imaginative video, where young children were cast in the roles of Biggie, 112, Lil Kim, Puff Daddy, and Mase. —M.R.

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‘What’s Beef?’ (1997)

The supposed feud with Death Row Records was working Biggie’s last nerve; rappers posing like they were eager to start a shootout with any and everybody was laughable. So he tried to give some perspective. Hip-hop, like all art, is an imaginative shading of reality, and the studio does not protect you from life outside, which our antihero explained using a series of torture metaphors. Unfortunately, 2Pac, as we know, did not give a fuck. —C.A.

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‘Crush on You’ Lil’ Kim feat. Lil’ Cease (1996)

What Biggie brings to Lil’ Kim’s hit is an anchoring earworm of a hook that takes it over the top. B.I.G., whose appearance on the track isn’t credited, comes through with the most mellow voice you hear. And it works like a charm. His playful overtures seem to harmonize with the lush chords (lifted from Jeff Lorber’s 1979 single, “Rain Dance”), making this flirt fest the aural equivalent to a “Do you like me? Check yes or no” note. —W.D.

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‘Ready to Die’ (1994)

“Ready to Die” is a chilling blast of fatalism from a man who all but invited death to a staring contest. Like some Fulton Street version of Antonio Block in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Bed-Stuy’s Finest played chess with mortality. When he pleads, “Fuck the world, fuck my moms and my girl/My life is played out like a Jheri curl,” you can’t help but be moved by his stoicism. —W.D.

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‘Madison Square Garden Freestyle’ Big Scoob, the Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Shyheim, Big Daddy Kane (1995)

On Oct. 22, 1993, Big Daddy Kane, backing dancer Scoob Lover, and DJ Mister Cee performed a 10-minute set at the Budweiser Superfest — an annual touring revue headlined that year by SWV, Bell Biv Devoe, and Silk. “Being it’s New York, we wanted to do something extra crazy for the show. So we asked Big to come out,” Mister Cee told MTV in 2010. When they got to the venue, 2Pac and onetime Wu-Tang affiliate Shyheim were there, too. Kane then brought all three rappers onstage for one of the most memorable live freestyle sessions in rap history. Thanks to Mister Cee capturing the moment on cassette, Biggie’s shout “Where Brooklyn at?” is now legendary. —M.R.

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‘Suicidal Thoughts’ (1994)

On Ready to Die’s closing song, all Biggie’s bravado and audacity have been ground down to guilt and self-pity. A phone call from Diddy shakes him awake, and he raps his reply in one three-minute verse: “I swear to God I want to just slit my wrists,” he spits. It’s an unmatched, hip-hop portrayal of utter despair, especially when he admits that he willfully betrayed his loved ones. —C.A.

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‘Real Love (Remix)’ Mary J. Blige feat. the Notorious B.I.G. (1992)

Most of the time, Big’s ladies were off-screen, singing the hook. “Real Love” is a balance of equals, the queen of hip-hop soul and the king of New York as natural allies. Biggie dips in, support a fellow monarch in her time of need (“Look up in the sky It’s a bird, it’s a plane/ Nope, it’s Mary Jane, ain’t a damn thing changed”) and bounces. Perfect. —J.G.

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‘One More Chance / Stay With Me (Remix)’ feat. Faith Evans (1995)

Sharing very little but subject matter with the porny Ready to Die album cut called “One More Chance,” this R&B remix sports a few lines as iconic as anything in his catalog. This is Biggie at his second-person best, laying out the case (“First thing’s first…”) for sex with him, complete with future separated spouse Evans singing the hook. Closing argument: “Your flight leaves at eight/Her flight lands at nine, my game just rewinds.” Why yes, he was indeed the player president. —J.G.

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‘Gimme the Loot’ (1994)

If you were walking alone, epecially at night, in 1980s/’90s New York City, getting mugged was a daily concern. Here, Biggie voiced what that reality meant for Black youth — the need to project fearlessness and strength, while constantly being suspicious, on alert, and harassed by bigoted cops. Rapid-fire rapping as himself and his younger self (using different voices), he played a pair of overamped thieves, doing more posturing than robbing, to a morbidly absurd extent (“I been robbin’ motherfuckers since the slave ships”). —C.A.

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‘I Got a Story to Tell’ (1997)

Not a fable or jarring, pothole-level street drama, this is pure dramatic monologue told simply for the raw-dog joy of telling. It boasts nothing but the protagonist’s considerable, if nasty, charms and resourceful wit. Propelled by Bucwild’s lickety-split beat (built from Al Jackson Jr.’s crispy drums on Al Green’s “I’m Glad You’re Mine”), Biggie talks shit about his sexual perils, in this case on the mattress of New York Knicks bully baller Anthony Mason. —C.A.

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‘Kick in the Door’ (1997)

DJ Premier was a drummer himself, and perhaps that’s why his beats have such an immutable grit, jolt, and dimension, yet snugly fit with the song’s other elements (sharply scratched samples, sound effects, etc.). And maybe that’s why, on “Kick in the Door,” Biggie’s slightly bemused voice has such a hyperfocused, pinpoint force. Yes, the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sample adds a bone-chilling thrill, but the show is Biggie methodically rhyming circles, trapezoids, rhombuses, and fucking obtuse triangles around his hapless contemporaries. It’s not a diss song; it’s over. —C.A.

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‘Warning’ (1994)

In the history of murder ballads, Biggie should be in the pantheon, along with Ghostface Killah, Slick Rick, Kool G Rap, Ice-T, et al. And “Warning” is a spiky myth of hateration told with shuddering concision and visual splendor that would fluster the Greek god of jealousy (what’s gucci, Phthonos?). Big raps in the voice of two different characters; is depressed and dismayed that Brooklyn kids would try him simply because of his success; and then flips to their point of view as they recognize the infrared dots on their foreheads. —C.A.

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‘Things Done Changed’ (1994)

On Ready to Die‘s intro, the character of “The Notorious B.I.G.” gets out of jail, and as “Things Done Changed” picks up the story, he’s briefly nostalgic. But the grinding, violent misery and racist contempt of the crack era has blighted his memories. Producer Darnell Scott builds a twinkling, but hard-hitting, arrangement from a Main Ingredient sample that mirrors Biggie as he moves from irritable to disgusted to reflective. His sign-off: “Shit, my mama got cancer in her breast, don’t ask me why I’m motherfuckin’ stressed.” —C.A.

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‘Party and Bullshit’ (1993)

Out of context, this debut single (paid for by Puffy Combs, then at Uptown Records) is in hot pursuit of fairly mundane, youthful pleasures — girls, weed, the latest sneakers. But it’s early ’90s New York, so Biggie’s guard is up and his body armored, rip-roaring and reckless, counterpunching with caustic punchlines, and quoting the Last Poets’ and Rodney King’s entreaties to Black America like some crazy shit some dude said at a party. —C.A.

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‘Unbelievable’ (1994)

A neck-snapping call to order amid a hail of bullets, “Unbelievable” is Biggie announcing himself as “the livest one” on his Bed-Stuy promenade and beyond. Not only did he strike fear in MCs with a landslide of outlandish, gun-waving punchlines and elbow-throwing internal rhymes, he illuminated project-hallway imagery, taunted white bystanders, and instructed DJ Premier to sample the smoothly sung title from a random verse on an R. Kelly slow jam. —C.A.

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‘Hypnotize’ (1997)

“Hypnotize” was released on March , 1997, five days before Biggie’s death, and many fans heard the tragic news of his passing just as they were first basking in the glow of this glorious party anthem. Skimming a sample of Herb Alpert’s “Rise” and a Slick Rick interpolation, “Hypnotize” was an opulent stunner, a smash-hit celebration of the wealth, women, and sweaters once dreamed about and now fully available, rapped in a style that was savvy, subtle, and slick. The more distance from 3/9/97, the more of a joyful remembrance this song became. —J.G.  

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‘Everyday Struggle’ (1994)

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that if society broke down, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That broken society is Biggie’s subject on this bookend to “Juicy,” where the drug trade exploits those who suffer most from poverty, racism, and the rest. A lovely melodic phrase (here, from jazz pianist Dave Grusin) leavens the narrative’s unsparing baritone thunder, but it’s Big’s uncanny rhythmic cadence that keeps you breathless. —C.A.

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‘Who Shot Ya’ (1995)

“As we proceed to give you…” a lyrical lambasting of Ecclesiastical magnitude. The atmosphere alone created by the resituating of that delicate piano sample from David Porter’s “I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over” makes you feel as if you’ve wandered into a religious service and can’t feel your face. But Biggie’s most battle-ending performance may be remembered more for microwaving his discord with 2Pac to a point of no return. Although the song absolutely was not written about his supposed rival MC, the fact is that the lickshot reverberations of the song remain, Big and ‘Pac do not. —C.A.

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‘Ten Crack Commandments’ (1997)

In professorial mode, Biggie slaps you upside the head with a jewel-encrusted wooden pointer, and DJ Premier crafts a taut, back-stiffening beat that spotlights Chuck D’s stentorian countdown and Les McCann’s soul-jazz electric piano. The writing itself is peerless; the delivery is mesmerizing. The very idea that he’s sharing his coke-dealing tips in manual form is bonkers. Note: Just the other day, I heard a white sports-radio dork scold somebody for getting high on their own supply and wished Biggie was around to shut his ass down. —C.A

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‘Big Poppa’ (1994)

Even as a very young, belligerent street kid, Biggie carried himself with a venerable authority. He was the éminence grise of the bodega cypher. As a result, he could flow serenely over that familiar Minimoog whistle — here sampled from the Isley Brothers’ quiet-storm staple “Between the Sheets” — and still sound like he had a gun in your ribs. His sweet talk was almost formal, yet vile at the same time: “Allow me to lace these lyrical douches in your bushes”? You had to laugh, or else. —C.A.

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‘Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)’ Craig Mack feat. the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and Rampage (1994)

An ineffable moment when the attitude, the sound, the movement, the art, the fashion, the business, and the whole damn sociocultural engine of New York City went skrrrrrrrp. It started with the snare-crackin’, siren-swirling, funky-earth mover beat — produced by Easy Mo Bee on a SP-1200 sampler that he played like an eight-key grand piano. Apparently, Biggie thought Mack was, let’s say, “basic,” as an MC, especially beside three eventual G.O.A.T.s (plus Rampage). At the time, 22-year-old Biggie only had a single and a few features, but his opening verse set off car alarms around the world: “You’re mad ’cause my style you’re admiring/Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring.” —C.A.

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‘Juicy’ (1994)

“It was all a dream…” goes one of the most famous opening verses in history. “Juicy” was full of layers both prominent and subtle: It not only epitomized the Notorious B.I.G.’s evolution from street hustler to successful musician, but also symbolized how the East Coast rap establishment learned to adapt to shifting pop tastes and a then-omnipresent G-funk sound. Co-produced by Poke of the Trackmasters and Puffy, it’s a stark departure from the dusty boom-bap sound New York rap was known for and boasted a smoothly harmonized chorus from soon-to-be famous girl group Total. In his book Decoded, Jay-Z explained how Biggie’s ad-lib about being arrested simply for “trying to feed my daughter” held deep meaning. “I loved that he described what a lot of hustlers were going through in the streets — dissed and feared by teachers and parents and neighbors and cops, broke, working a corner to try to get some bread for basic shit — as more than some glamorous alternative to having a real job,” wrote Jay. “He elevated it to ‘the struggle.’ ” —M.R.