First Hit #1: May 3, 1997
Two deaths hang heavy over the charts in 1997, and this is the first. The first of The Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous #1s, it’s quite upbeat, and provides a pretty good example of the talent that was lost when he was killed. He’s still controlling an image, and this is as much about myth-making as it is about making a song – especially the video, which is incredibly annoying if you just want to hear a song, given that it interrupts itself for various over the top heist shenanigans. What B.I.G. was doing is almost akin to what has happened to the Fast and the Furious films – he’s making himself into kind of a cartoon. It’s a good kind of cartoon, with lots of flash and spectacle. Almost as if guided by his own larger than life presence, he was committed to making a larger than life character, a charismatic and dangerous creation that could probably neatly slot into a Batman film, or for a more modern example, a GTA title. He isn’t taking himself seriously – most of the track is quite funny, from the goofy chorus to references to underoos. It wasn’t a persona created in jest, but he definitely was having fun with it – and having fun smacking around other rappers, as though he was trying to bring the WWF (as it was known at the time) into the music business, big personalities having big clashes for the sake of a continuing narrative. His loss is felt in the song, because it was an unfortunately serious end for what should have been, and what was seemingly intended to be, a lot of fun. It’s like GTA in music, though that series was not the cultural force it is today, a kind of satire of excess, gangster glorification and the appeal of the criminal bad boy. With his death, and the death of 2Pac earlier, I keep thinking that somebody didn’t get the joke.
The song also makes me realize that while it’s hard to articulate what it is that makes someone a great rapper as opposed to a poor one, it’s something I will declare I know when I hear. B.I.G. embarrasses his associate Puff Daddy here, because if you listen to them back to back he is so much better.