Christopher Wallace's prowess as a storyteller is the stuff of legend. Hip-Hop fans everywhere know Arizona Ron from Tucson and Gloria from Astoria and "Dark-skinned Jermaine" because of the character sketches the Notorious B.I.G. gave us in his classic songs. There are lots of reasons "The Rap Alfred Hitchcock" gets praised as arguably the greatest rapper of all-time; not the least of which is his storytelling ability.
Biggie's stories are iconic. We picked a handful of his most infamous.
"You're Nobody til Somebody Kills You"
"Silly cat, wore suede in the rain /Swear he put the G in game, had the Gucci frame /Before Dana Dane, thought he ran with Kane /I can't recall his name (what was his name?), you mean that kid /That nearly lost half his brain over two bricks of cocaine?"
Part of an amazing trifecta of songs that close 1997s Life After Death, this grimy track with the sadly prophetic title outlines the strange fixation we have with death by detailing a neighborhood guy who gets shot; and eerily echoes Biggie's own legacy.
"Somebody's Gotta Die"
"I look deeper; I see blood up on his sneakers/And his fist gripped a chrome four-fifth/So I dip Nigga, is you creepin' or speakin'?/ He tells me C-Rock just got hit up at the Beacon"
Vengeance, cold and direct, sits at the core of this epic album opener. It's Biggie at his most cinematic, detailing a tense late night conversation and the realization that he's got to go to war.
"Gimme the Loot"
"Man listen, all this walkin' is hurtin' my feet/Ooh, money looks sweet/Where at? In the Isuzu Jeep/Man, I throw him in the fiend you grab the fucking cream/ And if he start to scream, bom-bom, have a nice dream"
Biggie plays both gunman and eager sidekick in this darkly comic track about two stickup kids scheming on a come-up. It ain't pretty, but Biggie puts you right inside the mind of that man with a gun stalking people as they come off the train.
"Me and My Bitch"
"She helped me plan out my robberies on my enemies/ Didn't hesitate to squeeze to get my life out of danger One day, she put 911 on the pager/Had to call back, whether it's minor or major/No response, the phone just rung/ Grab my vest, grab my gun, to find out the problem"
Biggie's ode to thug love won't win him any feminist fans, but it's a powerful look at the bonds between hustler and the person who loves him. It's not exactly sweet, but it's definitely heartfelt -- all the way up to the tragic final verse.
"Since it's on, I call my nigga Arizona Ron From Tucson, push the black Yukon/ Usually had the slow grooves on, mostly rock the Isley/ Stupid as a youngin', chose not to move wisely..."
It's as dark as a Scorsese climax and as vivid as Tarantino's most colorful character excursions. Biggie outlines a planned robbery that turns into a murderous shootout with chilling detail; right down to the ulterior motives from the start and everything leading up to the chaotic ending.
"Friend Of Mine"
"It was me, Dee, the MPV/The blunts and brew thang, knocking some Wu-tang/M-E-T-H-Oh shit, look at them lips and them hips on that bitch/Dee hit the dip, so I can drop my mackadocious shit/Light the blunt clip and recognize a pimp..."
An early showcase for then-unknown Lil Kim, this track about lecherous lovers is another of Biggie's more lighthearted moments on an album that doesn't have a lot of them. But his best verse on the song is this recital of meeting a woman who would do him wrong.
"I had the master plan, I'm in the caravan on my way to Maryland/ With my man Two-Techs to take over this projects/ They call him Two-Techs, he tote two techs/ And when he sparks the blunts, he like to ask, 'Who's next?'"
Whether it's the best full-on storytelling on Ready to Die is debatable, but who doesn't love Biggie's ode to the harshness of hustling? Detailing the hardships of trafficking by outlining stories of unmarked cars, trips down south and Two-Techs from Arizona, it's one of Biggie's most memorable yarns.
"Who the fuck is this, pagin' me at 5:46 in the morning?/ Crack of dawn and now I'm yawnin'/Wipe the cold out my eye/ See who's this pagin' me and why/It's my nigga, Pop from the barbershop/ Told me he was in the gambling spot and heard the intricate plot"
Released as a single after the effervescent "Juicy" and the grooving "Big Poppa," this Isaac Hayes-sampling classic featured Biggie's notoriously dark side, rife with paranoia and violence. Biggie's iconic opening couplet sets the scene for a late night phone call outlining nefarious ne'er-do-wells plotting on his person.
"I Got A Story To Tell"
"My 112, CD blast, I was past/She came twice, I came last, roll the grass/She giggle, saying "I'm smoking on home-grown/Then I heard the moan: 'Honey, I'm home!'"
It's one of B.I.G.'s most celebrated songs for a reason. It has everything: vivid descriptors, colorful characters and Christopher Wallace's special sense of humor. A story about a one night stand with a paramour for one of the New York Knicks serves as the backdrop for one of the funniest urban legends in rap.
"All my life I been considered as the worst /Lyin' to my mother, even stealin' out her purse/ Crime after crime, from drugs to extortion/ I know my mother wish she got a fuckin' abortion..."
The dark finale on Biggie's classic debut album, it shows that Biggie's storytelling wasn't always about creating elaborate character sketches and storylines; this is a first-person narrative about depression and fatalism. The song cemented Biggie's rep as a storyteller, while also offering fans a chilling look into a hustler's final moments.