CHANGE CLOTHES—AND GO
The Notorious B.I.G. started out dressed for the streets, but Puffy & Co. turned him from ashy to classy.
In a nondescript Manhattan club one night in 1993, two future hiphop icons were in their de regueur, ‘hood-certified garb: army fatigues and Timberland boots. Veteran New York Television/radio personality Ralph McDaniels recalls the no-frills scene clearly. “I have footage of the Notorious B.I.G. and Nas at that party on the mic,” he say slughing. “And there’s nothing fly about it.”
Within a year, though, Biggie had left those utilitarian duds behind for a more polished look, deressing for success before he’d even really achieved any. With guidance from Bad Boy label head Sean Combs, Biggie would go on to personify ihphop’s dramatic style shift—out went the Karl Kani and the hoodies, in came the Versace and the dress shoes. “We were like corner hustlers,” explains B.I.G.’s Junior M.A.F.I.A. cohort Lil’ Cease, remembering the crew’s early days in Brookly’s Bed-Stuy. “But the big-time hustlers that were really moving shit, the ones we looked up to, wore Versace or Moschino.”
Stylist Sybil Pennix helped crystallize Biggie’s—and Bad Boy’s—fasihon turnaround. “Puffy has a sense of style,” Pennix says. “Army fatigues were Brooklyn, but Coogi was Harlem, and that definitely came from Puffy. I exposed Biggie to designers he knew nothing about. We made B.I.G. look like a nubers man from the old days, with leather and double-breasted jackets. That’s who he reminded us of.”
Mark Pitts, Biggie’s former manager, now Senior VP at Zomba Music Group, recalls the impetuous behind the late MC’s dramatic sartorial shift. “We were trying to damn near make him a sex symbol” he says from his Manhattan office. “I didn’t even know what a Coogie sweater was until he said it.” Cheo-Hodari Coker, author of 2004’s Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G. (VIBE Books), says the memorably glossy video for 1995’s “Big Poppa” cemented Biggie’s style change and gave cues to the rest of the world that with the Biggie in a leather blazer, cashmere turtleneck, and a Kangol cap, the culture would never be the same. “It was the line in the sand in terms of ghetto fabulousness,” says Coker. “Before then it was about trying to look like you were literally two seconds off the block. After the video people started dressing up.”
Soon B.I.G.’s hyperrealistic lyricism and menacing vocals became almost as silky as his new clothes. Producer Easy Mo Bee, who worked on both Ready to Die (1994) and the follow-up, Life After Death (1997), remembers recording brazen tracks like “Machine Gun Funk” and
“Warning” with Biggie long before the radio-ready singles “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.” “I don’t know if Puffy pulled him to the side,” says Mo Bee, “but when he made ‘Big Poppa,’ all of a sudden his voice calmed down. That became his new vocal style.” It was a sound, like his look, that he’d finally grown into. –Mark Allwood