Everyday Struggle: 9 Songs That Showcase The Notorious B.I.G.’s Strength And Vulnerability

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Life as a young black man in America can be one of the roughest experiences over any other group of people in this country. The fact of the matter is that there are overwhelming numbers of black youth (both men and women) trapped in the vicious cycles of poverty, hopeless, and crime. Very few rappers could illustrate this life as vividly, candidly, and with such unflinching, unapologetic honesty and wit like The Notorious B.I.G.

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The late, great Biggie Smalls, real name Christopher Wallace was and still is one of the most beloved and respected icons of hip-hop. His monstrous impact still resonates to this day — especially within the school of artists that came under his tutelage (The LOX, Ma$e, Cam’ron, Lil Kim, Junior M.A.F.I.A. and two of the most powerful and influential men in the genre today, Jay-Z and Diddy). But his contributions to rap run so much deeper than these artists. It’s the heartfelt stories he has told from his perspective as a black man who grew up in the rough streets of Bed Stuy, Brooklyn.

Although a large portion of his catalog is rife with gangsta tales full of machismo in a way that rivals New Jack City and Scarface — and flashy, glossy mainstream records like “Hypnotize” and “One More Chance (remix)” — the totality of Biggie’s music is basically the autobiography of a young, black man who overcame the odds and survived to tell the story in rhymes form. This is especially true with his debut album, Ready To Die where, unlike many rappers back then and now, showed fans the gritty nature of the drug game and poverty affects the lives of the innocent.

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Even though his follow-up Life After Death was a flashier and more commercialized package, the psychological aspect of his music never left as he continued to bring us into his mind state at the time with songs like “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Kills You.”

While we praise his former friend turned rival, the late Tupac Shakur for his depth, fearlessness, and vulnerability, Biggie Smalls should be respected in that same fashion because even though both artists had very different contexts when it came to their records, what they both shared was their heavy handed honesty about who they are as black men from the hood — and how they felt in their hearts, good or bad.

The bulk of Biggie’s best tracks all dove deep into depression, suicide, paranoia, remorse, anxiety, compassion, and sensuality, all of these issues are often ignored issues in the lives of black men and hip-hop. BIG’s vulnerability and sense of humanity is what allows his music, especially Ready To Die, to resonate with music fans, even to this day.

As VIBE commemorates the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of Biggie Smalls, we present to you nine of Biggie’s best records that showcase his strength, humanity, and vulnerability as a black man in America.

“Suicidal Thoughts” (1994)

“Suicidal Thoughts” is not only one of his most cathartic records, but a real, deep glimpse into what it’s like to be on the edge, ready to end it all when stress and anxiety builds up. Biggie took the risk of laying his darkest emotions on record and created one of the most chilling moments to ever on a rap album.

Deepest Bars: “All my life I been considered as the worst/Lying to my mother, even stealing out her purse/Crime after crime, from drugs to extortion/I know my mother wish she got a fucking abortion/She don’t even love me like she did when I was younger/Sucking on her chest just to stop my fucking hunger/I wonder if I died, would tears come to her eyes/Forgive me for my disrespect, forgive me for my lies.”

“Sky Is The Limit” feat. 112 (1997)

“Sky Is The Limit” served as one of his most touching farewell anthems prior to Diddy’s “Missing You.” It serves as a mini-autobiography about his life in do-or-die Bed-Stuy while sending an encouraging message to the youth about following their dreams — no matter what.

Deepest Bars: “While we out here, say the Hustlers Prayer/If the game shakes me or breaks me/I hope it makes me a better man, take a better stand/Put money in my mom’s hand/Get my daughter this college grant/So she don’t need no man/Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it/And live the phrase “Sky’s the limit””

“Juicy” (1994)

As one of his first major hits, “Juicy” was one of the records that helped propel Big Poppa to become the flagship artist of Bad Boy Records in the ’90s. But if you really listen to the lyrics that he’s spitting it shows how much more than just a club record “Juicy” really is. It displays one of the few moments of pure joy and happiness as he vividly raps about his rags to riches story.

Deepest Bars:We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us/No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us/Birthdays was the worst days/Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay/Uh, damn right I like the life I live/’Cause I went from negative to positive

“Everyday Struggle” (1994)

According to the documentary, the 2007 Biggie Smalls documentary Bigger Than Life, “Everyday Struggle” was about the story of two of Biggie’s closest childhood friends’ lives in Bed Stuy. There is a universal appeal to this song as it speaks to a lot of black men who are forced into the drug game as their only means to provide for their families. Biggie captures the thoughts and emotions of those who wish to leave the criminal lifestyle entirely, but can’t.

Deepest Bars: I don’t wanna live no more/Sometimes I hear death knocking at my front door/I’m living every day like a hustle/Another drug to juggle, another day, another struggle

“F*** You Tonight” (1997)

Biggie Smalls show listeners his smoother and more sensual side which became well refined after Ready To Die. Him and R.Kelly created a passionate love making anthem that makes you want to give that special someone what they’ve been missing.

Deepest Bars: “Deja vu, the blunts sparked, finger fuckin’ in the park/Pissy off Bacardi Dark/Remember when I used to play between your legs?/You begged for me to stop because you know where it would head/Straight to your mother’s bed.”

“Miss U” (1997)

Biggie’s “Miss You” shows that his tales of the street life weren’t all riches and machismo gunplay. Him and 112 gives a touching and heartbreaking tune dedicated to the memory of his friend, “O”. The track allowed him to show the other side of the dope game that’s filled with the tragedies many families and friends are often left with as an end result of their lives.

Deepest Bars: Sick of cops coming, sick of throwing jacks in his mouth/Gave him half my paper, told ‘em “Go that route!”/Few months, he got his brain blown out, now I’m stressed/His baby’s mother, she trippin’, blamin’ me/And his older brothers understand the game it be/Kinda topsy turvy; you win some, you lose some/Damn, they lost a brother, they mother lost a son/Fuck, why my nigga couldn’t stay in N.Y.?/I’m a thug, but I swear for three days I cried/I’d look in the sky and ask God why/Can’t look his baby girls in the eye; damn, I’m missin’ him.”

“You’re Nobody (Till Somebody Kills You)” (1997)

When the East Coast/West Coast beef came to a head, things were at such a tense level in Hip-Hop that has yet to be seen again. Ironically, this somewhat prophetic track illustrates how the memories of people tend to burn brighter in death as did both Biggie and 2Pac.

Deepest Bars: “You can be the shit, flash the fattest 5/Have the biggest dick, but when your shell get hit/You ain’t worth spit, just a memory.”

“Things Done Changed” (1994)

Seemingly inspired by the sampled track, Dr. Dre’s “Little Ghetto Boy”, “Things Done Changed” details the negative effect that the crack era had on black neighborhoods across the country.

Deepest Bars: Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot/Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums/Eatin five cent gums not knowin where your meals comin from
And now the shit’s gettin crazier and major/Kids younger than me, they got the sky grand pagers/Goin outta town, blowin up/Six months later all the dead bodies showin up

“Me And My B***h” (1994)

Though some would find “Me and My B***h” to be a bit on the misogynistic side, at its roots show how deep Biggie’s love would go for the women that mean the most to him. It’s also the song sampled on Method Man and Mary J Blige’s classic tune, “All I Need.” This classic is hood love in its more rawest and most honest.

Deepest Bars: “Drove down the block, stashed the burner in the bushes/Stepped to police with the shoves and the pushes/It didn’t take long before the tears start/I saw my bitch dead with the gunshot to the heart/And I know it was meant for me/I guess the niggas felt they had to kill the closest one to me/And when I find ‘em your life is to an end/They killed my best friend… me and my bitch.”