1. The Notorious B.I.G.: The Once and Future King

    This is the last story The Source ran on Biggie before his death. The first night I showed up at the Daddy’s House Studios to interview B.I.G. he wasn’t there. Instead I got to watch Sean Combs in the studio’s main room playing hit-maker drill sergeant, seated behind the boards instructing some female back-up vocalists (hidden somewhere in the dark of the booth) exactly how he wanted them to enunciate the refrain, “He told you he won’t stop/ He told you HE won’t stop.” I swear I could not tell you the difference between how those girls were saying the line and how Puffy was directing them to say it, tho obviously he had something really specific in mind. Seeing as I wasn’t able to do an interview with someone who wasn’t there, someone took pity on me and left me alone in a storage room with a Walkman to listen to some rough mixes of tracks from Life After Death . Even on the purposely hiss-y cassette the LP sounded dramatically slicker than its predecessor.

    The second time I showed up at the studio to interview B.I.G. I expected another no-show. Miraculously, he was there. “I met you before,” he said upon introductions. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “You sure?” “Pretty sure,” I answered. Just to be sure he asked for my name. “Mao…” he repeated hazily, searching his memory for a recollection that never materialized. Our conversation would later be interrupted by a surprise visit to the studio from the NYPD. I never actually saw the cops; I just saw the mass confusion they instigated by the hint of their presence. Thankfully, the whole time I left the tape recorder running.

    A day or so later a group of journalists were assembled to formally preview Life After Death in the presence of Big, Puffy, and the Bad Boy brass. Journalists can be pretty poker-faced, and no one in the room reacted to anything particularly strongly until “Kick In the Door” came on, which elicited unequivocal excitement (even from the Rolling Stone guys). “Mo Money Mo Problems” got the second biggest reaction, and that was largely due to friend and colleague Karen R. Good from Vibe literally getting up and dancing as vigorously and joyously as a person can dance while staying confined to a 2 ft. by 2 ft. square space in a crowded room of nerdy music journos. The Bad Boy people, of course, knew they had huge hits on their hands and were accordingly enthused. (I think BB exec Jeff Burrows may have actually orgasm-ed while singing along to “I’m Effin’ U Tonight” he was that hyped.)

    All the while Big sat in the back of the room silently, as though lost in a trance. We finished our interview afterwards in the room where things had been so frantic a few nights earlier. Now they were peaceful. As an interview subject I found Biggie just as most others have described: thoughtful, funny, witty, and more than willing to answer every question, but also – as I was representing The Source for this particular assignment – very much concerned about setting certain things straight given all the controversy that had swirled about him in the preceding months. He’d stayed all but silent since Tupac’s death, so he understood that his public thoughts were highly anticipated.

    I remember being disappointed with how they hooked up the cover when I saw it. (I heard Big wasn’t crazy about the big Biggie/little Biggie thing either.) I also got the name of Big’s long-time friend “Gutter” wrong in the story, which I always regretted (I’ve taken the liberty of fixing it here). But overall the feedback was good. A few weeks after the issue was on the stands the phone woke me up at home on a Sunday morning with news that Biggie had been killed. I guess everyone remembers where they were when they found out. I turned on MTV, and watched the news coverage as his words – the ones about wanting to move past controversies, live a slower life, and show the world how he’d grown as a person – were repeatedly quoted from the story. It was all so surreal and senseless. I’ll never profess to have known Christopher Wallace, I just interviewed him for a magazine. But I think what I wrote captures things he felt at the time, that upon reflection I think were always a part of his music even at its Ready To Die -bleakest: a belief in the power of one’s artistry to make life – despite its stress and adversity – something still worthy of celebration. All of which made his premature departure from this world that much more tragic. Christopher Wallace, Rest In Power.

Follow The Leaders.