A lot of things go into making a great emcee. You’ve got to have a great delivery, a unique voice, a strong vocabulary, the ability to create an impactful punchline or a memorable verse, emotional resonance (or just plain old heart), charisma, and you’ve got to have good narrative skills. A truly legendary emcee possesses all of those traits, and there are only a handful of rappers who can rate near the top of all of those categories: The Notorious B.I.G. is certainly one.
Over the course of just two albums, Christopher Wallace served as the bridge that connected the ability to get props as an emcee and the ability to get props as a recording artist. B.I.G. still stands as one of the only rappers who possessed the ability to tear shit up off the dome in a cipher and then turn around and create a song that killed dance floors without sacrificing one inch of his credibility. Think about it:
Delivery: B.I.G. might actually be the greatest “flow” emcee in history. He could rhyme as fast as Twista (see “Notorious Thugs”) or he could slow his pace down to a crawl (“Big Poppa” is damn near a slow jam) and be effective either way.
Unique voice: How many emcees out there are as easily recognizable vocally as Biggie was? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then B.I.G. has been flattered more than just about any other rapper out. Think about dudes like Shyne and Guerilla Black, who captured Big’s thick, heavy voice but not his skills (or his lisp).
Strong vocabulary/Narrative Skills: Like Slick Rick and even Will Smith, BIG was one of those rappers who definitely got “A”s in English. Some of his songs played out as short stories-check out “I Got a Story to Tell”, one of the best (and most hilarious) story raps around.
Heart: While his songs didn’t necessarily have the tear-jerking ability that ‘Pac’s had, BIG, like the best songwriters, put his heart into his lyrics. Whether triumphant (“Juicy”), menacing (“Kick in the Door”), remorseful (“Me & My Bitch”) or just plain cocky (“Unbelievable”), Big’s lyrics evoked more emotion than the average hip-hop artist.
Charisma: It’s that Brooklyn swagger-Maxwell has it. But Maxwell being able to pull broads is one thing. A morbidly obese, blue-black dude with a lisp and a lazy eye being considered a sex symbol is something else entirely.
Look, I ain’t on Biggie’s dick just because we share Brooklyn roots. The dude was simply nice with his. And one of the saddest things to result from his murder thirteen years ago today is that he had only finished two albums and conceivably could’ve had the world in front of him. With “Life After Death”, it seemed like he’d taken the success he had with the first album and aimed for world domination without sacrificing his skills-similar to Prince following “1999” with “Purple Rain” or MJ following “Off the Wall” with “Thriller”. While there is certainly the chance that BIG would’ve gotten super gassed off of mainstream success and started falling off had he lived to see “Life After Death” blow up, I personally think we were robbed of the chance to see the further development of a guy who could conceivably have not only gotten the Greatest of All Time crown (let’s face it, he’s pretty close as is) but could have put some ridiculous distance between him and his nearest competitor.